Economist defends position as tweet on planned abortion in Drogheda described by Minister as 'pretty darn despicable'

People stage a protest against abortion at the gates of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital today. The first abortion since the new legislation came in is said to be taking place in the hospital today. Picture Ciara Wilkinson

Health Minister Simon Harris said he found it “pretty darn despicable” that somebody would take to social media and try to create a public conversation about an individual patient's care.

He was referring to commentary on Twitter that an abortion was due to take place in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda in Co Louth today.

Economist Prof Ray Kinsella had tweeted that an abortion was to be carried out at the hospital this morning and urged people to pray for the woman.

“Please pray hard that the #mother will recognise the #baby as a gift from God,” Prof Kinsella wrote.

“I must say I find it extraordinarily unedifying. I find it pretty darn despicable actually that somebody would take to social media – that anyone would take to social media and endeavour to create a public conversation about an individual patient's care,” said Mr Harris.

“Any service that is provided legally here in our country deserves to be treated with absolute respect and the confidentiality of a patient must be to the fore,” said the minister who knew that the HSE also shared his view.

“We will defend and protect patient confidentiality for any woman or indeed any citizen accessing any health service.

And the idea that people would in my view effectively try and incite harassment of women and of healthcare staff through online discourse is despicable. It's offensive and I don't think it is in any reflective of the way the large majority of people in this country feel.

“It's an attempt to drag us back to a pre-Repeal place and that is one place we are not being dragged back to.”

If information had been leaked from the health service that was “a very, very serious matter” and the HSE would act accordingly, said the minister.

“But I want women to know that these services are legally available in our country and we are going to make sure that women can access them in a free, safe and legal manner.”

Mr Harris said that the number of GPs who had signed up to provide an abortion service had increased to about 200.

"We are seeing week on week an increase in the number of GPs across the country willing to provide the service."

The Irish Family Planning Association started providing the new service today and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street Dublin had started accepting referrals.

“I have always said it was going to take time for these service embed and evolve and become a part of the Irish health service and I think that is what you are seeing happening now.

“We are in a very different place to where we were just over a week ago. Women can now phone a 24/7 helpline; they can talk to qualified professionals who can alert them to all of their options.

“No longer is the internet or the Ryanair flight the only option for an Irish woman with an unexpected pregnancy.”

He encouraged people to go go to myoptions.ie for factual information on the range of legal services available in Ireland.

In a tweet today Professor Kinsella reaffirmed his position and said abortion services were a deflection from the "life affirming" health services which, he suggested, should be the primary responsibility of health provision.

Responding to the controversy today, the HSE said: “We will defend and protect patient confidentiality for any woman or indeed any citizen accessing any health service.”

Anne O'Connor, HSE deputy director of general operations, said they do not support a breach of any confidential information about any patient.

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