Suicidal women will still go abroad for abortions, says leading psychiatrist

Women will not wait to go before ‘abusive’ system of six doctors

Dr Anthony McCarthy, psychiatrist at National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, Dublin. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Suicidal pregnant women will continue to go abroad for abortions if they have to see psychiatrists, according to Dr Anthony McCarthy, a psychiatrist at Holles Street maternity hospital who deals with pregnant women.

Demanding that women meet even two psychiatrists would put most off seeking a termination in Ireland, he said. "The vast majority are not going to come along to me to say: 'I'm suicidal'. They are going to say: 'No, I'm going to go'," he told The Irish Times in an interview.

Any plan to require women to go before six doctors amounted to an “inquisition”, was “abusive” and an “abomination”, said Dr McCarthy, one of only three perinatal psychiatrists in the Republic.

“Imagine you’re emotionally distressed, you’re feeling dreadful, you feel anxious, you can’t sleep, you’re feeling so bleak and so down and you want the pregnancy to end and someone says: ‘Well, you can have the termination in Ireland if you are prepared to be interviewed by six people and tell your story to them.’ That’s an abomination,” Dr McCarthy said.


Two psychiatrists
A women should see two psychiatrists to assess her suicidal risk and then an obstetrician to deal with her pregnancy, he said.

But, even then, most would go to England or Northern Ireland for abortions, he said. Most women in these cases wanted a termination straight away and waiting for a procedure which involved an appointment with psychiatrists and an obstetrician was not an option, he said.

Dr McCarthy said he had treated suicidal women who went abroad for abortions but never anyone who could not go for financial or other reasons.

“If somebody came along to me who said: ‘I want to see these six people – I am both suicidal and I think a termination will do it and I want to go through this procedure’, I would be saying: ‘Why do you want to go through this procedure? For all the expense, why haven’t you gone to England.Why haven’t you gone to Northern Ireland?’” he said.

He criticised the “judgmentalism and harshness” of people who said no woman needed an abortion to treat suicidal risk during pregnancy.

“It is just so harsh and it’s people who cannot be doing this for their work who are coming out with these absolute statements,” he said.

Before abortion was introduced in England in 1950, 10 per cent of women in Ireland who died by suicide were found to be pregnant, he said. While it was impossible to say why these women killed themselves, that figure now was much lower.

"The idea that no woman in pregnancy will ever kill herself because she is pregnant – I don't know how anybody could stand over that when we look at our own history," he said.

The idea of putting women through several interviews with psychiatrists was part of out “dreadful history” on treating women who were distressed during pregnancy.

“Women being put into psychiatric hospitals in the past, women being sent off to Magdalene laundries having their children taken from them: we don’t have a good history in this country in this regard,” he said.

Women would face a “double whammy” of being judged because of having an unwanted pregnancy and through the stigma of mental illness. “