Abortion: Wait rather than risk a tragedy

The Government hopes to pass abortion legislation before Christmas and Taoiseach Leo Varadakar has said he is confident the Government’s timeline to have pregnancy termination services available in January 2019 can be met.

Those are both big asks as the process of setting up the service has already met a number of hurdles. In the first instance, there remains a cohort of TDs and senators opposed to introducing abortion services here and they will do anything they can to stop or delay it.

There have also been significant legal challenges which meant that, although the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment was passed overwhelmingly in May, it was not until September that President Higgins was able to sign the law giving effect to it.

There may be more hurdles along the way, even in light of the agreement reached with family doctors to operate what the Government plans to be a GP-led service.

It is clear that there are a sizeable number of doctors who will refuse to provide or assist in the service or do so only in limited circumstances.

Neither is it likely to be simply saying yes or no to providing services as allowed under the new law. Some practitioners feel that allowing termination up to nine weeks gestation is too extreme. There are a substantial number who may, for instance, be willing to comply with the new regime in the case of fatal foetal abnormality or rape, but in no other circumstances.

According to a survey carried out this week by the the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), around two thirds of family doctors have said they will not personally provide abortion services.

The ICGP, which is the professional and training body for GPs, also revealed this week that 25% of members surveyed indicated that not only would they not provide abortion services but they would prefer not to refer patients to a colleague for a termination.

There are practical considerations, too, with many GPs worried that they do not have the capacity or resources to provide an abortion service.

There is also concern that the required infrastructure to provide the service in Irish hospitals will not be in place by the new year.

Reservations have been expressed by Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Dr John O Brien, chair of the Irish College of General Practitioners, of rushing a service without having the supports in place to ensure safety.

The campaign to repeal the Eighth was fought on two issues: Rights and choice for women and safety. We have gone a long way to addressing the rights side of things. Safety is the next. While the rush to put through legislation is understandable, given the ongoing objections, the issue of infrastructure cannot be ignored.

Better to wait another few weeks to ensure that a safe service can be provided than risk a tragedy.

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