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Sunday 22 October 2017

'We've had a woman die on her way back from a termination' - Professor Fergal Malone

Professor Fergal Malone in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital
Professor Fergal Malone in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital

Shona Murray

The Committee on the Eighth Amendment heard from several experts including Masters of Holles Street and The Rotunda hospitals’, Rhona Mahony and Fergal Malone, during two separate sessions today.

The two doctors spoke about the implications of the 8th Amendment for obstetricians in treating women who have had an abortion.

Professor Fergal Malone said that at least one woman from Ireland has died following a complication from a surgical termination of pregnancy while travelling between Ireland and a centre abroad.

He was explaining the risks of splitting care for vulnerable patients which straddle two different teams and jurisdictions being a risk to health of the mother in question. He said that post-termination haemorrhage occurs in around 0.5 – 1 per cent of cases, and infection 0.1 – 4 per cent of the time.

“We have had a woman die. Die" on her way back from England for a termination, Professor Malone told the committee, we should be able to treat these women “irrespective” of moral or religious views.

Professor Malone pointed to the “lack of clarity” among doctors regarding the current legislation and the potential for imprisonment for doctors and patients, where clinicians worry if they may be vulnerable to conviction if they are “involved in any way” with the management  of a patient who has a pregnancy termination, even in another jurisdiction.

In the earlier session, the committee heard from Doctor Abigail Aiken, Assistant Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas who said that since 2010, the number of Irish women accessing early medication abortion through a group known as “Women on Web” which supplies abortion tablets for women through the internet free of charge has more than tripled from 548 to 1,748 in 2016.

In her research she added that “by far the most common reason cited” for abortion - by 62 per cent - is women saying they are “unable” to bring up a child in this time in their lives.

Doctor Aiken described in detail the methods Irish women said they would have had to resort to had online telemedicine or “Women on Web” or travel not been accessible. Such examples included: “coats hangers, starvation, high doses of vitamin C, scalding water, drinking bleach or throwing themselves downstairs or running in to traffic.

Senator Ronan Mullen put it to the experts Doctor Ronald Johnson and Dr Bela Ganatra Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organisation in Geneva that up to 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today because of the jurisdiction’s abortion legislation. The methodology of the findings - which were upheld by the Northern Irish advertising standards authorities, was disputed by Doctor Aiken.

Rhona Mahony said wasn’t appropriate that a woman has to have a substantial risk of dying before a doctor can intervene by performing an abortion because of how difficult it could be to make that determination, and how the woman in question has no say in her own care. She put it to Catherine Murphy TD for Social Democrats and member of the committee “what if I say to you you’ve a 10 per cent chance of dying, and I’m ok with that – well you might say, doctor I’m not OK with that.”

Lisa Chambers Fianna Fail said she was “shocked that the woman doesn’t get a say” in their own health choice when their lives might be in danger.

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