One doctor reveals why she will be voting 'No' on proposed changes to law on abortion

GPs are not equipped to cope with what’s proposed on abortion, writes Dr Máire Neasta Nic Gearailt.

On Thursday, this newspaper published on its front page a news report about a poll carried out by the Irish Medical Times.

This IMT poll suggested that 75% of Irish doctors agree with the Government’s proposed 12-week abortion regime. This is highly misleading and the methodology used by the IMT has been challenged.

The truth is that there has been no valid poll of doctors on this subject. Nor has there been any consultation with doctors about the impact of the proposed abortion legislation.

This is very worrying and should cause voters to stop and think before they vote “yes” in any referendum.

Under the Government’s proposed legislation, GPs would be required to prescribe and administer abortion pills to any woman up to 12 weeks pregnant, without seeking a reason for the abortion.

How doctors are to be sure about gestational age, and that they would not be breaking the law, is unclear. Most GPs in Ireland do not currently perform ultrasounds, are not trained to use ultrasounds, and don’t have fetal assessment ultrasonography in their surgeries.

Providing GPs with this equipment, and training them to use it, will be a very expensive and time consuming measure in an already pressurised and under-resourced system.

Then, once a doctor is satisfied that a woman has the right under the new law to have an abortion, the doctor must administer two miscarriage-inducing pills over several days.

The woman will experience cramping and heavy bleeding before the baby is expelled. How are GPs, operating in busy and crowded practises with common waiting rooms, expected to medically supervise this procedure?

Neither are most GP surgeries the ideal place to deal with any emergencies that might arise from any adverse sequelae from taking these tablets.

The fact is that, whatever the view of an individual GP on the abortion issue, we simply are not currently equipped as a profession to cope with what is being proposed by Simon Harris. We lack the facilities, the training, the time, and yes, the resources.

Then there is the fact that a great many of us, myself included, simply could not in good conscience administer a drug to a healthy young woman with a healthy pregnancy that would cause her to lose her child. I did not study medicine so that I could end life, and I know that I am not alone in this.

Last week, Dr Emmit Kerins, President of the National Association of General Practitioners, which represents some 2,000 GPs said: “for the Minister to suggest that our profession should lead out an abortion service without consultation with our member GPs is an affront to our profession and could pose yet another strain on the provision of general practice healthcare services”.

Minister Simon Harris

GPs have not been asked our view on this law, in either an opinion poll or by the Government that would introduce it. This is an extraordinary oversight that should alarm the public.

Just two months ago, on December 12th — the same day that the Oireachtas Committee launched its recommendations to legalise abortion “without restriction” for the first 12 weeks — the results of a major investigation into the safety of women in and around childbirth was published by Maternal Death Enquiry Ireland, an independent enquiry operated by University College Cork.

It found that maternal death was “extremely rare” and that Ireland was a very safe place for a woman to have a baby, safer than either the Britain or the US where abortion is freely available.

The facts show that the Eighth Amendment has not hampered doctors in providing life-saving medical interventions for women, despite unfounded claims to the contrary.

In the debate to date, at the Citizen’s Assembly, the Oireachtas Committee, and in the media, the public has mostly heard the views of medics who support repeal.

This is not representative of the diverse views amongst medical practitioners in Ireland and is not helpful in ensuring the public understand that women are safe and entitled to any life-saving interventions they need under the Eighth.

The Government says it is committed to the welfare of women, but it has proposed a law that is simply unworkable for doctor and patient alike.

Amongst colleagues, the assumption has been that this Government is simply so eager to get the pro-choice lobby off it’s back that it has given them everything they wanted without considering the consequences. It is hard to look at what has been proposed and come to any other conclusion.

Doctors are united in their concern on this matter. We are deeply worried about the proposed law, and that is why this doctor, for one, will be voting against the referendum.

Dr Máire Neasta Nic Gearailt is a GP and was nominated by Save the 8th to write this article.


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