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'Hospitals lack resources to deal with new abortion laws'

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Risks: Dr Coulter Smith

Risks: Dr Coulter Smith

Risks: Dr Coulter Smith

One of the country's most experienced maternity doctors has said proposed new abortion laws may lead to increased demand for terminations.

Consultant Sam Coulter Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, warned that more women seeking a termination under the proposed legislation could heighten pressure on already stretched hospitals.

If enacted, the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, which is being debated at a parliamentary committee, will legalise abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother – including the threat of suicide.

Dr Coulter Smith said legislation giving doctors legal framework is welcome.

"It is my view and the view of many of my colleagues that the inclusion of suicidality within the legislation may, and I stress may, in the long term lead to an increase in demand for termination in this country," he said.

The consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology said there was no way of knowing how many Irish women travel to the UK for a termination because of a crisis pregnancy, rape or incest.

ISSUES

"Because we don't know who these women are, what their issues are, we don't know how many of them may try to use this legislation in order to get a termination in this country," Dr Coulter Smith said. "If they do, then the point I was making is we do not have the infrastructure, the resources, the members of staff available to deal with that issue if it arises."

Dr Coulter Smith was joined at the Oireachtas Committee on Health to discuss the legislation by Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dublin, and Peter Boylan, a Holles Street consultant and a former master.

Dr Mahony said there should be no distinction between the risk of death to a pregnant woman posed by a physical illness or the threat of suicide.

"Suicide is death just the same as death from infection chorioamnionitis," she said.

Chorioamnionitis was the blood infection which led to the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar. Her death, in part, put pressure on the Government to legislate for abortion.

Experts in psychiatry are due to give evidence on Monday.

hnews@herald.ie


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