There are significant dangers to the unsupervised use of abortion pills, the Minister for Health Simon Harris and the chair of the Institute of Obstetricians Peter Boylan warned on Thursday, while calling for a Yes vote in the abortion referendum.
They said the widespread use of “illegal” and “unsupervised” abortion pills presented a compelling case for repealing the Eighth Amendment, and legalising the pills so they could be used under medical supervision.
Mr Harris also said that people should not use illegal medicines. Abortion pills are currently illegal under Irish law, but would be legalised under new laws proposed by the Government if the referendum in May is passed.
Mr Harris spoke about “the danger of the abortion pill, which we know is now a reality for many Irish women”.
“People used to be able to say that abortion was only a reality for Irish women who travelled. We now know it’s a reality for Irish women in this country through the illegal and unsupervised use of abortion pills, and the medical risk associated with that.”
Dr Boylan said abortion pills were "coming in and being used without regulation or medical supervision".
“When they are used under medical supervision they are extremely safe,” Dr Boylan said. “But there are serious dangers when women take them without medical supervision. We have knowledge of women who have taken them in excessive dosage and that can result in catastrophe for a woman such as a rupture of the uterus with very significant haemorrhage.
“And if that happens in the privacy of a woman’s home or perhaps in an apartment somewhere, that can have very, very serious consequences for women. So it’s really important that these tablets are regulated and licensed, and dealt with in a supervised way in the interests of the health of women in the future.”
Asked if he would advise women not to take abortion pills without medical supervision, Dr Boylan said he would advise them to be “extremely careful about taking them without medical supervision, and if they do get them over the internet and get them delivered to their homes, my understanding is that there are pretty clear instructions, but I haven’t seen any of the packages myself. But if they do they should certainly follow the instructions.”
Dr Boylan also said that women should “not feel in any way reluctant to attend hospitals or doctors”.
“They’ll be dealt with with compassion, and the confidentiality of a doctor-patient relationship is absolutely key to the practice of medicine in this country, and it’s something that we value extremely deeply. Women should feel reassured that if they have any difficulties whatsoever that they should consult their doctors.”
Mr Harris said that “people should only take medication that is legal and under appropriate medical supervision”.
“My view on illegal medication is consistent regardless of what it is, but it does show the reality of the situation we are facing,” he said.
Dr Boylan also said that it was “completely false” to say that abortion would take place up to the end of pregnancy. “Those babies will be delivered in the mother’s interest.”
Mr Harris also emphasised that the Government’s proposed legislation would include a ban on late-term abortions, which he stressed was “already the medical practice, that doctors in the country would do early delivery once it reaches viability”.
Head of the Fine Gael campaign Josepha Madigan said Fine Gael would not be putting up any of its own posters, but would be co-operating closely with the Together for Yes campaign.