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Thursday 23 May 2019

GPs clash with Health Minister over abortion referrals

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/PA

David Fleming

The National Association of GPs are set for a showdown with Minister for Health Simon Harris as they seek clarification on whether conscientious objectors to abortion will have to refer patients to another GP.

A weekend EGM of the National Association of GPs (NAGP) saw members pass a motion to “advocate for conscientious objections without obligation to refer.”

Speaking on this morning’s Morning Ireland programme, NAGP chair Dr Andrew Jordan, has said he wants the government to look at the New Zealand abortion legislation.

Dr Jordan said that this will get around the problem of allowing those who conscientiously object to abortion to not refer the patient to another doctor. Health Minister Simon Harris has said this will not be the case.

“We had an AGM just prior to the referendum and at that meeting there were a number of motions to discuss regarding repeal of the 8th, and we deferred them so it’s not that it was an emergency meeting,” Dr Jordan told Morning Ireland.

The EGM was attended by just 3pc of members, however Dr Jordan said he was happy it was representative:

“The figures coming from all the surveys are pretty similar. And from those it is clear that about 20pc of GPs across the country are happy to provide a service. Let me make it crystal clear, all GP’s are happy for the women of Ireland to receive the service.”

Dr Jordan also said he was satisfied that there would be enough options available to a woman who was not referred to another GP by a conscientious objector.

“We would envisage that the service would be set up in such a way that there would be centres providing the service, and that those centres would be family planning clinics and selected GP providers who are signed up to provide the service.”

He also said that he didn’t think women in rural Ireland would be affected more than their city counterparts.

“Ireland’s a small country, she will know in advance where the service is provided. For example at the moment many GPs do not provide the full range of contraceptive services,” Dr Jordan said.

Host Audrey Carville then asked the question: “So she will have to travel to a strange GP, a strange face who she’s never met before?”

“Well that’s being over dramatic because there will be a spread of the service across the country. And I think, in fairness to the minister and the Taoiseach, I don’t think that they envisage that every GP would be providing this,” replied Dr Jordan.

At the weekend Simon Harris tweeted that: “Doctors will always be able to opt out & conscientious objection is a long standing principle in medicine,” but that the 8th amendment was repealed so that “we could care for women in our own country and that duty of care in terms of referral will definitely apply.”


In response to Dr Jordan’s comments, the minister reiterated his weekend statement saying that: “The idea of a woman in crisis sitting in front of her doctor & her doctor refusing to refer flies in face of care & compassion & is not reflective of doctors I know. People spoke & want women to be cared for. Conscientious objection -yes. No referral or info -no.”



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