The abortion debate

A chara, – As an ex-gynaecologist who has worked in both Ireland and Britain, I am naturally interested in the ongoing debate…

A chara, – As an ex-gynaecologist who has worked in both Ireland and Britain, I am naturally interested in the ongoing debate about legislation for abortion in Ireland. The big question seems to be whether legislating for abortion in Ireland will lead to “abortion on demand”. I refer to the reported interviews by the Seanad committee (Home News, January 9th).

Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the Rotunda, said that she was offended by the suggestion that women would attempt to manipulate their doctors on the basis of fabricated ideas of suicidal ideation or intention in order to obtain terminations. She was supported by Senator John Crown, who is also a doctor.

But there would be no question of “manipulation”; women wanting an abortion would know that all they would have to do was utter the phrase “suicidal thoughts” and an abortion would at once be granted in the private clinics set up to cope with the demand.

So these women, rather than lying to or manipulating their doctors, would just be going through a tedious, but required ritual.


If a psychiatrist had to certify that the suicidal ideation is genuine, then the clinics would simply employ one who is strongly pro-abortion and would automatically co-operate. The vast majority of psychiatrists who would not agree would be excluded from the decision-making process. That is what would happen in the real world.

There has been much controversy, highlighted by Vincent Browne, about pregnant women diagnosed using modern techniques as carrying a non-viable baby being denied a termination, and we will all feel much sympathy for them when they are told to head off to England. It is natural nowadays for doctors to refer on cases for a procedure, in which they have no experience, for fear of something going wrong, but that is surely the real reason for their refusal to do such a termination here.

Dr Mahony also declared that the law making abortion a crime needed to be repealed so that she could go ahead and terminate a pregnancy in order to save a mother’s life without fearing that she would go to jail. All gynaecologists will have been faced with this sort of situation and will have performed terminations with the support of the nursing staff. It never occurred to me when faced with an ectopic gestation or a baby so malformed that a natural delivery was impossible, that I needed to fear the law. I just went ahead and did what had to be done. (Note that here I am using the word terminations to mean simply ending the pregnancies. For clarity the word “abortion” should be used to refer to what goes on in Britain.) The point regarding such terminations is that as the mother would be doomed if the pregnancy were to continue, then so would the baby who cannot be saved, and there is no law stating that doctors are required to try to do the impossible.– Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – On the abortion debate, I borrow a phrase of Máire Cruise O’Brien out of an entirely different context: “Counsels of perfection are often very close to counsels of despair. Puritans make virtue virtually impossible.” She is echoing a very ancient insight.

No law can ever be formulated which will be the perfect solution to this particular ethical dilemma and to leave the matter to fester for a further 20 years is no solution at all.

Instead of despairing, what has to be done is to formulate a law which is acceptable to the moderate majority in Ireland. – Yours, etc,