Ireland’s abortion regime ‘damages mental health’

Angry pro-life TD Mattie McGrath leaves committee, ‘for today at least’

Independent TD for Tipperary, Mattie McGrath, walks out of Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment. Video: Oireachtas TV


Ireland’s restrictive abortion regime is damaging the mental health of all Irish citizens, not just pregnant women, the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment heard on Wednesday.

Consultant psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry Veronica O’Keane said the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which grants an equal right to life to the unborn child and the mother, had a negative affect on the mental health of pregnant women who were already at higher risk of depression.

“I would go further and say that the mental health of every person in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment...We are all shamed by the current situation,” she said.

Prof O’Keane said she was relieved the Citizen’s Assembly had placed an equal significance on the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman when recommending a liberalised abortion regime.

She said the mind and body were intimately connected and this connection increases during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Therefore a mother’s mental health problems could severely affect the wellbeing of a foetus.

She said 16 per cent of women suffer from depression during pregnancy and suicide is one of the top three medical causes of death for pregnant women. In 2002 it was the top cause.

“People who can’t travel [for abortion] become suicidal because they can’t travel. We are creating desperate, suicidal women,” Prof O’Keane said.

Prof O’Keane, is professor in psychiatry at Trinity College, Dublin and consultant psychiatrist with Tallaght HSE Services. She is a member of Doctors For Choice.

She rejected the argument that repealing the Eighth Amendment would “open the floodgates” for abortion. She is a member of Doctors For Choice.

“The floodgates are open, they’re open to England,” she said. “We do have an abortion service, it’s just not in this country.”

She said the UK path to abortion “is filled with shame and humiliation” and has been “damaging women for five decades”.

Prof O’Keane said abortion was a private, deeply personal decision for a woman and that being forced to travel removed that privacy.

Addressing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows for abortion in Ireland in cases where there is a risk of suicide, she said this was a “clumsy” approach and forced women to see many professionals in intimating settings before an abortion could be carried out.

She called the law “a repetitive intrusion that is counter to good, sensitive practice.”

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick put it to Prof O’Keane that the pro-choice side was trying to prove abortion was a good thing for women and did not damage their mental health.

He said there was evidence abortion had an adverse affect on a woman’s mental health.

Prof O’Keane told him he was “misinformed” and offered to send him more information.

Mr Fitzpatrick also put it to her that 100,000 lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment, to which she responded: “I’m baffled, I don’t understand that statistic, I haven’t met anyone who’s been able to explain that to me.”

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath left the committee room following a row in which he accused committee chairwoman Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone of bias.

Late into the first session on Wednesday, Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said he had been “mesmerised ” following a lengthy contribution from Mr McGrath in which he accused the committee of unfairness.

During his contribution, Mr McGrath accused Sinn Féin members of having refused to say where Jean McConville, one of The Disappeared, was buried.

Mr McGrath appeared to become agitated at Mr O’Brien’s use of the word “mesmerised” and demanded the Sinn Féin deputy withdraw the remark.

“I want that remark withdrawn, that I mesmerized anybody,” Mr McGrath said.

He then called the committee a charade and said, “I’m leaving, for today at least.” He also accused Ms Noone of bias and of failing to maintain control of the committee.

Ms Noone responded: “If it is your wish to leave, I’d like it if you did”.

Mr McGrath then left the committee room while other members said he was being disrespectful to the committee and to the witness, Prof O’Keane.

Mr O’Brien pointed out that the word “mesmerised” is not offensive.