Abortion legislation not yet 'commenced'

Department of Health says 'operational issues' delaying introduction of new law

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act has not yet been commenced and "operational issues" must be addressed before it is, the Department of Health has said.

The Act, which was signed into law by the President at the end of July, will be commenced “as soon as practicable,” according to the Department. The issues delaying its introduction relate to the establishment of a panel of doctors to carry out review functions under the legislation and the provision of associated administrative facilities.

These issues will be addressed by the HSE, the Department said in a statement issued following the publication of an article in today's Irish Times about the termination of a woman's pregnancy in the National Maternity Hospital.

The termination, which was carried out on the woman in view of the risk to her life, is the first to come to light since the legislation passed through the Oireachtas in July but it was not, the Department’s statement reveals, carried out under the provisions of the legislation, as this newspaper reported today.

The Department declined to comment on the case, citing patient confidentiality.

Dr Peter Boylan, clinical director of the hospital, described the leak of patient details in the article as unacceptable and unethical. Patient confidentiality was absolutely critical in the hospital's dealings with women, especially those in sensitive situations, he said.

“Patients will get the care they deserve, and we will not let any woman die in Holles Street, we will give her the appropriate care. But we will not have her details splashed around the newspapers,” he told RTÉ Radio.

The termination was carried out on a woman who was showing sepsis after her membranes ruptured in the second trimester of her pregnancy. Holles Street is one of 25 hospitals in the State authorised to carry out terminations under the provisions of the Act.

Such situations are dealt with under Section 7 of the Act, which covers the risk of loss of life of a woman from physical illness.

The Pro Life Campaign said the legislation was not needed to safeguard the lives of pregnant women. “While the precise circumstances surrounding the intervention in this tragic case are unknown, what is clear is that the Government’s abortion legislation permits doctors to blur the distinction between necessary life-saving interventions in pregnancy and induced abortion (where no effort whatsoever is made to save the life of the baby),” said Dr Ruth Cullen.

After the legislation is commenced, the hospital is required to tell Minister for Health James Reilly the Medical Council registration number of the doctor who carried out the procedure and the registration of the other doctor/s involved in certification. It must also state which provision of the Act the termination was involved and the date the procedure was carried out.

The Minister is required to publish a yearly report setting out the number of terminations that have been carried out under the terms of the Act.