Obstetricians criticise Walsh abortion speech
Institute says medical means only used to termination pregnancies in Ireland
Obstetricians intervene to help allay public fears after Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh’s description of abortion procedures. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Obstetricians have intervened in the row over Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh’s graphic description of abortion procedures in the Seanad this week.
The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said yesterday it wanted to allay public fears and pointed out that terminations in Ireland are carried out by medical, not surgical, means. This will not change after the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill is enacted.
In the Seanad on Tuesday, Mr Walsh read from a US doctor’s detailed description of carrying out abortions in the second trimester. This included an account of how the doctor used a clamp to crush the tissue of the foetus being removed from the womb and to “tear out” the spine, intestine and heart. Mr Walsh said doctors knew that the brain had been removed when “white, gelatinous material” appeared and claimed “little faces stare back at you” when the face is removed.
His contribution was criticised by women’s groups and politicians from other parties, with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore labelling it “inappropriate” and “over the top”. Labour Senator Marie Maloney called on colleagues to cease using “disgraceful” language.
The Institute’s statement, issued yesterday, does not name Mr Walsh but seeks to “allay the fears of the public following statements made to the Seanad this week” during the debate on the Bill.
“The destructive methods described for second trimester termination of pregnancy are currently not carried out in this jurisdiction, nor will they be in the future,” the institute said.
The procedure currently practised in the Republic is induction of labour by medical means, using prostaglandins. “This will not change as a result of the enactment of this legislation. If a viable foetus is delivered, all efforts are made to preserve its life where possible.”
Mr Walsh said last night he accepted that the kinds of abortions he described in the Seanad are not carried out in Ireland at present. He said he had no difficulty with current medical practice and accepted that obstetricians did everything they could to save the life of the baby in difficult situations
However, he warned that the Bill would lead to a change in medical culture and did not specifically exclude the types of abortion procedures he described. As a result, he plans to table an amendment next week confining allowed procedures to existing practice.
Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke welcomed the institute’s criticisms and called on Senators “who purposely used such shock tactics and deeply disturbing language” to apologise for any offence caused to women.