Irish doctors call for decriminalisation of abortion

Letter signed by 838 doctors warns criminalising abortion puts lives at risk

Doctors and health professionals from every region of the world today added their voices to the growing pressure for the decriminalisation of abortion.

Some 838 doctors from 44 countries have signed an open letter to governments published today by Amnesty International.

The letter has been signed by some of the leading figures in Irish healthcare, which include Dr Peter Boylan, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street and Dr Veronica O’Keane, Professor in psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and consultant psychiatrist.

The letter warns that criminalising abortion puts women’s and girls’ health and lives at risk.


“The criminalisation of abortion prevents healthcare providers from delivering timely, medically indicated care in accordance with their patients’ wishes,” the letter says.

“It impedes and disregards sound medical judgment and can undermine the professional duty of care and confidentiality that doctors bear towards their patients.”

Doctors and health care providers in Ireland may face up to 14 years in jail if they provide or assist in providing an abortion other than when the woman or girl’s life is at risk.

This is even where they act to protect her health, where the pregnancy is the result of rape or if there is a fatal foetal impairment.

Dr Peter Boylan, said medical staff face a “legal and ethical tightrope”.

“Under the [current law] we must wait until women become sick enough before we can intervene. How close to death do you have to be? There is no answer to that,” said Dr Boylan.

Globally, 40 per cent of women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion is banned, highly restricted or otherwise inaccessible.

Unsafe abortion accounts for 13 per cent of maternal deaths, resulting in 47,000 women and girls dying each year.

Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman said governments can can no longer claim that criminalising abortion has no impact on the healthcare that women and girls receive.

“Making criminals of women for abortion violates their human rights and can endanger their lives. In numerous countries around the world, Amnesty International has documented shocking cases of women forced to continue unviable pregnancies because of restrictive laws. We have seen women and girls pregnant as a result of rape forced to carry the foetus to term and give birth,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“International law is clear: at the very least women and girls should have access to an abortion when the pregnancy poses a risk to their life or health, in cases of severe or fatal foetal impairment, and in cases of rape or incest. International law also says that under no circumstances should a woman be made a criminal for having an abortion,” he said.

In a Red C poll of people in Ireland for Amnesty International published in July 2015, 72per cent of people did not agree with the possible 14 year prison sentence for doctors.

The poll found 64 per cent of people did not know it is a crime for a woman to get an abortion when her life is not at risk and only 7 per cent agreed that women should be imprisoned for up to 14 years for having an unlawful abortion.

Dr Emily McManus, Dr Peadar O’Grady, Dr Ross Kelly, Dr Mary Favier, Rosa Corr, Jeannine Webster, Marian Dwyer, Ana Rakovac, Aidan Foley, Dr Veronica O’Keane, Dr Peter Boylan, Dr Bryan Doherty, Helen Doherty, Dr Mark Murphy, Emer Byrne, Dr Marie Ferriter, Dr Caitriona Henchion are among the Ireland based healthcare professionals who have signed the petition.