Sunday 8 December 2019

Fiach Kelly: Politics stripped away, leaving just cold, hard facts

IN a chamber too often suffocated with ideological differences, it took those who know what they're talking about to put some realism back into the debate.

The Seanad chamber has been cleared for the week to allow the Oireachtas Health Committee carry out its abortion hearings.

The Upper House usually hosts the more bitter debates when it comes to abortion, with strong views on either side of the argument from Ronan Mullen – absent from yesterday's hearing – to Labour's Ivana Bacik.

That changed yesterday, and gave way to a frank discussion on how the Government should plot a way forward.

The masters of the leading maternity hospitals – Dr Sam Coulter-Smith from the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony from the National Maternity Hospital and Dr Mary McCaffrey from Tralee General Hospital – stripped away the politicking and dealt with cold, hard facts.

Dr Mahony, in particular, used the opportunity to bring the debate back to where it belongs – the safety of pregnant women.

She said some opinions in recent months had been "extreme, absolute and even misleading".

Medical decisions should be made with common sense based on "medical conditions and medical circumstances, not ever on ideology or philosophy".

Dr Mahony was also one of very few speakers yesterday to mention that it is women who know their bodies best, and should be trusted.

"This brings us to the very difficult issue of defining what is a substantial risk to life during pregnancy.

"A 10pc risk, a 50pc risk, an 80pc risk, a 1pc risk of dying? The interpretation of risk is not the same for all people.

"And a woman herself will have a view as to what is an acceptable risk of her dying during pregnancy. Her opinion deserves to be afforded consideration," she said.

Some women, she said, would choose abortions, while others would "risk their own lives to reproduce".

Questions from TDs and senators were initially confined to those who sit on the committee, but it was then opened to non-members.

The more vocal of the extra questioners were among the pro-life members of the Dail and Seanad.

Fine Gael's Terence Flanagan, a somewhat quiet voice in the Dail, was now asking numerous questions and ensured chairman Jerry Buttimer included him.

He asked Dr Mahony if there were any circumstances in which a 24-week-old foetus would be aborted.

He was firmly slapped down by Dr Mahony, who said every effort is made to save every life. She also maintained that abortion is still a criminal offence in Ireland, insisting she needed to know she wouldn't be jailed if, in good faith, she terminated a pregnancy.

The next six months will see dirty debate before this issue is finally settled. More straight dealing, as shown by Dr Mahony, would help centre bitter exchanges.

Irish Independent

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