Abortion clarity given to Rotunda Hospital

Move follows doctors’ concerns about inadvertently breaching 12-week limit

 Prof Fergal Malone,  master of the Rotunda Hospital. He said in January that previous assurances had been given by the Department of Health but they did not go far enough to address concerns

Prof Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital. He said in January that previous assurances had been given by the Department of Health but they did not go far enough to address concerns

 

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan has confirmed pharmaceutically-induced abortion does not have to be fully completed within 12 weeks.

The law requires that the initial prescribing of the medicine takes places before 12 weeks have elapsed.

He wrote to the Rotunda Hospital to address doctors’ concerns about inadvertently breaching the 12-week limit for legal abortions.

In January The Irish Times reported that the master of the Rotunda, Fergal Malone, said doctors feared being criminalised if they prescribed abortion medication to women in their 11th week of pregnancy, but the process did not conclude until after 12 weeks.

The Rotunda curtailed its services for this reason.

New documentation released under Freedom of Information legislation shows that after Mr Malone’s comments, Mr Holohan moved to offer “practical” advice.

‘Unambiguous’

On January 30th, Mr Holohan wrote to Mr Malone and said the law was clear and “unambiguous”.

He said section 12 of the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018 stated: “A termination of pregnancy may be carried out in accordance with this section by a medical practitioner where, having examined the pregnant woman, he or she is of the reasonable opinion formed in good faith that the pregnancy concerned has not exceeded 12 weeks of pregnancy.”

Mr Holohan wrote: “In practical terms, pharmaceutically-induced termination of pregnancy requires that the prescribing of the medicine takes places before 12 weeks have elapsed, but does not require that the resultant induced abortion is fully completed within 12 weeks.”

Mr Malone said in January that previous assurances had been given by the Department of Health but they did not go far enough to address concerns.

‘Some cases’

“There have been some letters written by the chief medical officer’s office, saying that – and I quote – ‘in some cases it may be reasonable to continue past the 12 weeks, zero days’. The letter does not specify what those ‘some cases’ are.”

“The reason the 12-week group is causing a challenge is because the legislation is written with an upper limit of 12 weeks and zero days. But there is considerable ambiguity as to whether 12 weeks means the date at which the termination starts, or the date at which the termination ends.

“Some people rather simplistically see a termination as occurring at a single moment in time, and while that might be true for surgical procedures, for medical procedures the duration of the termination of pregnancy can span many days.”