Breda O’Brien: Kate O’Connell's shocking outburst is part of an oppressive culture

Fine Gael Deputy's triumphalist remarks in the Dáil on abortion are the new reality

Standing beside Simon Harris in the Dáil this week, Deputy Kate O'Connell compared perinatal hospice care to the incarceration of women in laundries and also said there was no empirical evidence for abortion regret. The Rotunda Hospital defines perinatal palliative care as "an active, total, holistic approach to care, focused on enhancing the quality of life of the baby and their family while recognising potential or inevitable death, and should be offered from the time of diagnosis, whether before birth (antenatally) or as a newborn (neonatally)".

O'Connell's outburst was shocking, given that Harris had launched National Standards for Bereavement Care Following Pregnancy Loss just 2½ years ago.  These standards prescribe wraparound care for the family from the moment of diagnosis of a life-limiting condition to long after the death of the child and say that every maternity hospital in Ireland should provide it.

Yet Harris remained silent as O’Connell declared that perinatal hospice care sounds like one of those good ideas, but in fact, harks back to the 1950s.

In an astonishing show of insensitive ignorance, she seemed to think that perinatal hospice is a place where women go to live rather than a co-ordinated set of services. She asked rhetorically that, given that she has three children, if she had “one of these pregnancies . . . where are you going to incarcerate me? Are you going to open a laundry for these women?”


This model of care involves a dedicated bereavement midwife as part of an interdisciplinary team, which ensures, for example, that you are not sitting with all the other women carrying healthy babies when you come for your antenatal check-ups.

Grief denier

The bereavement midwife is there to ensure the family will be ushered in immediately after birth, that you have quiet, dignified time with the baby and that the baby experiences no discomfort, and perhaps that a photographer will be there to record the precious few moments and make memories that last a lifetime. The approach gives parents a chance to come through this appalling grief with a rediscovered sense of being able to be parents and advocates for their little, damaged child, of finding meaning and closure even while experiencing severe trauma and pain.

In an astonishing show of insensitive ignorance, she seemed to think perinatal hospice is a place where women go to live

But O'Connell did not just cavalierly dismiss bereavement care. She also triumphantly produced so-called evidence that abortion regret is not a real thing, citing Dr Abigail Aiken, who has openly campaigned for abortion in Ireland for years. Have Aiken or O'Connell ever bothered to listen to the experiences of women who have talked about the pain of regretting an abortion?

Ironically, those same guidelines for the perinatal bereavement service that O’Connell derides, talk about disenfranchised grief, which is defined as occurring “when the impact of a death is not recognised. It occurs when grief is not openly acknowledged, socially validated or publicly mourned.”

When women who claim to be feminists proudly declare that you are not entitled to grieve your abortion because there is no empirical evidence for abortion regret, that also causes disenfranchised grief.

But O’Connell was not finished. She declared to pro-life TDs, “We won. We’ll get our way . . . Ye can talk for as long as ye like. . . Ye lost. It must be hurting.”

Those final comments show the new, ugly mood, where only complete submission to the dominant ideological frame will be tolerated.

When women who claim to be feminists proudly declare you are not entitled to grieve your abortion that also causes disenfranchised grief

While O’Connell’s rant was in a league of its own when it came to triumphalism, the inability to deal with difference was also in evidence at last week’s extraordinary general meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).

Doctors walk out

Hundreds of doctors had called for an egm to put forward motions and to have a proper debate about whether abortion should be provided by GPs at all. They also wanted assurances that doctors would not be threatened with the law of the land if they cannot in conscience facilitate a woman in taking the life of her child or refer her to someone else to do it. They want instead to offer holistic care for both mother and baby.

But the ICGP first of all demanded that all those asking for the egm should have provided handwritten signatures, an astonishing demand given that the corporate world has long accepted digital signatures. Then the ICGP said that they would hold an egm, but bizarrely, would not allow any motions to be voted on.

What exactly was the ICGP afraid of? That their lack of mandate to represent GPs would be made obvious if motions were carried? Scores of GPs walked out because there was no point in remaining to discuss how training would be rolled out. Many GPs for many different reasons want nothing to do with a system that pays €450 if you are willing to take life, but €250 for the care of a mother and baby all through pregnancy. Refusing access to democratic mechanisms and dismissing the real grief and regret of women because it does not fit your agenda are all part of the stifling, suffocating, oppressive culture that is our new reality.