Coombe letter refusing abortion ‘suggests chilling effect’ of law

Couple say they were told anomaly was fatal before hospital dubbed it ‘complex anomaly’

The Coombe hospital: the words used in its letter are almost verbatim the text from section 11 of the Act. Photograph: Dave Meehan

The Coombe hospital: the words used in its letter are almost verbatim the text from section 11 of the Act. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

The letter from the Coombe hospital to the couple at the centre of the latest abortion controversy is sympathetic, but clear.

An abortion is not possible in this case as the baby might not die before birth or within 28 days, the legally prescribed time under which abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities are allowed.

“We recognise this is a very challenging time for you and your husband and we wish to offer you our full support at this time,” the letter states.

The doctors’ opinion is that, although their unborn baby has been diagnosed with a “complex foetal anomaly . . . we are not of the reasonable opinion formed in good faith that there is present a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth, as per the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.”

The couple reject that they were told their foetus had a “complex anomaly”, saying they were told clearly a week before the letter was issued that the anomaly was fatal.

The Coombe hospital declined to respond to the couple’s claims, saying it could not comment on individual cases.

The words used in the letter are almost verbatim the text from section 11 of the Act, which says: “A termination of pregnancy may be carried out in accordance with this section where two medical practitioners, having examined the pregnant woman, are of the reasonable opinion formed in good faith that there is present a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth.”

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, who raised this case in the Dáil on Thursday, said this underlined the rigour with which the hospital referred to the Act in its decision-making, adding it suggests an ongoing “chilling effect” from the legislation despite the repeal of the Eighth Amendment last year and the enactment of the new legislation.