No women have complained to authorities after having a termination performed on medical grounds in an Irish hospital, health chiefs have revealed.
As politicians began three days of hearings on plans to legislate for new abortion laws, the Irish Medical Council said it has not investigated doctors over the issue.
Kieran Murphy, the council president, said the organisation has a robust complaints procedure, which sometimes leads to public inquiries where a doctor is accused of being in breach of its guidelines.
But he said the controversial issue of abortion has never been a cause of complaint.
“The council reviews complaints if a doctor is found to be in breach of the guide,” Mr Murphy said.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have not received any complaints of a doctor in breach of the guide with regard to abortion.”
The Irish Medical Council was the first organisation to make recommendations on draft legislation for new abortion laws as part of three days of special Oireachtas health committee hearings – with medical and legal experts, church and advocacy groups also to give views.
The public meetings will allow TDs and senators who make up the committee to gather information to assist in drafting the proposed new laws on abortion on medical grounds, including if there is a risk of suicide.
The Committee on Health and Children expects to deliver a report by the end of the month which will help the implementation of new legislation.
The Government last month announced plans to introduce a combination of legislation and regulation to legalise abortion in limited circumstances.
More than 40 witnesses and 20 groups will give evidence at the hearings.
The Irish Medical Council also told the committee that doctors must not allow their own personal views on abortion to influence their treatment of a pregnant woman whose life is at risk.
Mr Murphy said the council’s guidelines, which do not serve as a legal code, demand that doctors exercising “conscientious objection” explain their position and refer the patient to another doctor.
“Conscientious objection does not absolve you from your responsibilities to a patient in an emergency situation,” Mr Murphy said.
Later, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin, one of the busiest in Europe, shot down claims that legalising abortion for women at risk of suicide would lead to termination on demand.
Dr Rhona Mahony said she was offended by suggestions that a woman would pretend to be suicidal to convince doctors to carry out the procedure.
“As a woman, I’m offended by some of the pejorative and judgmental views that women will manipulate doctors in order to obtain termination of pregnancy on the basis of fabricated ideas of suicide ideation or intent,” Dr Mahony said.
She said that, while it was rare for a woman to take her life during pregnancy, appropriate treatment must be available to those at risk.
“When women are so distressed that they are willing to take their own lives, they need to be listened to, they need to be believed and they need appropriate medical care,” she said.
“That will not necessarily include termination of pregnancy, but in a small percentage of cases it just might.”
Dr Mahony insisted that doctors at her hospital would not hesitate to perform an abortion where a woman’s life is at risk and if doing so would save the woman’s life.