Abortion law review has pro-life medics in its sights

The official review of Ireland’s abortion law, published last week, was exactly as bad as pro-life campaigners feared it would be. Its only aim is to make it even easier to access abortion. It shows no visible concern for the unborn child and no visible wish that abortion should be rare, which is what the Government said it intended at the time of the abortion referendum.

The review recommends fully decriminalising abortion, targeting pro-life doctors and nurses, getting rid of the three-day waiting period, and allowing abortion in cases of a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ even when the baby is likely to live more than 28 days beyond birth.

The review, commissioned by the Department of Health, also confirmed that some babies are born alive after an abortion and left to die.

Here are some the worst recommendations:

–          Decriminalisation of abortion.

Currently, abortions performed outside the limits of the law are considered a criminal offence. The review wants a full decriminalisation. Even Simon Harris, when he was the Minister for Health, thought that decriminalisation “would present a risk to the lives and health of women and that it would protect women who were forced into seeking an abortion, or where there was a dominant personality or sexual abuse.” The review disregards this thinking, even though it comes from a pro-choice perspective.

–          Cracking down on pro-life doctors and nurses.

The review says the health system should “positively discriminate in favour of persons willing to provide termination of pregnancy services” during the recruitment process of doctors. In other words, do not employ pro-life medics. Conscientious objectors are always presented in negative terms in the review.

In addition, it recommends so-called “values clarification” workshops in order to persuade pro-life doctors and nurses to become pro-choice.

It praises the HSE for already running these workshops which aim at “enabling participants to reflect on their values and thoughts about termination of pregnancy services by looking at their own beliefs and attitudes from the [point of view] of women seeking the service.”

Over time, the effect of these measures would be to sharply reduce, if not eliminate completely, the pro-life presence in Irish maternity wards.

–          Removal of the mandatory three-waiting period between the first visit to the doctor and an abortion

Waiting periods are a common feature in abortion legislation in other countries. In Italy, for instance, it is seven days; six days in Belgium. It allows women to reflect on their decision. According to HSE data, 17% of Irish women who made an initial appointment with a doctor with a view to ending their pregnancy did not return, indicating they went ahead with their pregnancies. The review ignored official data and used instead figures collected by a pro-choice group that underestimated the number of women who changed their mind.

–          Expansion of the current limits for abortion in cases of disabilities

Currently, an abortion can be requested at any moment of the pregnancy when the baby has a medical condition that might lead to its death within 28 days of birth. The review acknowledges that there is no universal list of such conditions and recommends a relaxation of the current restrictions. It also acknowledges that “fatal foetal anomaly” is not a medical term, something that the pro-life side continuously stressed during the referendum campaign.

–          Expanding the range of professionals who can provide abortions

Nurse or midwifes should be able to offer abortions, according to the review, in order to increase the number of providers and improve its geographical distribution. Currently, 11 of 19 maternity hospitals or units, and 422 GPs or clinics (around 10pc of the total) offer abortions.

–          Starve pro-life hospitals of funding 

The review recommends the diversion of funding from maternity hospitals not-providing abortions to ones that do so.

The review also recommends the development of specific guidelines to deal with babies who are born alive after an abortion. It says that “foeticide [killing the baby while still in the womb] will prevent parents and labour ward staff from facing the agony of neonatal distress and pain”. No concern is shown for the baby.

The review fails to address important issues such as the cases of misdiagnoses that have led to the aborting of healthy babies, the lack of abortion pill reversal treatment for women who have changed their minds after taking the first of the two abortion pills, the lack of mandatory counselling during the three-day waiting period.

This document says nothing about reducing the number of abortions, even though the Government promised abortion would be rare. The entire aim is to make it easier to access abortions which would only increase the rate. According to Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, around 8,500 abortions took place last year.