It will come as no surprise to pro-life campaigners in Ireland that the Master of one of the country’s leading maternity hospitals has seen fit to criticize the law introduced by the Irish Government in 2013 on the grounds that is set no time limits for when abortions can take place.
There are more difficulties too. The law, which allowed for abortion during the full nine months of pregnancy where there is a threat of suicide, is not based on any medical evidence whatsoever. During the debate leading up to the introduction of the law, over 100 consultant psychiatrists objected to the enactment of the 2013 Act on the grounds that abortion is not a treatment for suicidality. They made the facts very clear to the Irish Government – there is no evidence, anywhere in the world, to show that abortion treats suicide ideation.
One of the experts who gave evidence to the Government was perinatal psychiatrist Dr. John Sheehan, who made the following remarks;
“The notion of carrying out an emergency termination is completely obsolete in respect of a person who is extremely suicidal…in such situations, one can see clearly the intervention usually is to admit such people into hospital, day hospital or home care but the intention is to support and help them through the crisis they are in. It is not to make a decision that is permanent and irrevocable.”
Despite the clarity of this advice, the Government went ahead and legislated to allow for abortion in the case of women who are suffering from suicidal ideation – leaving women at risk of making what Dr. Sheehan termed “a decision that is permanent and irrevocable”, and something which he considered to be ill-judged in the extreme.
This should be a worry to every member of the Irish Government, and yet here we are, some two years on from the introduction of that ill-fated Act. We insist that dentists treat their patients using only tried and tested techniques – those based on the experience and evidence of practitioners throughout the world. The situation is no different for any other field of medicine, yet when it comes to the complex issue of abortion and a procedure where the unborn child loses his or her life and the mother runs the risk of serious physical or psychological harm, the goalposts shift dramatically.
Why did this happen? Why did the Irish Government pass a law that has as little basis in medical evidence as it has in the protection of every human being’s right to life?
The reason, unfortunately, has more to do with political expediency than with the welfare and health of mothers and their babies in Ireland. In 2013, we witnessed a situation where pro-choice politicians took advantage of the fact that they didn’t need to ask the Irish public what they thought about a law that had more to do with introducing abortion to the country than ensuring a high standard of maternal health. Those same politicians were assisted by pro-choice elements in the Irish media who twisted and warped fiction into facts, spreading the rumour that Ireland was not a safe place in which to be pregnant, a falsehood that exists in some quarters to this day – despite the fact that Ireland is a consistent world-leader in the area of caring for women during pregnancy.
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The real tragedy of course is that while the law remains on Ireland’s statute books, mothers and their babies remain at risk. Three recorded terminations took place on the suicide grounds in the period January – July 2014. No figures have been released for the number of abortions since then. The loss of even one human life is a tragedy but the fact that we now have a law in Ireland that facilitates the taking of human life, with the full knowledge that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings, in shameful in the extreme.
And there is another offshoot from this dangerous law – the fact that women face severe inequality of treatment if they suffer from suicide ideation in Ireland while pregnant. Where men are concerned, the treatment path for suicidal tendencies will remain as it stood before the enactment of the 2013 Act i.e. they will be treated using the norms that have been established by the experience of the international psychiatric community and its peer-reviewed evidence.
Women, however, will be at a dangerous disadvantage. If they present to a doctor with suicidal ideation during pregnancy, the 2013 Act dictates that they may be offered the alleged “treatment” of abortion. This is notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever, from anywhere within the international medical or psychiatric community, to suggest that an abortion will help them recover. Instead, it suggests that they should make a “permanent and irrevocable” life-ending decision at the very time that they are at their most vulnerable.
This, then is what the pro-choice movement in Ireland have achieved – a dangerous and ill-thought out law that is entirely without evidential basis and has one end in sight – the introduction of abortion to Ireland. While the shortcomings of this terrible law are only now starting to become obvious to the Irish public, the pro-life movement will continue to campaign for a return to evidence-based medicine, and a situation where mothers and babies receive the care and treatment that they deserve.