Abortion legislation is most likely to apply to pregnant teenage girls in care, psychiatrist says

Consultant psychiatrist Veronica O’Keane says a patient’s GP should make the recommendation for an abortion and one psychiatrist should assess the suicidal risk

Pregnant teenage girls in care are likely to be the main group to which the abortion legislation will apply, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist has told the Oireachtas hearings.

Dr Maeve Doyle said pregnancy was rare among young people attending a child and adolescent health service.

She said parents had to give consent for a pregnant young person to attend such a service and if they were under 17 the professional had to report to the Health Service Executive and gardaí, so parents were unlikely to seek advice from such a service.

The HSE, however, might seek the advice of a psychiatric service where a young girl in its care became pregnant and sought a termination on grounds of suicidality, and "this is probably the main group of pregnant teenage girls for whom the proposed legislation will in effect apply". She also said only a third of children in care had a GP.

One psychiatrist
Consultant psychiatrist Veronica O'Keane said a patient's GP should make the recommendation for an abortion and one psychiatrist should assess the suicidal risk.


Dr O’Keane said some legislators argued that a suicide clause would remove the only effective barrier to abortion on demand and women would have an abortion even if they were not genuinely suicidal.

Underlying these arguments, she said, “are deeply problematic assumptions about the credibility of women, the reliability of psychiatry as a medical discipline . . . and the concept that doctors have the power to control women’s reproductive autonomy”.

Studies about whether abortion was bad for a woman’s mental health had all taken place where there was a choice of continuing the pregnancy or having an abortion, she said. “In situations where abortion services are not available, unwanted pregnancy is a leading cause of suicide.” She said in 1950s Ireland 10 per cent of women who died by suicide were pregnant.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times