Women could face spending pregnancy in psychiatric unit

A woman refused a termination on the grounds of suicidal intent could be forced to spend the remainder of her pregnancy in a psychiatric unit, Health Minister James Reilly has said.

He made the admission as controversy raged over whether the restrictions, in proposed X case legislation surrounding termination when there is threat of suicide, had been drawn too tightly.

Asked if a woman denied a termination could be kept in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of the pregnancy, Dr Reilly said that was not the intent of the legislation but such a situation could arise now.

“Well, that could happen at the moment if someone is psychotically depressed or has another psychosis,” he told RTÉ.

“I am aware of cases at the moment where that actually does apply. And the treatment there was certainly not to terminate the pregnancy.”

He said such cases would be dealt with by medical professionals in the normal manner.

“What we are talking about is committing a patient against their will, involuntarily, well of course that decision requires two doctors in any event at the moment as the law stands.

“No, that is not the intention [of the legislation]. We are leaving it to the doctors involved to use best medical practice. It would be inappropriate for me to prescribe what best practice is.”

In a case, where a woman threatening suicide was turned down for a termination and then went on to take her own life, Dr Reilly said the matter could end in legal action.

“In that situation, a court of law would decide where liability lay.”

He noted that as long as the doctors involved acted reasonably and followed best practice, they would not be “exposed” to such liability.

However, the minister said the legislation did not confer absolute immunity on any professional who acted in a negligent way.

He also said normal rules of medical priority would apply to ensure women seeking a termination on the grounds of suicidal intent were seen by psychiatrists and other experts as soon as possible.

He denied the proposed bill was too restrictive in the matter of suicidal intent and stated any further widening of the laws governing abortion could only come about via referendum which the Government and Fianna Fáil was not in favour of.

Dr Reilly said the Government could only act within the Constitutional provisions, and the boundaries of the X-case rulings when drawing up the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

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