Anti-abortion doctor warns pill plan will be 'unfair' on GPs
The details of proposed legislation allowing for a GP-led service to provide abortion pills remain unclear and will do so unless and until the referendum passes.
The Government is planning to legislate for abortion up to 12 weeks' gestation through regulation of tablets provided by local GPs, if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.
However, concerns have been raised by doctors and opponents of the 12-week proposal as to whether such a programme can be rolled out accurately.
According to Dr Deirdre Gleeson, from the anti-abortion group Doctors for Life, such a service would be "way outside the scope and capacity of general practice in terms of practice; nowhere else in the world is it like this."
She said: "It's not fair to ask GPs to take on extra without discussing it with them first; they are already under pressure with capacity issues."
Dr Gleeson, a GP who also works in occupational health, said that she had refused patients information about abortion in the past because of her "right" to conscientious objection.
"If someone asked me for an abortion tablet, I wouldn't be prepared to do it or refer on," she said.
Dr Gleeson added that GPs were "going to have to be trained to do ultra-sound". That, she added, was complicated.
However, Dr Mary Favier, incoming vice-president of the Irish College of GPs and part of pro-repeal group Doctors for Choice, said: "There is no issue with capacity; the numbers will be relatively small from a GP point of view."
She added: "We have GPs in every county through our petition that are committed to providing abortion care; including in rural areas, so geographically GPs are well spread."
Dr Favier believed the vast majority of cases would be women taking tablets at around seven weeks.
She said doctors would be "very conscientious" if they suspected a pregnancy was near or over the 12-week mark.
Dr Favier added that she carried out checks continuously using palpation tests to see whether she could feel a patient's uterus in her abdomen.
If there was any hint her pregnancy was over the limit, there would be strict guidelines to send a woman for an ultrasound in one of the maternity hospitals.
"I routinely send women for ultrasounds if I believe they're in danger of miscarriage," Dr Favier said.
If the woman was over the time limit, she would not be permitted to have an abortion in Ireland.
However, Dr Favier said that GPs would need training in areas such as medication management, medical history and determining risk factors.
"There needs to be proper engagement with how it is rolled out," she said.
A spokesperson for the Health Minister said he and his officials would seek further advice from medical professional bodies.