Are pregnant women refused life-saving treatment in Ireland?

For example: "Will I be refused treatment if I have cancer while pregnant?"

Absolutely not. This is simply not true.

The 8th Amendment recognises the right to life of the unborn child only "as far as is practicable" – in other words, when the mother needs medical treatment, she will receive all care she needs even if that means ending the life of the foetus.

Dr Eamon McGuiness – OBGYN, former chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists:

“There is no question of women being denied life-saving cancer treatment because of the 8th amendment. Over the course of my career I have personally delivered thousands of babies, and I have, on occasion, terminated pregnancies when I judged the pregnancy to have become a threat to the life of the mother. I never felt the 8th amendment stopped me from doing anything I had to do to protect the health or life of the mother”.

Dr Trevor Hayes, 2 time winner of the Obstetrician of the Year award:

“I am very concerned that recent weeks have seen significant and untrue public statements about the practice of maternal healthcare in this country. No doctor doing their job properly would wait until there is an immediate and critical threat to a pregnant woman’s life before acting to protect the woman, the Eighth Amendment does not stop me from doing my job. Never has and never will.”

According to the Medical Council doctors don’t just have the right to terminate a pregnancy when the woman’s life is at risk, they have an ethical duty to do so.

The risk to the mother’s life does not need to be immediate and it does not need to be inevitable; a doctor just needs to have a reasonable belief that a risk will arise. There is absolutely no truth to the statement that a doctor must wait until a woman is at the edge of death to save her life, doctors are free to, and ethically required to, terminate the pregnancy at the point they decide that continuing the pregnancy is a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother.

To tell people otherwise isn't just dishonest. It is genuinely distressing to vulnerable women in a scary time in their lives. The people telling women that if they get sick while they're pregnant that they won't be treated are trying to drum up fear to force through their political aims. They are telling pregnant women and their partners, that unless they do what they want you or your loved ones will die. That is odious.

Even Dr Peter Boylan, one of the most prominent pro-choice activists in the country, admitted to a Dail committee in 2013 that:

“Ireland is not a chilling place. It is very good… I was asked if I had ever been unable to intervene because of the current legal situation, to carry out a termination of pregnancy and the woman had died. I have not.”
(Link to transcript)

You don’t have to take our word on this though. Here’s what the Medical Council’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners says about abortion (PDF).

The International Symposium on Maternal Health has released a statement (now signed by 1000+ medical experts) stating:

“We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to a pregnant woman.”

An Oireachtas Committee also looked at this issue. Professor John Bonnar, the then Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, testified that:

“95% of members of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists surveyed said that they could preserve mother’s lives and health without abortion.”


"I had cancer while pregnant in 2013. I received all the treatment I needed in Ireland including radiotherapy and chemotherapy without any hesitation from my doctors. Women with cancer in pregnancy are NOT being denied treatment here, and are NOT forced to travel because of Ireland's ban on abortion.” – Audrey McElligott, Cancer Survivor.

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