Lack of abortion Bill gestation limit abhorrent, says Shortall

Reilly rules out ‘cooling-off period’ for terminations from FG’s Michelle Mulherin

Minister for Health James Reilly has firmly rejected a proposal from Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin that suicidal women seeking abortions be subject to a “cooling-off period” before the procedure is carried out.

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 21:51

Former minister of State for primary care Róisín Shortall has said she finds “abhorrent” the lack of gestational time limits in proposed abortion legislation within which terminations should be allowed in cases where the woman is suicidal.

Ms Shortall, who has lost the Labour Party whip, called for a referendum on the matter to be held in October.

“I think I would speak for the majority of people in saying I would find the absence of a gestational time limit abhorrent,” she said.

“It’s not sufficient to get the response of ‘you can’t limit a constitutional right’…I think it is wholly unacceptable that there shouldn’t be a gestational time limit,” she said.

“If it is not possible to do anything at this point I think the very minimum is there be a clear commitment to arrange a constitutional referendum on this specific issue, and that that would be held with the other referenda in October prior to the commencement of this legislation.”

‘Proud’ support

Labour TD Ciara Conway said Section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy, which relates to the risk of loss of life from suicide, was designed to save women’s lives and she was “proud” to support it. “The subtext of all that is going on here is a mistrust of women and their doctors,” she said. Another Labour deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordán supported Ms Conway’s view.

The exchange between the party colleagues took place during a debate on proposed amendments to the Bill at third or “committee” stage in Leinster House today.

Minister for Health James Reilly said doctors and “ the mothers of this country who are the mothers of the next generation” had to be trusted.

Earlier, Dr Reilly firmly rejected a proposal from Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin that suicidal women seeking abortions be subject to a “cooling-off period” before the procedure is carried out.

Dr Reilly said Ms Mulherin’s suggestion of a “cooling-off period” of a week to 10 days could result in the Oireachtas being responsible for the death of a woman and he was not prepared to have that on his conscience.

“The reality of what has been suggested is that we have a cooling off period. Whilst that applies in other areas of law and in relation to purchases, this is a life and death situation. This would be highly prescriptive,” Dr Reilly said.

“This very Oireachtas could be responsible for the death of a woman, where the two psychiatrists have certified that the risk is real, substantial, and while we’re having a cool off period this lady takes her life.

“That’s not something I’m prepared to have on my conscience.”

The suggestion would be “utterly” against the advice of the Attorney General and the medical profession would be “absolutely in outrage” about it, Dr Reilly added.

Ms Mulherin, who has expressed concern about the inclusion of a suicide clause in the Bill, said the “cooling-off period to allow things perhaps to settle” should be introduced “if we’re giving any credibility or legitimacy to the right to life of the unborn being vindicated”.

She said when a person was in a heightened state of anxiety they should not make life-changing decisions.

Earlier, Dr Reilly ruled out reducing the number of psychiatrists required to assess a woman seeking an abortion who is at risk of suicide from two to one.

‘Absolutely appropriate’

Rejecting an amendment backed by Opposition TDs, Dr Reilly said it was “absolutely appropriate” that there should be two psychiatrists involved, along with one obstetrician. “I will not be accepting that amendment whatsoever,” he added.

Dr Reilly said this was because of the “absence of clinical markers” available to medics in such instances, such as biochemical blood tests, MRIs and X-rays.

“It was felt that in order to give a more secure diagnosis given the fact that the diagnosis and the certification could in certain circumstances lead to the loss of the unborn life, that there was a need for a higher standard of certainty.”

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the requirement to have three medical practitioners certifying a woman was “unneccesary and unworkable” and would add to the “continuing and very sad exodus” of Irish women leaving the State to seek abortion elsewhere.

There should be parity between mental and physical health, he added.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was “far too onerous a bar to jump over for women” and the proposal was “too onerous, unworkable and unjustified”.

Earlier, Dr Reilly confirmed no hospital on the list of institutions where abortions can be carried out has the right to refuse to carry out such procedures.

Debate on the third or “committee” stage the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has resumed at the Oireachtas Health Committee in Leinster House this morning.

The legislation allows, for the first time in Irish law, for terminations in cases where a woman’s life is threatened, including where she is suicidal.

The committee could discuss the proposed legislation until 9pm tonight if required, according to chairman Jerry Buttimer of Fine Gael.

Fianna Fáil TD Eamon O Cuív, who is opposed to the planned law, this morning asked Dr Reilly if the 25 hospitals where medical terminations can take place had agreed to be on the schedule.

Dr Reilly said Mr O Cuív’s question was not relevant because no right of refusal on the grounds of conscientious objection was granted to any institution.

Mr O Cuív said the institutions were private and could refuse. He suggested Dr Reilly could withdraw funding from the institutions if such a situation arose.

Dr Reilly said that was correct if committee members wanted to have a “theoretical discussion”.

A further vote is expected early next week.