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Doctors to be trained by British colleagues to carry out abortions

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Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris

Irish doctors have called in colleagues from the UK to help train them to carry out abortions before a new law comes into force extending the grounds for termination of pregnancy.

Irish medics have enlisted the expertise of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Association of Abortion Care Providers.

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill will return to the Dail for the report stage, with the aim of having it passed next month and into law by January.

For the first time, maternity hospitals here will be allowed to carry out an abortion when the health, and not just the life, of a woman is at serious risk. Terminations will also be allowed where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

When asked in the summer, about one-third of GPs said they would provide medical abortions.

A 38-page contract, which GPs will have to sign if they agree to participate in medical abortions, has been sent to every family doctor. It states that doctors will need to refer a woman who is between nine and 12 weeks pregnant to a maternity hospital.

If she remains in the care of her GP, she will receive the first round of medication in the doctor's surgery under medical supervision. She will take the second round at home.

GPs must ensure patients are given an information leaflet and pain relief as well as a low-sensitivity pregnancy test kit. On a third visit, the GP will be required to provide aftercare.

Meanwhile, a senior pharmacist has called on Health Minister Simon Harris to amend the abortion bill to protect the rights of pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.

Conscience

"All of the methods of abortion provided for in the bill involve prescribing, dispensing and administering medication: pharmacists will play a critical role in any future abortion regime," said Dr James Carr, a chief pharmacist from Co Louth.

"In its current form the legislation interferes with the exercise of pharmacists' professional clinical judgment and denies their freedom of conscience."

Dr Carr pointed to articles protecting freedom of conscience in the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

"At present, however, there is no acknowledgement of this right as it pertains to pharmacists," Dr Carr said.

"Indeed, if enacted in its current form, this legislation will foreseeably infringe in a most profound way on the conscience rights of pharmacists who sincerely oppose abortion."

He said the legislation should include an "opt-in" system for health professionals, covering all aspects of abortion services established under the new law.

"It is becoming clear on scrut- inising this legislation that the minister has failed to properly think through how his abortion proposals will work," Dr Carr said.

"He has proposed a GP-led regime which a majority of GPs oppose. He has failed to consider the most basic practical issue of how the medications will be provided and dispensed.

"He has neglected to consult healthcare professionals on this fundamental change in healthcare ethics."


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