herald

Thursday 19 July 2018

83 women went to UK for abortion due to Down Syndrome

Health Minister Simon Harris said he found it ‘difficult’ to discuss the idea women would abort due to disability
Health Minister Simon Harris said he found it ‘difficult’ to discuss the idea women would abort due to disability

More than 80 Irish women had abortions in a two-year period on the grounds that their unborn baby would have Down Syndrome.

Six abortions were carried out after women were told their babies would have spina bifida.

The figures, from the Department of Health in the UK, come in the wake of comments by Health Minister Simon Harris that it is "offensive" to suggest women in Ireland are seeking abortions on the grounds that their babies will be born with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.

The abortions were carried out in NHS hospitals in 2015 and 2016 after being sought by women who travelled from the Republic.

Clause

In the case of 83 abortions, the unborn baby had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

In 2015, a pregnant woman from Ireland was also granted an abortion on the grounds that her the baby would have cystic fibrosis.

The late-term abortions, which were carried out after 24 weeks of pregnancy, were passed by two doctors.

They were granted under a special, controversial clause known as Ground E, which allows for termination in cases of "severe disability".

There is no suggestion of a similar clause in Ireland.

However, the plan to allow unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy has led to some pro-life campaigners saying this could lead to terminations in cases of Down Syndrome.

Mr Harris said this week that he finds it "really difficult" to discuss the charge that women would choose to terminate a pregnancy if they received a diagnosis of a disability.

He pointed out that if the electorate votes for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the referendum, the proposed legislation widening grounds for abortion would not include grounds of disability such as Down Syndrome.

It would be confined to cases of fatal foetal abnormality where the unborn baby would not live.

The liberalisation of the law would also aim to allow abortion in cases where the health, as well as the life, of the mother is at risk due to continuing with the pregnancy.

The Institute of Obstetricians has said that while women have access to a screening test to indicate the chances of their baby having Down Syndrome within 12 weeks, it is not definitive.

Institute chairman Dr Peter Boylan said he never had a patient who had an abortion based on a screening test alone.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on Tanaiste Simon Coveney to explain how he can support repeal of the Eighth Amendment but not the subsequent legislation.

If the Eighth Amendment is removed from the Constitution, the Government has indicated it will legalise abortion on demand up to 12 weeks.

Mr Coveney has indicated he favours the first element but would vote against unrestricted access to terminations.

A number of Fine Gael TDs, including a minister, have privately told the Herald that they believe this is muddying the waters.

Fudge

"How does this fudge work? He is telling people, 'I don't support this change but vote yes'," said a minister.

Politicians on both sides of the debate also criticised the ambiguity of his stance.

"Asking people to repeal the Eighth Amendment but not accepting that will lead to abortion up to 12 weeks doesn't make sense," said Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys, who will be campaigning for repeal.

"This approach will confuse the electorate on what for many people is already a very difficult topic.

"Simon Coveney is trying to have it both ways when he should be showing leadership."

Sinn Fein's Peadar Toibin, who is pro-life, tweeted: "Saying you oppose unrestricted abortion of an unborn child at 12 weeks' development and then voting for repeal of the constitutional right to life of that child is an act of complete contradiction."

Mr Coveney was in London yesterday, but he is expected to outline his full position in the coming days.

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