GPs demand freedom to opt out of plans for abortion services

Group of medics attend meeting chaired by anti-abortion TD Mattie McGrath to voice concerns

A group of GPs opposed to the planned abortion law attended a meeting in the Oireachtas on Wednesday chaired by anti-abortion Independent TD Mattie McGrath. File photograph: Eric Luke.

A group of GPs opposed to the planned abortion law attended a meeting in the Oireachtas on Wednesday chaired by anti-abortion Independent TD Mattie McGrath. File photograph: Eric Luke.

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A group of GPs has accused the Minister for Health Simon Harris of seeking to railroad through legislation which would force them to refer patients seeking an abortion to colleagues against their conscientious objections.

The GPs are seeking full freedom of conscience provisions under the planned legislation on terminations and attended a meeting in the Oireachtas on Wednesday chaired by anti-abortion Independent TD Mattie McGrath.

The doctors want the Government to put in place an “opt -in” arrangement which would see GPs who wish to provide abortion services or referrals doing so while those who object can chose not to be involved.

The group cited private polling suggesting there were about 500 GPs across the State who were “strong conscientious objectors”, while a great majority would support a commitment to freedom of conscience.

Dr Niall Maguire, who attended the meeting in Leinster House, said the proposed heads of the legislation stated that GPs “must refer” patients to colleagues if they do not want to be involved directly in the provision of abortion services. He said doctors believed that if this was enacted, the Medical Council would amend its ethical guidelines to give effect to the provisions.

‘Alternatives’

“As GPs we have a conscientious commitment to our patients, often over the duration of a lifetime,” he said. “I and very many of my colleagues see it as our role to provide support and positive alternatives to abortion.

“We would never prescribe or make a referral that we suspect would cause harm in any situation. Now this practice is threatened by a law that would force us to set in motion a procedure that we believe to be harmful.”

Dr Maguire said he did not think many of those who voted Yes in May’s referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment“were consciously voting for doctors to be obligated in this one area of their clinical practice to do something that went against their clinical judgement ”.

Dr Kirsten Fuller said doctors in Ireland had always been trained to care for pregnant women and their unborn babies. It was “critical that the law respects the views of doctors who choose to continue to treat both patients with care and compassion”, she said.

Dr Andrew O’Regan said the group was looking for the Government to respect a doctor’s right of freedom of conscience. He said they were asking that they not be forced to do something with which they were morally uncomfortable.

Mr Harris later said he wanted to work with doctors on the implementation of abortion services as he was eager to see a change in the way women with crisis pregnancies are treated. He told RTE’s News at One that the Government had an obligation to implement the draft legislation which was presented to the public before the referendum.

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