Cut-off date 'should not be included' in legislation

Thu, Jan 10, 2013, 00:00

There should be no cut-off date for a termination where the mother’s life was in danger, Ciara Staunton of NUI Galway’s school of law told the committee.

“While this cut-off date is common internationally, I recommend that one should not be included in our legislation,” she said.

“The test, as explained by the Supreme Court, is that a woman is entitled to a lawful abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to her life which can only be averted by a termination of the pregnancy.”

Ms Staunton said that in all other cases it was the doctor’s duty to protect the life of a woman and the unborn. “If, at 35 weeks, for example, a woman’s life is in danger and her doctors recommend a termination of pregnancy, they should do so, provided she consents.”

Ms Staunton said terminating the pregnancy did not mean focusing on the woman only. The regulations should also detail that doctors must make every effort to save the life of the unborn once the pregnancy was terminated. “These are going to be hard cases and we must trust our doctors.”

University of Limerick law lecturer Jennifer Schweppe said no time limits should be placed on the availability of a termination where the woman’s life was at risk.

“As a matter of practice, once the pregnancy progresses beyond the stage of viability, every effort should be made to safely deliver the child, unless to do so would place the woman’s life at risk.”

Ms Schweppe said that where the underlying medical condition was suicidal ideation, at least one of the medical practitioners should have a speciality in mental health.

Referral

The legislation should also provide for a process of referral to an independent medical professional, or independent professionals nominated by the woman or her treating physician, where she disagreed with the initial conclusion.

Barrister and former doctor Simon Mills said he could see that in terms of drafting legislation that would attract general support, and not be unconstitutional, there might be certain types of termination for which time limits might be appropriate. “I do not want to put it any further than that.”

Dr Mills presented the committee with a draft Bill, the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2012, providing for a termination in cases of risk to life, with specific safeguards to take account of concerns over the threats of suicide. It also covered terminations in cases of inevitable miscarriage of a non-viable pregnancy and in cases of lethal foetal abnormality, he said.

Dr Mills said he had discussed the Bill with a large number of professional colleagues and not one of them had identified a loophole suggesting it would open floodgates.

The parameters were very clear and tightly drafted.

Mills proposals: Main points

* Repeal certain provisions in other legislation, including relevant provisions in 1861 Act.

* Specific safeguards to take account of concerns over threats of suicide.

* Deal with termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality, inevitable miscarriage of non-viable pregnancies.

* Ban the termination of any viable foetus.

* Allowing for conscientious objection by doctors and, where appropriate, nurses.

* Give Minister for Health powers to regulate on the certification of conditions that warrant termination.