A further three were carried out in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St, the Oireachtas committee on health and children heard yesterday.
The masters of the hospitals said they never withheld treatment from mothers where their lives were at risk. However, they both pushed for legislation to protect them if they felt an abortion was needed to save a woman’s life.
Dr Rhona Mahony of Holles St said: “I still believe that abortion in this country is a criminal offence,” adding that if an abortion was carried out to save a woman’s life “I want to know that I will not go to jail and I want to know that she will not go to jail”.
As the Government assesses how to legalise abortion in limited circumstances, Dr Mahony said the procedure was about saving lives, not ending them.
“If a woman is critically ill and it’s very obvious she is likely to die and she will be saved by intervening and treating her, and that treatment involves interrupting or terminating a pregnancy, we will not hesitate to do so.
“It’s not about terminating pregnancies by destroying babies. It’s about saving women’s lives.”
She also dismissed claims that legalising terminations for women at risk of suicide would lead to abortion on demand.
“As a woman, I’m offended by some of the pejorative and judgmental views that women will manipulate doctors in order to obtain termination of pregnancy on the basis of fabricated ideas of suicide ideation or intent.”
Meanwhile, the Master of the Rotunda, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, said the hospital dealt with about 40 cases a year of pregnant women with life-threatening illnesses and five or six cases “where interruption of the pregnancy is required to save the mother’s life”.
He said cases where complications occur are on the rise because of the increased age of women giving birth and the increase in obesity amongst mothers.
Fianna Fail’s health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, asked if information should be made available beforehand of doctors who would not carry out abortions so that patients would have prior knowledge of their objections.
However, Dr Mary McCaffrey of Kerry Hospital said she would be opposed to this because each situation had to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis
The committee hearings will continue with presentations from legal experts, including the Irish Council of Civil Liberties.
However, the Bar Council of Ireland made last minute contact last night to say it would not be participating but did not give the committee a reason.
Sources in the Bar Council indicated last night that it took the decision because the membership had such disparate views on the issue that the could not reach a cohesive position.
Tomorrow, the Catholic Bishops Conference will appear before the committee.