#Reilly legislation on abortion: It’s truly idiotic

And the abortion debate rumbles on ….

Yesterday Health Minister James Reilly denied that it was ever being proposed that the opinion of six doctors would be stipulated in legislation covering abortion where there was a risk of suicide. This morning, Fionnan Sheahan published details of the draft legislation:

• “One obstetrician and two psychiatrists have jointly certified that, in their reasonable opinion, there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life from self-destruction and this risk can only be averted by medical procedure in the course of which, or as a result of which, unborn human life is destroyed.”

• “One obstetrician and two psychiatrists have reviewed the opinion referred to. . . and certified that they are of the same opinion.”

• “At least one of the psychiatrists referred to in . . . shall be a perinatal psychiatrist.”

There are also images of a draft copy of some of the text on the web.

Sheahan states that the term “jointly certified” means there has to be a unanimous opinion of all six consultants. There was also an appeals process that would see the initial examinations being repeated by two further teams of three doctors. One of the three perinatal psychiatrists employed in the state, Dr Anthony McCarthy, has been scathing in his condemnation of the proposal:

“If a woman is seriously distressed and depressed in pregnancy, and potentially suicidal or having suicidal ideas, the idea that you would bring her through a forum such as this – almost an inquisition – where she would have to tell her story in front of six different people, is frankly abusive. It’s truly idiotic,” he added.

He also said that the profession had spent years trying to de-stigmatise mental health and get people to talk.

“This idea would do everything to say ‘don’t talk’,” he said.

Dr McCarthy added that the idea was completely “unworkable”, and could only have been designed by people who did not understand how doctors work.

It should be noted that the Health Minister himself is a doctor.

A clinical psychiatrist from Trinity College, Prof Veronica O’Keane, has been equally critical in the Irish Times (note that in the same article UCD psychiatrist Prof Patricia Casey responds answering a slightly different question by stating that abortion is not a treatment for suicide):

Such a screening process went against a women’s human right to receive effective ways of accessing abortion if her life was in danger from suicide, as demanded by the European Court of Human Rights 2010 ruling on the issue, said Prof Veronica O’Keane.

Proposals for abortion legislation whereby a woman would have to meet a panel of doctors would be an “obstacle” to that ruling , she added.

“This idea for legislation is obstructive, unworkable and an insult to women,” said Prof O’Keane, who appeared before the Oireachtas hearings on abortion in January to give evidence as a psychiatrist.

The idea of women going before six doctors amounted to an “inquisition” with the “implication that women may be untruthful about suicide”. It was important when treating people to minimise the number of times they had to explain their history as doing so was stressful, she added.

The need for legislation to comply with the X and ABC case rulings was shown into sharp relief by the recent inquest into the death of Savita Halapanavar at Galway University Hospital. The heads of the Rotunda and Holles Street maternity hospitals have been clear on the need for legislation to clarify the law.

Not that politicians seem to care much for expert opinion. Two of the four anti-abortion motions at this weekend Fianna Fáil ardfheis specifically oppose any such legislation, the other two motions simply restate that Fianna Fáil is pro-life. Meanwhile, the two coalition partners are at loggerheads over the delays and their parliamentary parties have had heated meetings. After the Fine Gael meeting, Waterford TD John Deasy said:

“The ministers have been sleepwalking and walked TDs into a haymaker,” one TD said. “TDs aren’t gobshites and are wondering how they got us into this. We haven’t been listened to.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the case, Deasy’s comments need to be seen in the context of a generational delay in legislating for the X case judgement (20 years), the fact that there were already a number of days of Oireachtas hearings (for TDs and Senators) and an expert report on the subject. Several commentators on radio yesterday were claiming that the atmosphere has soured so significantly that both coalition parties have started openly briefing against each other. A high level group is trying to resolve tensions today, but with Oireachtas time running out and, effectively, a requirement to legislate to comply with the European ruling before the summer recess, there doesn’t appear to be any viable and available political parking space where this issue can be parked…

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  • Mick Fealty

    There is a clear need for legislation (given the apparent confusion amongst clinicians in the Savita case), and there is also a clear need for a proper conversation on the matter of abortion ‘as a treatment for suicide..’

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick, there has been an expert report delivered with recommendations, Oireachtas hearings and more. There has been plenty of debate. Opinion polls by RedC (January) and Ipsos/Mori (February) have shown figures like 71% in favour of legislation, indeed only 11% said no in the February poll. None of this could be claimed to be rushed as it has dragged on for a considerable period of time.

