Abortion ‘is no treatment for suicidal tendencies’

Abortion is not a treatment for suicidal tendencies and there are no statistics on women threatening to kill themselves who do not want a pregnancy, a leading psychologists told an Oireachtas committee.

The second day of hearings into the Government’s planned abortion legislation yesterday heard from psychiatrists and other specialists.

Consultant perinatal psychiatrist Anthony McCarthy told the Oireachtas Health Committee abortion was never a treatment for suicide. However, Dr McCarthy, president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, said the nation had been ignoring the issue of abortion for too long.

He added that the country had let women go abroad or even let them take illegal abortion medication.

Dr McCarthy also said the proposed appeals process was too long and complicated, especially for someone who may be mentally ill.

His colleague, John Sheehan, said it was impossible to say if someone would commit suicide. “Being unable to predict who will die by suicide is therefore likely to lead to what’s termed false positives,” said Dr Sheehan.

He said there was evidence to show that terminations could increase mental health problems among women. A very serious issue with the proposed legislation was that it could potentially normalise the issue of suicidal threats in Irish society, the committee heard.

Dr Sheehan said incidence of suicide in pregnancy was between one in 250,000 and one in 500,000.

However, psychiatrist Peadar O’Grady said legislation could complicate procedures. There was no need for obstetricians, as was the case in Britain, or three to four doctors to review a case, he said.

Psychiatrist Sean O’Domhnaill said the bill would “turn doctors into abortionists”. Abortion rates due to mental health issues were high in California and Britain, said Dr O’Domhnaill, and Ireland would be no different if the legislation was passed.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher asked if it was not better that a suicidal woman had a procedure here rather than abroad.

Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames warned that the threat of suicide to sanction abortion had opened the floodgates for terminations in other countries.

The committee will conclude public hearings today and hear from a number of medical, constitutional, and legal experts, and junior health minister Alex White.

The committee will then produce a report for Government ahead of a vote by members of the Oireachtas.

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