Wednesday 18 September 2019

Professor corrects abortion committee record over 'inaccuracies' by senator

Professor Peter Boylan. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins
Professor Peter Boylan. Photo: Gareth Chaney / Collins

Shona Murray

The former Master of Holles Street, Professor Peter Boylan, has written to the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment to correct the record in relation to "assertions" made by Senator Rónán Mullen.

Prof Boylan said Mr Mullen had made claims which were "at odds" with the facts presented during his testimony last week.

Prof Boylan was one of several witnesses called to give evidence to the committee. He discussed the impact the Eighth has on clinicians in Irish hospitals.

In his letter read into the public record yesterday, Prof Boylan said Mr Mullen was "absent" for much of the committee business, but then went on "at least two radio shows" during which he repeated "inaccurate" claims in relation to Prof Boylan's evidence. In particular, Mr Mullen "repeatedly claimed" the consultant treating Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital where she died of sepsis, was "in no way constrained by the Eighth Amendment".

Prof Boylan said such a statement was in "direct contradiction" of the evidence given by himself and Professor Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, both of whom "forensically" reviewed Ms Halappanavar's notes and investigated her death.

Prof Boylan included in his letter transcripts of the inquest into Ms Halappanavar's death in which he said Dr Katherine Astbury, her treating consultant, "could not have been clearer" about how the Eighth Amendment prevented her from "intervening".

Prof Boylan said last week that Ms Halappanavar "died as a consequence of the Eighth Amendment".

At the inquest Dr Astbury was asked: "Did you feel in any way constrained or inhibited by Irish law in terms of the treatment you could afford Savita?"

She responded: "Yes, because termination of pregnancy which is what she was requesting was not legal in the context in which she requested it."

Prof Boylan added that such a point was "so fundamental" to the hearings of the committee that the record should be corrected in respect of Mr Mullen's inaccurate assertions.

The committee heard yesterday from Prof Tom O'Malley, a law lecturer at NUI Galway, who said it is possible an abortion undertaken in the context of a rape claim could be used in a criminal trial.

He said, however, such evidence would have to be presented in the context of the defendant's right to a fair trial. The "primary concern" of the court is to "provide fairness" to the accused, he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers said she was "gravely" concerned whether a situation could then arise if the defendant in a trial was found not guilty, that a woman who claimed she was raped and received an abortion could then be prosecuted.

At one point during proceedings Independent TD Mattie McGrath stormed out accusing the committee of pro-choice bias.

Elsewhere, voting will close at 8pm today in a referendum to impeach UCD Student Union President Katie Ascough. Some students have criticised her for removing information about abortion services from a student magazine.

Irish Independent

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