Abortion reform Irish style - Women still have no rights over their own bodies, continue to travel to the UK for procedure


She has the right to appeal a refusal and her appeal will have to be heard within seven days by a review panel of three different doctors -- again two psychiatrists and an obstetrician or gynecologist -- who will make the final decision.

So what does all this amount to?  In the first two scenarios in physical medical cases, there is almost no change.  Irish hospitals already carry out abortions in the very rare cases where continuing a pregnancy poses an immediate threat to the life of a mother for physical medical reasons.  The only change is that in non-emergency cases, doctors now have more certainty that a longer-term risk to the life of the mother may justify an abortion at an earlier stage.

So would this have saved Savita Halappanavar?   Probably not, because in the two days when she was requesting a termination the doctors in the Galway hospital had not diagnosed her sepsis.  

Even if they had, under the proposed law a termination could not have begun unless the doctors decided that there was a real and substantial threat to her life.   Although we know that sepsis can be deadly, we also know that most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.  

So we are back to the old problem -- when is a risk to the life of the mother, as opposed to merely her health, real and substantial?  

The new law does not make this clearer.  Instead it leaves it to doctors to decide. 

It is, of course, the third scenario, in which the threat to the life of the mother is from suicide, that poses the greatest problems.  

Because this is seen as the way in which widespread abortion was introduced in other countries, many people and politicians here are worried that a claim to be suicidal could be used by women who wanted an abortion for other reasons and who were not genuinely suicidal.

To calm these fears, the government has made this third scenario the most restrictive of all, requiring a unanimous decision by three doctors -- two psychiatrists and an obstetrician.

Why does it need more than one psychiatrist to decide if a woman is suicidal?  The answer is it doesn't.  

And why does one of the three have to be an obstetrician? An obstetrician is not a specialist in psychiatric assessment. 

You could have a situation where the two psychiatrists say the woman is suicidal and the obstetrician says no.  Obviously this make no sense.

And if a woman is highly stressed and feeling panicky and suicidal, is she really going to be in a fit state to put her case to three doctors she does not know?  If she is turned down, is she going to feel mentally strong enough to cope with putting the case to another three doctors?  

The reality is that many women, especially young women, who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation find it difficult even to talk to their own doctor or their family doctor.

A lot of this makes very little sense from a physical or psychiatric point of view.  But it does make a lot of sense from a political point of view.

The government's aim is not to produce legislation that is rational, coherent and sensible from a medical point of view. Rather, it is to produce a legal framework on abortion that is so restrictive that it will get through the Dail (Parliament).  That's the real reason the proposed legislation is as convoluted as it is.  

Some of what is being proposed is so unbalanced that it is virtually certain to bring legal challenges in the courts.

For example, there is clear discrimination between women with a physical problem and women with a psychiatric problem, since in the first case an abortion can by permitted by two doctors but in the second case it will take three doctors.

There are many other shortcomings in the bill as revealed so far. For example, there are no proposals to allow abortion in rape or incest cases, even an incest case that might involve a very young teenager.  

Nor does it deal with cases of severe fetal abnormality or cases of fetal non-viability.  So women may still have to carry a non-viable fetus to full term, as they do here now, if there is no risk to their own life.    

What all this means is that Irish women who want an abortion, for whatever personal reasons, will still have to go to Britain to get them.  The only exceptions will be in cases where there is a medical need for an abortion because the woman's life may be in danger, or where a woman is suicidal.

To be fair to the government, they seem to be winning the argument so far, despite the opposition of the Catholic Church.   We had the nauseating sight last weekend of the lame duck Cardinal Sean Brady (a lame duck because of his record in dealing with child abuse by priests) attempting to lecture the government and the rest of us from the high moral ground.

As one politician here correctly observed, Brady and his crew don't occupy the high moral ground anymore and it will be a long time before they regain it, if ever.