The Irish Times reported on 12 May that 1,080 doctors from across Ireland made a public declaration of their support for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the upcoming referendum on 25 May, saying repeal will make abortion “safe and regulated” for Irish women.
Standing in front of a projection of their names, Monaghan GP Dr Ross Kelly warned the current legislation had led to a breakdown of trust between women and their doctors. “Women need our support,” said Dr Kelly. “The law forces us to turn our back on them to the point where they often don’t involve us. Or you see a woman for a first pregnancy visit and they you never see her again. With the Eighth Amendment the trust between the doctor and the patient is undermined. The Eighth Amendment never stopped abortion, it made it hidden and dangerous. This referendum is about do we treat women properly with care and compassion.”
Obstetrician Dr Louise Kenny said the Eighth Amendment had made “excellent clinical practices illegal” and underlined the legal obstacles faced by doctors trying to provide healthcare to their patient. “In 25 years I’ve never met a woman who wanted a termination but I’ve met many who needed one. Under the Eighth I can’t be the doctor my sick patients need me to be. Repealing the Eighth will allow us to be the doctors we were trained to be.”
National spokesman for Doctors Together for Yes, Dr Mark Murphy, said the document showed the “overwhelming majority” of medical professionals would not stand over unsafe abortion in Ireland.
COMMENT: But hold on a minute, good doctors. No one is proposing unsafe abortion in Ireland. We must ask the doctors whether, in addition to supporting repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution, they are going to support a woman’s right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy. Or does their emphasis on the words “regulation of abortion” mean they are asking for doctors’ control over women’s decisions, that is, taking the power of decision-making into their own hands, as has been the case in Britain all these years.
COMMENT: Irish women have been coming to England for decades for abortions. This is public knowledge, though its consequences for women have certainly been swept under the carpet. Nor was it or is it dangerous for women. Irish women have been getting excellent abortion care in England all these years, despite the cost, the delays, the trauma of travel to another country and the isolation and uncertainty involved.
Dr Anna McHugh, a GP in Donegal, said she was “shocked and disappointed” to discover people were still speaking about women’s healthcare in “hushed tones and with stigma” when she returned from Australia three years ago. Dr McHugh reflected on conversations with young women who chose to take abortion pills alone in their bathrooms rather than approach a medical professional for help. “When I look to a career of 40 years ahead of me, I want to know that when a woman comes to me in a crisis pregnancy situation, she feels unafraid to do so,” said Dr McHugh at Saturday’s meeting. “That I can support her completely without fear.”
COMMENT: Let’s hope that Dr McHugh speaks for the great majority of Irish doctors. But does she? Because there are good reasons why girls and women are taking abortion pills alone in their bathrooms in Ireland, North and South.
Minister for Health Simon Harris, who attended the event, said the debate around the referendum had been marred with misinformation and called on doctors to inform patients, friends and family of the facts. He said: “The draft legislation we’ve published did not fall from the sky. It came through an extraordinarily engaging process where we asked citizens of their country to listen to expert views and to make recommendations. It’s a piece of legislation that has restrictions, that has safeguards but that is grounded in reality and compassion.”
COMMENT: Indeed. Now might be a good time to revisit the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, published in April 2017, whose law reform proposals were far more supportive of women’s control over their own decisions about abortion than the bill Simon Harris is proposing. Here are the legal grounds on abortion the Assembly voted for:
Speaking of the referendum . . . here is what the Abortion Support Network (ASN)’s newsletter had to say this month:
In 2017, ASN helped the following numbers of women get a safe abortion in Britain:
1,009 clients heard from
35 hosted by volunteers (and more in B&Bs and hotels)
More than £73,000 provided in funding to clients
More than £250,000 in funding to clients since we started in October 2009.
Our collective fingers, toes, and eyes are crossed for a YES from Ireland on 25 May. We are amazed at the work that is being done by so many organisations and individuals both in and outside of Ireland. We are also LOVING the many, many creative ways in which people are campaigning for YES. We all know about the great stuff being done by Together for Yes and others, but we also love the initiatives being undertaken by so many people! We particularly like: