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Abortion legislation still fails to meet real needs

THE first day of hearings at the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children has shown that the path for a new law on abortion is by no means clear. The Coalition might have hoped that it had reached some kind of solution to the hugely divisive issue.

It was not easy for the Taoiseach to win the support of disparate elements of Fine Gael and Labour for legislation allowing for abortion where a woman's life is in danger.

Yesterday, it was the turn of doctors to indicate their views on the Heads of Bill of the legislation. It is clear that many in the medical profession believe dramatic changes are needed.

Some of these would have far-reaching effects. For example, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists believe that abortion should be available in all government-approved hospitals in certain circumstances.

This would allow for a situation, for instance, whereby the life of a patient with a heart problem is in danger and a termination is necessary in an acute hospital. The Heads of Bill, as they stand, only allow for abortion in the 19 maternity hospitals.

That is the kind of crucial detail that the minister, James Reilly, and the negotiators who worked out the compromise deal on abortion should have resolved.

By far the most controversial aspect of the legislation is that it will allow for abortion in cases where a woman is suicidal.

Again, the Heads of Bill have been found to be deeply wanting in that regard.The review period in cases of suicide could be as long as 14 days.

Dr Matthew Sadlier of the Irish Medical Organisation surely had a point when he said this period was too long. In that time, the state of mind of the woman could deteriorate significantly and by the time the lengthy deliberations have finished it might be too late.

Surely, ministers and officials should have worked out such obvious flaws. The necessity to win the support of the Coalition parties in the frequently acrimonious abortion debate should not have blinded the Government to practical realities.

The law that passes through the Oireachtas will have to work in a hospital environment, where swift life-or-death decisions have to be made, and not just in the corridors of power.

Irish Independent