Over half of doctors support abortion


SLIGHTLY MORE than 50 per cent of Irish GPs believe abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it, a survey shows.

The study earlier this year of 500 established GPs and almost 250 GPs in training reveals 48 per cent of respondents had a consultation in the previous six months with a woman either before or after she had travelled abroad for a termination of pregnancy.

The study, carried out by Dr Mark Murphy, a GP with the Sligo General Practice Training Scheme, is understood to be the first piece of research to look at both the attitudes of GPs to abortion and their clinical experiences of termination. The study, based on a postal/e-mail survey of randomly chosen family doctors, also highlights health problems for women related to the issue.

It will be presented today at a national research conference at Sligo General Hospital.

Some four in 10 respondents feel a woman’s healthcare suffers because of the requirement to travel to have a termination. In terms of women’s physical health, GPs report difficulty with aftercare. One respondent noted: “Many women do not attend for aftercare with their Irish GP as they are ashamed or embarrassed and often present too late with infection/bleeding.”

Respondents also noted the psychological stress involved, with one commenting: “Illegality and having to travel abroad add to the traumatic effect of what is already a complex situation and a decision not taken light-heartedly by many women.”

Of established GPs surveyed, 52 per cent said abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it, and 24 per cent said it should only be allowed in very limited circumstances, such as with “a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother”. Specific examples cited by respondents include rape or sexual abuse, maternal cancer and major foetal anomalies.

Some 11 per cent said abortion should never be available, while 13 per cent expressed no definite opinion.

Dr Murphy said he hoped the research would highlight circumstances in which women who choose to have an abortion abroad may suffer adverse health consequences.

Noting the terms pro-life and pro-choice did not accurately describe the spectrum of views of the majority of GPs surveyed, he said: “A maximum of 11 per cent of GPs surveyed agree with our current legislation regarding abortion. At a very minimum, 75 per cent of GPs feel there are situations in which abortion should be available in Ireland.”

Some 4,402 abortions were performed in the UK in 2010 on women who reported residence in the Republic. It is not known how many women from here travel annually to mainland Europe for terminations.