Saturday 20 October 2018

Doctor's role in abortion law 'must be clarified'

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Doctors have stressed the need for legal clarity to allow them to act in line with their own conscience and personally held views if the country's abortion laws are changed.

Health Minister Simon Harris has promised the draft legislation, setting out proposals to widen grounds for abortion, will be published next month.

The Eighth Amendment would first have to be repealed in the upcoming referendum before any legislation could follow.

If controversial proposals to allow unrestricted access to abortion pills in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy go ahead, GPs in particular will be in the frontline for delivering the service.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said that, as is the case across the community, individual doctors hold different and often strongly held views on matters like abortion.

The general guideline is that doctors have a right to opt out of a procedure on grounds of conscience, but are obliged to make sure a patient has enough information to arrange to see another medic who does not hold the same objection.

"The IMO represents thousands of doctors who work across the full range of disciplines in the health services in Ireland, all of whom strive to deliver the best possible care to their patients," said a spokesman.

Doctors and medical professionals can have personal views, but they also have additional responsibilities.

They need to have absolute clarity around the legal position in which they operate, he said.

It means they can act in line with their conscience and also respect the views and wishes of patients.

The IMO said it hopes for a "compassionate and informed debate".

Meanwhile, Dr Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of the Netherlands-based charity Women on Web, confirmed that demand for abortion pills from Ireland remains high.

Dr Gomperts told the Irish Independent that demand remains in line with the practices highlighted in a study of more than 1,000 women from the Republic and Northern Ireland who took the abortion pills after getting them from Women on Web in the mail.

The study in the 'British Medical Journal' said the majority of women who opted for a medical abortion in their own homes - using online support - had outcomes which were safe and effective.

It is an online-only abortion service that conducts free medical consultations, posting out the pills to eligible women.

The purchase and use of these medications is illegal in the Republic, although no woman has ever been prosecuted.

Most were under seven weeks pregnant and the rest were up to between seven and nine weeks.

Almost 95pc of interventions were "successful".

But a 10th sought medical attention. Seven women had to have a blood transfusion and 26 had to be administered antibiotics.

Also, some 93 women had symptoms that needed medical attention and 87 of these went to a doctor.

International researchers who analysed data said that rates of adverse effects after using drugs to induce terminations early were low.

Irish Independent

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