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Irish physicians complain they've been ignored by health minister on abortion
November 09, 2018
Irish physicians complain they've been ignored by health minister on abortion

Some 640 general practitioners in the Republic of Ireland have signed a petition saying their concerns have not been listened to regarding the government's plan to have abortion services led by general practitioners.

“Instead of reaching out to the hundreds of GPs, Minister Harris has adopted an utterly dismissive tone from the get-go,” said Dr. Aisling Bastible, according to The Irish News.

The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 proposed by health minister Simon Harris will have a general-practitioner led abortion service. It would require pro-life healthcare professionals to provide abortion referrals, though not to perform them.

“No matter what your stance on abortion, you would surely expect the minister to consult with GPs on the ground before legislating,” said Dr. Andrew O'Regan.

“General practice is at maximum capacity, we have a big problem trying to recruit GPs and now the government are saying, 'We want you to do this as well', it's just not on.”

O'Regan commented on the importance of conscientious objection, saying, “There's plenty of doctors willing to do this, we don't want to block those doctors but don't force us to be part of it.”

The Irish bishops have lamented that the bill would require pro-life healthcare professionals to provide abortion referrals, calling the provision “an affront to conscience.”

They noted that the bill envisages that in the first twelve weeks, abortion will generally be chemically induced.

“This presumes that pharmacists, whether in hospitals or in private practice, will routinely stock and dispense drugs whose specific purpose is to end human life. No provision is made for pharmacists to opt out on the grounds of conscientious objection.”

“We ask the Government, and wider society, to respect the right of all healthcare professionals and pharmacists to exercise conscientious objection not only by refusing to participate actively in abortion but also by declining to refer their patients to others for abortion,” the bishops said.

They said, “Healthcare professionals, pharmacists and ancillary healthcare workers, should not face legal, professional or financial penalties or any form of discrimination for their commitment to respect life.”

The bishops noted that in New Zealand, healthcare professionals “opt in” to the provision of abortion, rather than opting out; nor are those who object to the procedure obliged to provide referrals for it.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris criticized the opt-in stance, which is supported by the National Association of General Practitioners. In June, the group of 2,000 practitioners unanimously voted in favor of the “opt-in” method.

Ireland faces a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a March survey of Irish healthcare professionals found that that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar clarified to the Dáil in June that individual medical professionals will be able to opt out of performing abortions, but entire hospitals will not be able to do so. Many publicly-funded hospitals have historic ties to the Catholic Church and operate under Catholic ethics.