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Wednesday 19 June 2019

Former Holles Street master: 'Eighth Amendment has caused death of women'

Dr Peter Boylan
Dr Peter Boylan

Shona Murray

The Eighth Amendment has caused “grave harm to women including death” according to former master of Holles Street hospital, Professor Peter Boylan.

He was speaking before the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment today, where he also said Ireland’s abortion legislation has an effect on the decision-making abilities of clinicians, resulting in the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar who died of sepsis at Galway University Hospital. 

“She died as a consequence of the Eighth Amendment”, Professor Boylan told the committee following questions from Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Mr McGrath went on to argue that there are “lots of differing opinions” about the cause of death of Savita Halappanavar, to which Professor Boylan said he had “the advantage of reviewing her notes forensically”.

Savita Halappanavar
Savita Halappanavar

The fifth anniversary of Ms  Halappanavar’s death is next week.

Also present at the Committee was Dr Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran president-elect of International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology who also investigated the death of Savita Halappanavar.

He said the difficulty in the Irish legislation where a clear and present threat to a woman’s life must exist before an abortion can occur creates a serious ongoing risk, “some cases accelerate steeply and you miss the boat”, he said.  For example, there is up to 60pc chance of maternal mortality with sepsis fever but because the [foetal] heartbeat is there and you start dilly-dallying and that’s it.”

All witnesses at the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment today called on Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace with legislation along the lines of what was called for by the Citizens Assembly earlier in the year.

The Citizens’ Assembly members voted on their recommendations for access to abortion for certain medical and other conditions and voted overwhelmingly to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

64pc of the Members’ recommended that the termination of pregnancy without restriction should be lawful.

During today’s meeting, expert witness Professor Peter Boylan former Master of Holles Street Hospital said Ireland could look at other EU countries to as possible legal models when shaping any new abortion legislation, not just the UK, where most Irish women have an abortion.

Mr Boylan said 99pc of women in the EU have access to termination in the first trimester.

The Oireachtas Committee is considering a range of options in the event of next year’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment passing, one of which is to insert limited legislation which allows for abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Professor Boylan pointed out the difficulties that will emerge when a burden of proof will lie with a woman to prove she has been raped in order to obtain an abortion.

There is no “test to confirm rape” and any woman who has "undergone the trauma of rape should not be forced to ‘prove’ rape if she chooses to terminate a resulting pregnancy", he said.

Women should be "taken at their word, hardly a revolutionary concept", he added.

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