Abortion Until 6 Months

What the media has left out of the abortion referendum debate.

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April 2018

Much media attention, and indeed the attention of the public and the opinion pollsters, has been focused on the Government’s plans to introduce unrestricted access to abortion for the first three months (12 weeks) of pregnancy.

Significantly less attention has been focused on the much more liberal element of the proposal, which allows abortion, on UK grounds, up to viability, or the moment a child can, in the opinion of medical professionals, survive outside the womb.

It is necessary to substantiate what “viability” usually means. While the point of viability grows earlier as technology advances, the most comprehensive studies on the subject indicate[1] that at 24 weeks, a baby has a 50% chance of survival outside the womb, falling to less than 20% at 22 weeks, and rising to over 90% at 27 weeks. 24 weeks, therefore, is the point at which an unborn child has about a 50% chance of surviving outside the womb. This is six months into pregnancy.

The wording in the Government’s draft heads of bill[2] (head four) make clear that abortions will be legal in some circumstances until this point:

[1] Link: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa073059 - Intensive Care for Extreme Prematurity — Moving beyond Gestational Age Jon E. Tyson, M.D., M.P.H., Nehal A. