Abortion in Ireland: the President signs the law, the Medical Association amends its code of ethics as a matter of urgency

Publié le : 21 January 2019

On Thursday evening, Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the law to allow abortion in Ireland. This law qualifies abortion as a medical procedure and authorises it unconditionally for up to 12 weeks, with a three-day reflection period. If there is a risk to the mother’s life or health, abortion can be performed up to the foetal viability threshold or up to birth in an emergency. Abortion will also be feasible up to birth for any baby at risk of death in utero or within 28 days of birth. Criminal sanctions shall still apply for abortions performed outside the legal framework, but only to doctors.

 

However, it is proving difficult to find enough doctors in accordance with the new law, and to train them on time. They have already been informed that they will receive €450 per abortion performed.

 

The caregivers’ right to conscientious objection is limited: it excludes pharmacists, and forces doctors, midwives and nurses to redirect mothers to other centres. None of the petitions claiming the right not to be involved at any stage in the process was taken into account. Moreover, this right to conscientious objection only affects individuals as all hospitals will be required to perform abortions.

 

As this new law is in “conflict” with the medical code of ethics, the Medical Association held a crisis meeting on Wednesday evening to remove all articles concerning abortion. In this way, it hopes to “reassure any doctors involved in providing this service”. The ethical guidelines have been revised: four of the five articles concerned have been deleted entirely. Indeed, these articles indicated that “a physician has an ethical obligation to make all reasonable efforts to protect the lives and health of pregnant women and their unborn children” and that “in exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to terminate the pregnancy to protect the mother’s life while striving to preserve the baby’s life”, and referred to situations where the mother’s life is in jeopardy and assistance is given to terminate the pregnancy abroad. Only one article has been retained, indicating that physicians “have a duty to provide care, support and follow-up to women who have undergone termination of pregnancy”. The Medical Council has deleted the word “abortion” and replaced it with “termination of pregnancy”.

 

The paragraphs “dignity of the patient”, “equality and diversity” and “conscientious objection” are also being revised.

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