Mental health experts ‘shocked’ by lack of abortion in Ireland

‘Every woman who travels from Ireland for an abortion – their mental health is affected’

“You cannot separate out the issue of having no reproductive rights from a woman’s mental health,” Veronica O’Keane, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, has told the latest episode of The Women’s Podcast.

"Every single woman and girl who travels out of Ireland for an abortion – their mental health will be affected by having to take that trip. And the more vulnerable a person is in terms of their mental health, the worse trauma that is going to be for them."

Two years ago in Japan, mental health experts chose Ireland as the next country to stage the 2017 global meeting on women's mental health, when they became aware that the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution prohibits abortion except in cases where there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman, she said.

‘Absence of basic rights’

"Our colleagues across the world are shocked by the situation in Ireland. It's unique in Europe, really, apart from the Vatican and Malta, so it is a very strange and bizarre situation. People don't understand how a country like Ireland has voted for marriage equality and they don't have abortion services. They just don't get it and they are all very enthusiastic about coming here to talk to us," said O'Keane.

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According to O’Keane, not having abortion services available in Ireland has a negative effect on women’s mental health. “There is consensus that you can’t have good mental health in the absence of basic rights,” she added.

Does she think any of the 1,000-plus medical and academic professionals at the conference might think that Ireland is right to ban abortion except under limited circumstances?

“No. There is absolute unanimity in this,” she said. “The International Association for Women’s Mental Health does not consider that abortion is bad for a woman’s mental health. I think the need for so-called balance in any discussion of the matter is deplorable. Why does 5 per cent of the population get 50 per cent of the representation? It is a very fringe view in society in general and in medicine as well.”

The 2017 World Congress on Women’s Mental Health, runs from March 6th to 9th in the Royal Dublin Society. http://iawmh2017.org/wp/topics/

The Irish Times Health + Family supplement looks at women’s mental health in Ireland on Tuesday February 28th.