Love Both campaign challenges Minister on disability claim

Abortion on the grounds of disability will occur within first 12 weeks, No campaign says

At the Love Both press conference in Dublin were from left; Monica Hadarean, Cora Sherlock, Sinead McBreen and Diana Gherasin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

The Love Both campaign has challenged the assertion of Minister for Health Simon Harris and leading Yes campaigner Dr Peter Boylan that abortion on the grounds of disability will not take place in Ireland if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Two of the No campaigns’ leading figures contended on Thursday that abortion of foetuses with chromosomal conditions such as Down Syndrome and Edwards Syndrome would occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The Government has said it will legislate to allow abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Love Both legal adviser Prof William Binchy, and obstetrician Dr Trevor Hayes, told a press conference in Dublin that prenatal screening could be performed as early as the ninth week of pregnancy.


At a hearing of the Citizen’s Assembly last year, another obstetrician Dr Peter McParland of the National Maternity Hospital stated the test was 99 per cent accurate for diagnosing chromosomal anomalies such as Down’s, Edwards’, and Patau syndrome.

Referring to Dr Boylan’s comments that women would await the full diagnostic test (with 100 per cent accuracy) which is usually available after 12 weeks gestation, Dr Binchy said: “He must be alone in that view.

“If a person is told there is a rigorous 12-week application of the law. It is now 10 weeks… and you have 99 per cent certainty you have a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, will they wait for confirmation to move from 99 per cent to 100 per cent?”

He said that would not happen and that decisions would be taken based on a test that was 99 per cent certain.

Dr Hayes said the test could be taken on the first day of week 10 and that a full diagnostic result could be obtained within 12 weeks. “I am not here to trade insults with Dr Boylan,” he said. “I know these are the facts.”

Dr Hayes, citing the termination rates in Iceland and the UK following diagnosis of these chromosomal conditions said he would “hate to see Irish society with no more babies with Down’s Syndrome. It would defile the core identify we have of being Irish.”

Chromosomal conditions

Prof Binchy earlier said the Government assertion there were no grounds in the draft legislation for abortion on the basis of disability was a “falsehood”.

He said doctors, including doctors on the Yes side, had said tests could be done within a 12-week period with 99 per cent certainty.

“Does any reasonable voter believe in those circumstances they can say abortion for disability will not take place?

“…You cannot fall for the trick just because the term disability is not used does not mean that disabled children will not be aborted,” he said.

Earlier the Love Both media conference heard from three parents that they each faced pressure from clinicians in Ireland to terminate their pregnancies following diagnosis of chromosomal conditions.

Sinéad McBreen, a nurse, said she came under “enormous pressure” from doctors to abort following a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. She said her daughter Grace was a “beautiful, strong and funny” girl.

“My experience was a negative one… I was asked would I not consider abortion and told her life had less value than my other children. She is entitled to have a voice. Many adults with Down’s Syndrome including Karen Gaffney who is an amazing advocate.”

Monica Hadarean also said that after her 20-week anomaly scan she was informed by her consultant that there was a chromosomal defect like Down’s Syndrome or Edwards’ Syndrome.

She said she too faced pressure and she would always remember “the way they looked at us when we rejected having the [amniocentesis] test.”

Diana Gherasin also said she received a similar diagnosis. “I was told that my pregnancy had lots of complications and most likely my baby would not survive until the end of pregnancy.

“I was presented with the option of terminating the pregnancy so I wouldn’t put myself through the loss of my baby later in the pregnancy and was told that my husband and I were still young and healthy and we could have another child.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times