Referendum posters depicting a foetus yawning 'are not factually accurate'
Anti-repeal posters depicting babies yawning and kicking at nine weeks are "not factually accurate" and are causing "extreme distress" among pregnant women, the master of Rotunda Maternity Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone, said yesterday.
The "idea of a foetus yawning is not factually accurate, because a foetus in the womb is under water and there is no air in the uterus", the professor told the Irish Independent.
"A yawn is an inhalation of breath."
He said that yawning or kicking or any such conscious movement at nine-weeks gestation is "also misleading".
Prof Malone said it was "disappointing as a specialist of foetal medicine to see the factually inaccurate" characterisations on posters, particularly the billboard-sized images outside maternity hospitals.
He said the hospital was also forced to call gardaí because a small subgroup picketed the front of the hospital with "supersize" posters with fairly graphic imagery with dead foetuses - "holding them up to the faces of people walking through the hospital".
"People could not get past without having them in their faces," he said.
The hospital management was not trying to prevent people's right to express their values, but it was "extremely distressing" for several patients and their families, he said.
Some of the posters from anti-repeal groups say that the proposed legislation from the Government means that abortions up to six months will be permitted.
Prof Malone refuted this claim based on the fact that such an arbitrary description of viability at a certain date is impractical.
There is no clearly defined time-frame as to when a baby in the womb becomes "viable", he said.
Prof Malone added that viability depends on the overall health of the baby; whether it has certain defects, weight or abnormalities.
He said babies have been delivered at 23 weeks, but in other cases, babies at 25 weeks have not survived premature birth.
What will "happen in all cases" in the event of an intervention where the health of a mother is at serious risk is that "a team of specialists get together", involving those dealing with "maternal health and foetal health and we will balance the situation where we will do the best for both".
As a doctor, he added, "there is no question but that doctors can be trusted to do good for both patients", said Prof Malone.