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Time for fresh referendum on abortion, says legal professor

THE country needs another referendum on abortion, a leading legal expert insisted today. As the second day of Oireachtas hearings on abortion got under way Prof William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin said Ireland had a "wonderful medical practice which is not supported by law".

While we had "plenty of goes at referendums" in the past, these were where Government policy wanted to "bring about a result", he said.

Prof Binchy, who is legal adviser to the Pro-Life Campaign, added that what the country needed now was a legal framework to protect the existing medical practice.

"Ultimately we needed a referendum," Prof Binchy said.

The hearings have already heard from Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, who described the suggestion that pregnant women would threaten suicide to manipulate doctors into giving them an abortion as "pejorative and judgmental".

Dr Mahony said she was "offended" by the idea that women would "fabricate ideas of suicide ideation or intent" to persuade a doctor to give her a termination.

Up to 30 terminations are carried out in this country each year to save the mother's life, the committee has been told, but cases where suicide might be used as a reason were very rare.

Dr Mahony estimated that between 10 and 20 terminations a year were carried out to save the mother, while her counterpart at the Rotunda, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, put the figure at between 20 and 30 abortions.

Medical experts who addressed the hearing were divided on whether allowing the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion would open the "floodgates" to a liberal regime.

Dr Mahony dismissed the claims saying: "Nobody is talking about opening up the floodgates. When women are so distressed that they are willing to take their own lives, they need to be listened to, they need to be believed and they need appropriate medical care."


The committee was told that two pregnant women had taken their own lives since 2009 but it was impossible to say if being pregnant was the factor that led to their deaths.

Dr Mary McCaffrey, from Kerry General Hospital, said she had never come across a woman using suicide as a reason for abortion.

Psychiatrist Dr Anthony McCarthy, of University College Dublin, stated she could not see floodgates opening, but said medical professionals knew of instances where a pregnant woman had committed suicide and coroners had returned open verdicts.

While suicide rates among pregnant women were low, he added, there was still a danger that some with mental illness or in mental distress could be driven to suicide if they were unable to obtain an abortion.