Shocking breach of good medical practice, says Rotunda chief
A LEADING obstetrician has warned that advice given by some taxpayer-funded pregnancy-counselling services is putting women's lives in danger.
Sam Coulter Smith, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Surgeons, said he was "shocked and very disappointed" to learn that Irish women who travel to Britain for abortions are being told they should hide this from their doctors.
The findings, which emerged as part of an undercover investigation into crisis-pregnancy counselling services, are now the subject of an HSE probe.
At the HSE-run Crisis Pregnancy Support Service in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, a woman was told that "going on to have future pregnancies, there is no onus on you to disclose that you've had a termination.
"There is no direct relationship between termination, future pregnancy, anything like that. They don't need to know. They will ask you the same general question: is this your first pregnancy? You can say 'Yes'."
According to Prof Coulter Smith, Master of Dublin's Rotunda Hospital, advice of this nature is a glaring breach of good medical practice and could lead to the death of a woman.
He said: "It is very hard for a doctor to give a woman correct advice if they are being kept in the dark and not being told the full medical history.
"There are certain recognised complications that can arise with terminations. Perforation of the womb is one of them and it can have a devastating effect on the integrity of the uterine wall in subsequent pregnancies.
"I am aware of cases where women have died because they didn't tell doctors they had had termination which caused their womb to perforate."
Prof Coulter Smith said he was deeply dismayed to learn that some crisis-pregnancy services are giving information about how to receive the illegal abortion pill through the postal service.
Trade in banned abortifacients is growing, with over 1,800 pills seized in Ireland in recent years.
"This is a very powerful drug," he said. "It should be taken under medical supervision. It's not something women should go off and do on their own bat."
Paul Anthony McDermott, a senior constitutional lawyer, said counselling agencies who tell women to conceal their medical history could expose themselves to future litigation if a woman relied on that advice and suffered injury as a result.
He added: "It is very improper to advise somebody not to disclose their true medical history to a doctor because you are potentially endangering their health.
"Their doctor will treat them in ignorance of their full medical history and may not recommend the correct course of treatment
"If a woman was to be injured or die because she failed to disclose something to her doctor, the counselling agency could potentially face civil or criminal proceedings."