Even a three-day waiting period is too much for pro-choice advocates

There is a push underway to remove the proposed 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. The matter came up before the Oireachtas Health Committee today. Among those questions it was Dr Peter Boylan, one of the most active pro-choice advocates during the recent abortion referendum.

He said: “The proposed 3-day interval between the first consultation and initiating the TOP [termination of pregnancy] is not supported by evidence, it may act as a barrier and it makes unwarranted assumptions about women’s ability to make their own decisions. There is evidence that those who request termination remain satisfied with their decision.”

Dr Boylan did not actually cite any evidence to back up his claim but did admit other countries have similar waiting periods.

‘Cooling-off periods’ of six days exist in both Italy and Belgium. It is five days in the Netherlands, three days in Spain and in Portugal. There are similar provisions in more than half of the states in the USA.

The rationale is to give the mother a bit more time to think about a difficult and irreversible choice. The evidence is that most women have firmly made up their mind when they want an abortion but it seems a minority do change their minds and therefore a life is saved.

For instance, in 2012 Utah extended the mandatory waiting period from 24 to 72 hours. A recent article compared the proportion of women returning for an abortion before and after the extension of the cooling-off period, finding that “2,793 of 3,618 women (77%) returned for abortion procedures under the 72-hour law, compared with 2,513 of 3,130 (80%) in the previous year”. It is a small but undeniable reduction.

Another study says that “Mississippi’s mandatory delay statute was responsible for a decline in abortion rates”.

The waiting period does not prevent anyone receiving an abortion but rather gives them more time to reconsider their choice. What is wrong with that when a life is at stake?

Moreover, Dr Boylan claimed, again without providing any evidence, that “following legalisation of abortion services numbers decline with the passage of time”. This is a very doubtful claim. See here, or here.

Dr Boylan also commented on conscientious objection. In his opening statement he draws attention to a document asking to “prohibit institutional refusals of care”, which means for instance that a Catholic hospital should be banned from refusing abortions. The document is wrongly attributed to the “European Human Rights Jurisprudence on State Obligations to Guarantee Women’s Access to Legal Reproductive Health Care”. In fact, it was produced by the American pro-abortion advocacy group the “Center for Reproductive Rights”. (The title is also misquoted).

Dr Boylan is head of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He should have got his source right before quoting it to an Oireachtas Committee.