Guest Column

GUEST OPINION: Ireland’s commonsense three-day abortion waiting period is under attack

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily of Live Action or Live Action News.

During its campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment in 2018, the government adopted a number of restrictions on the proposed new abortion regime in order to reassure the public, and many Ministers including then-Tánaiste Simon Coveney, that the Irish abortion system would not be a free for all. One of the key measures they announced was the three-day reflection period between an initial consultation with a GP and the carrying out of an abortion, which was designed to allow women the time and space to reflect on their decision.

Recent media reports have suggested that the long-delayed review of the 2018 abortion legislation will recommend that the three-day reflection period for women should be abolished.

We need to think very carefully about what such a move would say about our society, and what it says to Irish women.

In every walk of life we accept that adults have a right to change their minds. Decisions made in haste or while upset can often seem like mistakes, on reflection and with a cool head.

This is reflected right through Irish law in all kinds of ways.

When we shop online, we have a 14-day period to change our mind and return the goods we bought. For many financial agreements, such as opening a bank account or applying for a credit card, we have a legal right to change our minds within 10 to 14 days.

The same pattern is seen in medicine, where patients are never expected to make decisions on the spot.

From routine daily issues such as dental fillings, to laser eye surgery, to more serious matters like elective surgery, there is often a time lag between an initial consultation and a procedure ultimately being carried out. Even the most minor procedures, such as the removal of warts or skin lesions, are almost never performed at a first consultation with a GP.

This may not be written into law, but it is a simple fact of life, and we don’t see it as any kind of injustice.

Which brings us to the great question: 

If we have waiting periods for cataracts, and skin lesions, why should we not have a waiting period for abortions?

In the 2018 legislation, an abortion is defined as “a procedure to end the life of the foetus”. It is the only legal medical procedure in Ireland the sole aim of which is to end human life. This ought to place it apart from all other procedures, and justify a far greater threshold in terms of reflecting on it before it is carried out.

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But the sad fact is that, to pro-abortion groups and political parties, an unborn child isn’t a human life – it’s just a “clump of cells”, with no more significance than warts or skin lesions. But this isn’t how real people view a pregnancy. What pregnant woman has ever told their friends and family that they’re carrying a “foetus” or a “clump of cells”?

The Medical Council recognises the importance that consent to any medical treatment should be freely given after being given the fullest consideration.

They produce ethical guidelines which apply to all doctors in relation to all medical treatments, no matter how serious or minor. The guidelines state that “consent is not a one-off event. It involves a continuing dialogue” between a doctor and their patient. It also mandates doctors to “give the patient enough time before the treatment to consider their options” and that they should “not usually seek consent from a patient when they are stressed, sedated or in pain, and, therefore, less able to make a calm and reasoned decision.”

These provisions are included in the guidelines for a reason. Medical decisions, particularly life-changing decisions, should never be made in a hurry or when a person is distressed.

So why should abortion be the exception to this? 

According to pro-abortion groups, consent for abortion must be given quickly and accepted on the spot, and the procedure carried out immediately by doctors, without any time for reflection or further advice.

This does a disservice to women, treating them as if they shouldn’t be given the time or space to think about the issue. Above all, it greatly increases the chances that they will regret their decision.

Figures published by the Department of Health show that between 2019-2021, nearly 4,000 women who attended their first consultation with their GP to seek an abortion did not return to have the abortion carried out. Clearly, the vast majority of these women changed their minds during the three-day reflection period and continued with their pregnancies.

Thousands of Irish children are alive today due to the three-day reflection period. Without it, their lives would have been ended at the first consultation.

In 2018, the government promised that abortion medication could never be prescribed over the phone or internet, and that women would have to physically meet with, and be examined by, their GP. However, his promise was reneged on during the Covid pandemic, with abortion by telephone or internet consultation legalised by cabinet decree as an emergency measure.

Unsurprisingly, what was introduced as a supposed short-term measure has since become permanent, because it smoothes the way towards more abortions.

If the three-day reflection period is abolished, then the routine prescription of medical abortions in this way, without discussing it in person with their GP, opens up the possibility that women could be coerced into abortion against their will. A 2019 study in the UK found that 7 percent (7%) of all women had been pressured into having an abortion, most often by the father of their child or by another relative.

Recently when the Minister for Health was asked what steps GPs must take if they suspect coercion, he refused to answer the question. 

Meeting with her GP, and availing of the three-day reflection period, reduces the chances of women being abused in this way.

At the 2020 General Election the manifestos of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were all completely silent on abortion. Put simply, the government has no mandate of any kind from the voters to scrap the solemn assurances they gave in 2018.

Opponents of the three-day waiting period say it is making abortion more “restrictive”. Yet even Ireland’s pro-abortion minister for health, Stephen Donnelly, recently pointed out just how ruthlessly efficient and widespread Ireland’s abortion regime has been when he announced that in 2022 there were 8,500 abortions. This is a massive jump in the abortion rate. It is a truly harrowing reality of just how entrenched abortion has become in Irish society, aided by the lack of supports available to women in unplanned pregnancies.

Pro-abortion groups tell us that abortion is supposed to be a woman’s choice, and a last resort. However, increasingly the guiding principle of policy in this area is that abortions need to happen as quickly as possible. Anything which slows the process or gives mothers help or assistance or time to consider the matter is portrayed as some kind of assault on women’s rights.

We need to give women the time to come to their own decisions, and the space in which they can seek out the help and support they need.

Bio: Eilís Mulroy is CEO of VIE CLG in Ireland.

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