Hospital chiefs detail level of terminations
New figures for the number of terminations carried out in Irish maternity hospitals emerged at yesterday’s Oireachtas hearings on the Government decision to legalise abortion in limited circumstances.
About six pregnancies a year are terminated to save the life of the mother at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, while three such cases occur annually at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, experts told the health committee yesterday.
In 2011 the Rotunda delivered 9,319 babies, while 9,459 infants were born in Holles Street.
Master of the Rotunda Dr Sam Coulter Smith estimated the annual incidence of cases where interruption of pregnancy was required across the State could be between 20 and 30.
Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony, who estimated a lower figure, called for legislation to protect medical professionals doing their jobs and appealed for the repeal of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which criminalises abortion.
“That law stands today and I need to know that I will not go to jail if in good faith I believe it is the right thing to save a woman’s life to terminate a pregnancy. I want to know that I will not go to jail and I want to know, by the way, that she will not go to jail,” she said.
Dr Mahony said she was offended “by some of the pejorative and judgmental views that women will manipulate doctors in order to obtain termination of pregnancy”.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent intervention in the Republic’s abortion debate when the pontiff expressed “dismay” at the proposed introduction of abortion legislation in various countries.
Mr Kenny said the pope was entitled to make his comments as head of the Roman Catholic Church. “What we are about here is not introducing legislation for abortion . . . but setting a framework and process that legal certainty would apply to medical personnel in a situation where the life of a mother is threatened [and] regulations that restrict abortion on demand,” Mr Kenny said.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he respectfully disagreed with the pope’s view.
“I think women in Ireland are entitled to more than understanding and mercy, as he put it. I think they are entitled to have legal clarity about their situation where their life is at risk,” Mr Gilmore said. However, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said it was “not clear that the pope was suggesting for any second that women are not entitled to legal clarity”.
At yesterday’s health committee hearings, there were sharp exchanges between psychiatrist Patricia Casey and Senator John Crown.
Prof Casey, representing the department of adult psychiatry, UCD and the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, said that while legislation might not open the “floodgates” immediately, there would soon be “widespread abortion”. She said she did not agree with legislating for suicide risk.
Mr Crown, a consultant in St Vincent’s hospital, Dublin, claimed Prof Casey had strayed outside her area of competency in making such a prediction.
The Bar Council of Ireland will not appear before the committee today because it could not find consensus on the issue among its 2,300 members.
The committee, which will hear today from other legal experts, is to draw up a report for Minister for Health James Reilly before he and his officials publish draft legislation.