No vote in referendum will mean ‘backstreet abortion’ retained

Rhona Mahony tells London event clinicians need current legal regime to change

Dr Rhona Mahony said about 1,000 women accessed abortion tablets over the internet each year and take them in an ‘unsupervised way, totally unsupported’

Dr Rhona Mahony said about 1,000 women accessed abortion tablets over the internet each year and take them in an ‘unsupervised way, totally unsupported’

 

A No vote in the May referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment would represent a decision to retain “backstreet abortion” in Ireland, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital has said.

Speaking at a meeting in London on Wednesday night, Dr Rhona Mahony said about 1,000 women accessed abortion tablets over the internet each year and take them in an “unsupervised way, totally unsupported”.

“If we decide to retain the Eighth Amendment, we’re saying that we’re retaining backstreet abortion,” she said.

Dr Mahony said women who took abortion tablets were left “without access to the sort of care which first of all can get them safely through this episode but also give them the necessary sexual health support in terms of contraception and sexual health screening”.

“They are also criminalised because should they come to hospital and admit they’ve taken these tablets, they run a real risk of being prosecuted. And while people keep saying that no women have been prosecuted in Ireland, that doesn’t mean she won’t be prosecuted and it doesn’t mean she’s not very scared of being prosecuted.”

Dr Mahony was addressing a meeting of the Women’s Irish Network, a group which supports women’s projects throughout the United Kingdom, at the London Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith.

She was joined onstage by Independent News & Media journalist Dearbhail McDonald before an audience which was, according to a show of hands, overwhelmingly in favour of repealing the amendment.

Legal regime

Dr Mahony described the difficulties faced by Irish women who wish to terminate a pregnancy under the legal regime initiated by the 1983 amendment, which gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and said clinicians need it to change.

“What the law needs to give us is the flexibility to deal with the individual circumstances of women. I practice medicine in a country where if you are raped and you become pregnant you must carry that pregnancy to term,” she said.

“We’re going to continue to demand that women with complex foetal anomaly seek care under their own auspices in a different jurisdiction, bearing all the cost and the shame of what that means.”

Ms McDonald said that, even if the attempt to repeal the amendment fails next month, the availability of abortion medication online and an increasingly educated female population would ensure that the issue would return to the agenda in a few years.

“We’ve always had abortion in Ireland but now, instead of exporting it, we are importing it,” she said.

“I predict it won’t be another 35 years before this issue is back because there’s a possibility that a woman, or women, will die as a result of taking online abortion pills. That is not a price we should be willing to pay.”