Wednesday 20 February 2019

Plan for six doctors was always part of abortion legislation

Fionnan Sheahan, Michael Brennan and Fiach Kelly

THE draft text of new abortion legislation clearly states there will be six doctors involved in approving a termination where there is a risk of suicide, contrary to the apparent denials of Health Minister James Reilly.

The text of the draft law, obtained by the Irish Independent, refers at least twice to two sets of three consultants – one obstetrician and two psychiatrists – assessing and then reviewing the case.

The proposal for the involvement of six medics is at the centre of an increasingly bitter row within the Coalition.

Although Dr Reilly denied six consultants would be involved in interviewing a suicidal pregnant woman, he failed to clarify that there would be six medics involved in evaluating the case.

Not only are Fine Gael and the Labour Party at loggerheads, but Taoiseach Enda Kenny came under fire from his own backbenchers last night.

A meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators descended into what sources described as "war" over backbenchers' concerns that they were being sidelined. The Cabinet has appointed a special sub-committee to sort out the differences over the legislation, made up of Dr Reilly and Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald on the Fine Gael side and junior health ministers Alex White and Kathleen Lynch from Labour.

The working group met last night and was set up following a meeting of nine ministers, including the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore on Tuesday night.

Aside from having to be assessed by six consultants, when an application for an abortion is rejected, the appeals process also involves another six consultants.

Earlier this week, Dr Reilly appeared to deny there were proposals to have six consultants involved in the process.

"It is not the case and would never be the case that a woman in a distressed state with suicidal ideation would be subjected to an interview with six different medical people either simultaneously or individually. That was never going to be the case," he said on Monday.

Risk

Dr Reilly failed to mention there would be six consultants in assessing whether an abortion is appropriate.

The draft of the General Scheme of the Protection of Maternal Life Bill 2013 is quite clear there will be six consultants involved.

It outlines the numbers of consultants involved, stating that a procedure will be carried out where:

• "One obstetrician and two psychiatrists have jointly certified that, in their reasonable opinion, there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman's life from self-destruction and this risk can only be averted by medical procedure in the course of which, or as a result of which, unborn human life is destroyed."

• "One obstetrician and two psychiatrists have reviewed the opinion referred to. . . and certified that they are of the same opinion."

• "At least one of the psychiatrists referred to in . . . shall be a perinatal psychiatrist."

The term "jointly certified" means there has to be a unanimous opinion of the three consultants.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore promised Labour backbenchers that the controversial abortion legislation will be passed before the Dail's summer break.

At the Fine Gael meeting Mr Kenny and Dr Reilly came under fire from numerous TDs, including European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, who said the parliamentary party was being bypassed.

One TD said the main issue was still the inclusion of suicide as grounds for abortion.

Dublin South TD Peter Mathews was said to have had a "testy" exchange with Mr Kenny when he asked if there would be a free vote on the issue.

Sources said Mr Kenny told Mr Mathews: "You don't know what you're talking about," to which Mr Mathews replied: "You look after yourself Taoiseach, and I'll look after myself."

Irish Independent

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