Nurses campaign to opt out of abortion provision

A group of nurses and midwives has joined GPs in declaring they do not want to participate in providing abortion services.

The group, Nurses & Midwives4Life Ireland, says if a woman opts for a surgical termination, they will be asked to provide the pre-operative care, to which they object.

Last month, hundreds of anti-abortion GPs voiced their concerns about the new laws and asked Health Minister Simon Harris not to rush legislation through.

Under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill, conscientious objectors must arrange for the transfer of care of a pregnant woman to enable her to terminate her pregnancy.

However, Nurses & Midwives4Life Ireland says although the proposed legislation provides for freedom of conscience, it states that staff involved must refer the patient to another staff member, which the group sees as participation in the procedure.

Over the past three weeks, 378 registered nurses and midwives have signed the Nurses & Midwives4Life Ireland petition.

There are currently more than 65,000 nurses and midwives practising in Ireland.

One of the organisers of the petition, Mary Fitzgibbon, a registered nurse and lecturer in nursing, said they did not want to participate “in any way” in providing abortion services.

“Participation includes any supervision, delegation, planning, or supporting of staff involved in the termination of pregnancy,” she said.

“We do not want to be discriminated against by our employers or victimised as employees if we exercise our right to freedom of conscience.”

The group’s petition calls on the Minister for Health to consult with nurses and midwives about the legislation.

It also urges the minister to support amendments at the report stage of the bill to protect the right to freedom of conscience, and claims that they face being forced out of their professions if they do no comply.

Fiona McHugh, a clinical paediatric nurse specialist, said they had met with representatives from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and had written to the Nursing and Midwifery Board about their concerns.

“To date, there has been minimal consultation in relation to the impact this legislation will have,” she said.

She added that the group has been contacted by hundreds of concerned nurses and midwives.

Meanwhile, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has called for the abortion bill to be amended at report stage to remove “criminal sanctions”.

IFPA chief executive Niall Behan said a prison sentence of up to 14 years would be “hanging over” doctors who made an error in dating a pregnancy or where a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality was disputed.

Doctors might be reluctant to proceed with a termination if they even have the smallest doubt about the gestation period or a diagnosis, he said.

“These criminal sanctions are already having a chilling effect on doctors,” said Mr Behan.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Section 23 of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 covers conscientious objection.

“It states that where he/she has a conscientious objection, a medical practitioner, nurse, or midwife shall not be obliged to carry out, or to participate in carrying out, a termination of pregnancy.”

Mr Harris has said abortion services should be in place by the new year.

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