Rotunda Hospital master criticises abortion legislation

Absence of gestational age limit creates challenge for doctors, says Coulter-Smith

Master of the Rotunda Hospital Sam Coulter-Smith: said issues around abortion legislation were complex but the legislation ‘doesn’t help the situation’. Photograph: Eric Luke

Master of the Rotunda Hospital Sam Coulter-Smith: said issues around abortion legislation were complex but the legislation ‘doesn’t help the situation’. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The absence of a gestational age limit in the State’s current abortion legislation creates a challenge for doctors, the master of the Rotunda Hospital has said.

Sam Coulter-Smith was critical of the legislation, which does not refer to a time limit in pregnancy beyond which terminations cannot be carried out.

It wasn’t clear what should be done in the case of a woman whose life is deemed to be at risk because of suicidal ideation and whose baby is viable outside the womb, he added.

“If you’re going to terminate that pregnancy you can’t intentionally terminate the life of the child,” he said.

“Is it right to deliver at 24 weeks, because someone is expressing suicidal ideation? There’s a chance the baby will die, there’s a chance the baby will survive, [and] there’s a chance the baby will survive with significant [develop- mental] issues. In that situation, who is responsible for that child?”

Dr Coulter-Smith said the issues were complex but the legislation “doesn’t help the situation”.

He admitted he was wrong to have predicted, in the debate before the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, that the suicidal ideation clause would lead to an increase in demand for terminations.

“The floodgates haven’t opened. That was one of my concerns but I think I overestimated it.”

There was no evidence the mental health clauses of the legislation were being used to obtain terminations, he said.

Repeal

Doctors wanted to be able to provide care for women “regardless of their circumstances”, he said.

If a woman carrying a baby with a life-limiting foetal abnormality chose to terminate, they should be able to provide support and not make her travel abroad. But if she chose to continue with the pregnancy, appropriate facilities were needed.

“Once a woman has made her decision, as doctors we need legislation in place to support her in her choice.”