The provision of abortion services in Ireland is delayed due to the shortage of willing doctors and the lack of medical training. Voted last December following the May 2018 referendum, the law decriminalising abortion came into force on 1 January 2019.
Only doctors who have opted in perform abortions and must register on a list. However, only 200 doctors—5% of the country’s general practitioners—have actually registered for this procedure. “Ethical scruples, doubts concerning clinical preparation and fear of demonstrations have deterred the others.” In four counties, no doctors have opted in. Many of them refute the very principle of abortion deeming that their right to conscientious objection is inadequate: “No one should be forced against their will to participate in an abortion or refer patients to others for an abortion”, said Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland and President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. “I will never do anything that will intentionally lead to the death of one of my patients, be that a baby in the womb or anyone else—an old or sick person”, said Kerry-based Dr Andrew O’Regan, “the welfare of the patients in front of me is more important than a very, very corrupt law”.
Other doctors are hampered by the total lack of “adequate information, advice and training”, which is the inevitable consequence of too rapid a deployment. “We have no experience and no undergraduate or post-doctoral training”, explains Sarah Fitzgibbon, a general practitioner in Cork, justifying why she did not register to perform abortions, “it’s like a brand new medical process that we’ve never really dealt with before“.
Some demonstrations were organised, in Galway or Drogheda for example, but the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, advised demonstrators “to exercise caution”, considering that the main focus should be “on informing people and helping women in difficulty”.