The abortion debate

Sir, – Dr Peadar O’Grady (May 3rd) has regrettably resorted to misinformed stereotyping in his response to Breda O’Brien’s column (Opinion, April 27th). He states the study she cites in respect of the mental health effects of abortion was published in a “relatively obscure” journal. I doubt if the international journal of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Colleges of Psychiatry could be regarded as obscure. It is indexed in all the major data bases including the Citation Index.

He also states the study was not peer reviewed. But all of the scientific papers which appear in the above-mentioned journal are rigorously peer reviewed prior to publication.

The study in question is by Prof David Fergusson. Dr. O’Grady rightly say that Fergusson believes abortion should be made available on social grounds. This is because Fergusson is philosophically in favour of abortion. This is a separate issue from what the evidence in his study says about the mental health effects of abortion which is the issue being debated here in Ireland.

On this point Fergusson says “There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems . . .To date, there is no direct evidence showing that women having abortion are at lower risk of mental health problems than equivalent groups of women coming to term with unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. However, it is our view that the growing evidence suggesting that abortion does not have therapeutic benefits cannot be ignored indefinitely, and it is unacceptable for clinicians to authorise large numbers of abortions on grounds for which there is, currently, no scientific evidence.”


Two other studies were mentioned by Dr O’Grady, one published in 2008 and the other in 2011. The first from the American Psychological Association was not of the same calibre as Fergusson’s since it was a narrative review without any statistical analysis of the data. The second, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London, found no evidence of benefit to a woman’s health from abortion but did indicate that some women were at risk of mental health problems, most especially those with prior mental health problems. This is important since mental health problems are common in women of childbearing age and women considering abortion should not be misinformed about this. The study says, “The most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems is having a history of mental health problems prior to the abortion.” Moreover it recommends the following: “If a woman has a negative attitude towards abortion, shows a negative emotional reaction to the abortion or is experiencing stressful life events, health and social care professionals should consider offering support, and where necessary treatment, because they are more likely than other women who have an abortion to develop mental health problems”.

Accusations that people such as Ms O’Brien rely on the “faith-based dogma of fundamentalists” have no place in the sort of respectful discourse we are being urged to have on this issue. – Yours, etc,


FRCPsych, MD,

Professor of Psychiatry,

University College Dublin,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Your science correspondent William Reville is right to bring the concept of personhood into the current Irish debate on abortion (Science, May 2nd). It is undisputed that the life of a human being begins at conception with the formation of a zygote. But is this zygote a person? Prof Reville claims that his affirmative answer is backed up by the reality of the biological continuum. But there’s a problem here. I doubt if many identical (ie monozygotic) twins could be persuaded that they are not in fact two distinct persons, but essentially one. Taking a more complete view of biological development into account, it seems more reasonable to say that the zygote is a living being that has the potential to become a person ­ or persons. – Yours, etc,



The Parade,


Co Cork.

Sir, – Now that the draft abortion Bill has been published, a space should be reserved on the Leinster House plinth for Fine Gael TDs and senators to perform their pirouettes. – Yours, etc,


Meadow Copse,


Dublin 15.

Sir, – Some Irish politicians seem to think they have been elected to: 1. Avoid upholding the wishes of the people by ignoring the results of referendums. 2. Selectively dismiss components of Supreme Court rulings. I suggest these politicians should buck up and re-read their job descriptions. – Yours, etc,


Smyth Gardens,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – So after 21 years the “Heads of a Bill” have been published by the Government with the ultimate intention of legislating for the X case judgment of the Supreme Court.

It appears that a potentially suicidal girl or woman will have to subject herself to scrutiny by at least three and maybe six doctors (in the case of an appeal) before any decision is arrived at respecting a termination.

It would be interesting to know exactly what precautionary measures are proposed by the legislation to ensure that a woman facing this process will not be subject to the personal religious beliefs (if any) of panel members.

After all, it must be borne in mind that some psychiatrists oppose abortion on religious as well as medical grounds. It is essential that vulnerable women and girls are protected from any form of religious zealotry influencing her case. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Having just returned from a few months out of the country, it’s interesting to find Ireland has helped to discover a new medical treatment, a panacea. Abortion somehow has become a prophylaxis for bacterial infections, like E.coli, and a vicarious treatment for suicidal ideation. – Yours, etc,


The Brambles,


Co Mayo.

Sir, – Am I experiencing déjà vu ? Fianna Fáil's "new politics" look rather like its "old politics". Its kicking to touch with regard to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, perhaps, shouldn't be judged in outdated terms such as old or new. Maybe it is best described as "Classic Fianna Fáil?" – Yours, etc,