Sunday 4 December 2016

'Abortion law leaving doctors practising medical roulette'

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, speaking at the launch of the Amnesty International report ‘She is not a criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law’ at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, speaking at the launch of the Amnesty International report ‘She is not a criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law’ at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

Irish doctors are having to practise a form of "medical roulette" before deciding if a pregnant woman's life is sufficiently at risk to terminate her pregnancy, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony warned.

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She said the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 still left doctors measuring what was a "substantial" risk to life - was it 10pc, 20pc or 80pc.

Dr Mahony was speaking at the launch of the Amnesty International report on Ireland's abortion law, which, it claimed, still treats women like criminals.

Obstetricians were making a judgment delivered in good faith to save a woman's life framed in a "criminal context", she said. And an error in clinical judgment was potentially punishable by a custodial sentence, she told the gathering.

"The report does not make easy reading," said Dr Mahony, referring to the moving testimonies which spoke of the obstacles and fears women felt in securing an abortion. "Women will continue to travel to the UK or obtain unknown pills from the internet in desperation."

She said she would never forget the case of a pregnant woman in a hospital last Christmas who was kept alive even though she was brain dead. "I can only describe it as a macabre experiment," she added.

Speaking of the pain of having to diagnose fatal foetal abnormalities in a pregnant woman, she said while some chose to continue with the pregnancy, others would be forced to travel abroad to have a termination, away from their families.

"These families must find it particularly cruel," she added.

Legal adviser to Amnesty Christine Zampas, who compiled the report, said some of the women spoken to thought of suicide. In one case a woman thought of throwing herself in front of a truck.

Suicide

Among those whose cases are documented is Miss Y - the asylum seeker who sought an abortion here last year and had her baby delivered by Caesarean section. During her weeks in a maternity hospital, she warned: "I am going to tie a rope around my neck."

She had made an earlier suicide attempt which was interrupted, the report noted.

Amnesty's executive director Colm O'Gorman warned that women's health and lives would continue to be put at risk unless our laws were changed. He said the country continued to outsource abortion.

Ireland is among the few countries in Europe apart from Andorra, Malta and San Marino that bans women from getting abortions even in cases of rape, severe or fatal foetal impairment or a risk to their health which is their human right under law.

Irish Independent

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