Friday 20 July 2018

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub


83 Irish women ended pregnancy over Down syndrome

Mr Harris said he finds it 'really difficult' to discuss the charge that women would choose to terminate a pregnancy if they received a diagnosis of a disability. Photo: Damien Eagers
Mr Harris said he finds it 'really difficult' to discuss the charge that women would choose to terminate a pregnancy if they received a diagnosis of a disability. Photo: Damien Eagers
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

More than 80 Irish women had abortions in two years on the grounds their unborn baby would have Down syndrome.

Another six abortions were carried out after a pregnant woman was told her baby would have spina bifida.

The figures, from the Department of Health in the UK, come in the wake of comments by Health Minister Simon Harris that it was "offensive to suggest women in Ireland are seeking abortions" on the grounds their babies will be born with disabilities like Down syndrome."

The abortions were granted under a special, controversial clause known as 'Ground E', which allows for termination in cases of "severe disability".

There is no suggestion of a similar clause, or abortions on the grounds of disability, in Ireland. However, the plan to allow unrestricted abortion up to the the first 12 weeks of pregnancy has led to some pro-life campaigners saying this could lead to terminations in cases of Down syndrome.

The abortions were carried out in NHS hospitals in 2015 and 2016 on women who travelled from the Republic of Ireland, according to the UK's Department of Health.

In the case of 83 of these abortions, the unborn baby had been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

In 2015, a pregnant woman from Ireland was also granted an abortion on the grounds the baby would have cystic fibrosis.

The late-term abortions, which were carried out after 24 weeks of pregnancy, were passed by two doctors.

This week, Mr Harris said: "I think it is somewhat offensive to suggest women in Ireland are seeking abortions for that reason [disability]". Mr Harris said he finds it "really difficult" to discuss the charge that women would choose to terminate a pregnancy if they received a diagnosis of a disability.

"I've heard from parents of children with Down syndrome in the last few days saying, 'please do not manipulate or utilise my children to suit your political argument' on this very sensitive matter," he said.

"I do not believe women in this country adopt that approach when they have a diagnosis of a child with a disability."

He pointed out if the electorate votes for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the referendum, the proposed legislation, widening grounds for abortion, would not include grounds of disability such as Down syndrome. It would be confined to cases of fatal foetal abnormality where the unborn baby would not live.

The liberalisation of the law would also aim to allow abortion in cases where the health, as well as the life, of the mother was at risk due to continuing with the pregnancy.

The Institute of Obstetricians has said that while women have access to a screening test to indicate the chances of their baby having Down syndrome within 12 weeks, it is not definitive. It would be 14 weeks into the pregnancy before a diagnosis would be available.

Institute chairman Dr Peter Boylan said he never had a patient who had an abortion based on a screening test alone.

The UK figures on abortions among Irish women on the grounds of "severe disability" in 2016 are separate to the 3,265 terminations which took place within 24 weeks gestation.

Ground E allows for the later terminations, but has been at the centre of debate in the UK in recent years. Abortions are allowed for conditions such as cleft palate, which is easily corrected with surgery.

There were 141 abortions carried out on women from Ireland after 24 weeks in 2016.

There were 135 abortions among women from the Republic under the severe disability grounds in 2015.

The figures show 40 abortions involving a diagnosis of Down syndrome in 2015 and 43 in 2016. However, the figures do also include cases of fatal foetal abnormality, where the baby would not survive.

Irish Independent

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