    So, do you think Fine Gael need political cover? And if so, from whom?

  • Rory Carr

    Haven’t they omitted from the draft legislation the requirement that the examining physicians, psychiatrists and perinatal psychiatrists be male, over sixty-five years of age and hold letters of recommendation from their Catholic diocesan bishop that they are known to be attentive to their religious duties.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Horrific. As well as ‘how doctors work’, a wee bit of thought about how women’s reproductive systems work would suggest that getting a distressed pregnant woman ‘examined’ by a team of six and then potentially two teams of three doctors prior to determining whether or not she can have an abortion is not a great idea. You’d think there was no time constraint at all, let alone any emotional hurdle to reciting details of your menstrual cycle and sexual contact (not even counting physical examinations) umpteen unnecessary times.

  • abucs

    We all know why the law needs to be written in such an over-regulated fashion.

    The very dated ‘right side of history’ brigade have trouble discerning between law and their ‘inevitable progressive’ fantasies.

  • Rory Carr

    Why then, Abucs, do not you spell it out in detail for we legislative illiterates ?

  • abucs

    I think most half way intelligent people know what has been said Rory.

  • Rory Carr

    Oh well, that lets me out.

  • abucs,

    Actually, I’d love to know. Living so far away I might be excused from not knowing what you claim every half intelligent person over there knows. So, if you won’t indulge Rory, perhaps you might indulge me.

  • wee buns

    FG does not wish to go down in history as the party who legislated for arbortion on demand – hence the idiotic draft.
    So silly, to let the suicide question dominate.
    It is simply the wrong angle. Straw woman.
    The debate should focous instead at time frames and within how many weeks a request for termination is viable. Then within that time frame, early time frame, circumstance is secondary,

  • moiv

    “… the idea that you would bring her through a forum such as this – almost an inquisition – where she would have to tell her story in front of six different people, is frankly abusive.”

    Of course it is. But that’s the point of it. One way or another, they’ll make sure she pays.

  • And would those 2 or 4 six psychiatrists have to be all Freudist or Jungist adherents? I might state here that I view Psychiatry versus Psychology as a simile to Astrology versus Astronomy. I have a high regard for Psychologists unlike those others. It would be virtually impossible for 4 Psychiatrics to agree on anything. And when a young woman who is refused an abortion nevertheless kills herself, are we going to just accept the handwringing of the Psychiatrics saying that “oh we did our best when our science is imperfect and no blame can therefore be attached to us for getting it wrong. It’s just one of those unpredictable unfortunate things!”

  • abucs

    Joe, I thought it was quite easily understood. We have seen the results of other jurisdictions who have tried to limit abortions to genuine and rare cases of suicidal compulsions due to pregnancy. What has happened is that people who believe in the disastrous centuries old invented “inevitable progressive” ideology, where abortion on demand is moral, felt justified in falsely using the suicidal clause to have abortions. The number of abortions attributed to the rare condition skyrocketed in those jurisdictions and made the system unworkable. This led to a virtual abortion on demand practice as the status quo.

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, this alien philosophy which causes civic fragmentation makes people fight over the state and ultimately causes a lack of respect and allegiance to that state. It works the other way too. If the ‘progressive ideology crowd’ force the state to uphold their invented morality then many other citizens also lose respect for not only the state, but its laws and processes as well.

  • Thanks abucs.

    I’m not aware of the jurisidictions you refer to. And if suicide is so rare why have we had two blogs about the increase in such terrible acts in N.I. in the past year or so.
    I would not want to be a doctor on a panel that decides that a pregnant woman is bluffing only to hear days later that she has killed herself.

  • wee buns

    Actually it requires only two mental health professionals to section a person, meaning to have a person placed in an institution against their will – so multiply that power by three for pregnant suicidal women – it’s ludicrous.
    And an insult too because of the lack of mental health care for non pregnant suicidal people.

  • We are commenting only on a daft draft Bill so there is a chance that wiser heads will prevail for the eventual Act, although I’m not particularly optimistic.

  • abucs

    Joe, it is referring to people who are suicidal “because” of the pregnancy. Not pregnant people who are suicidal.

    If there are genuine cases, they are very rare.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Mental illness is a tricky thing. How can you say it is rare for a woman who is forced to deal with an unwanted pregnancy to be suicidal ?

    BTW it’s not as trivial as you think to use this as a get-out clause. People who tell their doctor they are suicidal will find that it forms part of their medical record and accordingly has to be declared to prospective employers, etc.