Coombe Hospital denies board overruled consultants’ abortion decision

TDs told Dáil woman was denied abortion after fatal foetal abnormality detected

The Coombe Hospital has denied its board overruled the decision of two consultants to approve an abortion for a pregnant woman who discovered her foetus has a fatal abnormality.

The denial comes after TDs told the Dáil the woman was denied an abortion despite the consultants’ approval.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith raised the case with Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Thursday.

“I want to raise what I believe is the first test case for the new abortion legislation. I have been contacted by a woman who has a fatal foetal abnormality that has been certified by two consultants,” Ms Coppinger said.


“Now it appears the board of the Coombe Hospital is refusing her constitutional right that we all voted for to have an abortion at a time she chooses.

“Instead they have told her that she must wait another four weeks to see if there is a spontaneous miscarriage. At 13 weeks this woman went for her 12 week scan and they could clearly see at that point that the organs of the foetus were outside of the body. They brought her back a week later where that was fully confirmed when they got a better image.

“One doctor, her consultant and another consultant was brought in who said yes, it is a fatal foetal abnormality but a week later, it went to the board, and the board over-ruled that,” Ms Coppinger said.

“This is about the law. A main maternity hospital in the capital city of this country is refusing this woman her constitutional right when two doctors certify what is very clearly a fatal foetal abnormality.”


Ms Coppinger said the decision may have been taken because doctors are fearful of criminalisation, and she said the woman in question is considering travelling to England.

“It would seem to me that it is because of the chilling effect of criminalisation that maternity hospitals are acting this way.”

Ms Smith named the woman in the chamber, and said the woman had told her that “this is not what I voted for” in the referendum.

“I spoke to this woman last night, she is from Clondalkin and is pregnant with a much wanted baby. But she has been told by her doctors, you can go to England. Her words to me were: ‘This was not what I voted for, I have constitutional rights’. She finds it hard to sleep knowing that the condition that her much wanted child is in.”

Mr Coveney said the case needed to be dealt with by doctors and by the hospital and not on the floor of the Dáil.

“The law is now clear in this area. The Government passed legislation in a way that was consistent with what we promised we would do in the context of the referendum.”

While the Coombe Hospital said it could not comment on individual cases, for both ethical and legal reasons, it said the board does not have an input into certification for terminations.

“The Board of Guardians and Directors of the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital has no role whatsoever in certifying a termination of pregnancy,” a statement said.

“Insofar as recent media coverage has stated that the board has had a role in determining whether or not the criteria for certification have been met, those reports are untrue.”


The National Women’s Council of Ireland has called for the Department of Health to intervene.

Director Orla O’Connor said: “Our thoughts in the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) are with the woman at the centre of the case.”

“The legislation is clear: two doctors are required to certify a termination. As reported in this case, the two doctors were in agreement, however an abortion has been denied. This must be a very distressing situation for the woman who had no option but to contact her public representatives.”

She said the full facts of the decisions made in the Coombe hospital need to be made clear.

“This case has the potential for widespread anxiety for women in Ireland. The wishes of the woman and her doctor must be respected.”

She said as a matter of urgency, the Department of Health must intervene, so that the woman can access the medical services provided in law and supported by her doctors.

“Further, the Master of the Coombe Hospital must provide immediate clarity on the position of the Hospital in providing for a termination.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said while he did not comment on individual cases, the law in this regard was clear.

“The law allows for terminations when two obstetricians certify the foetus will not survive outside the womb,” he said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times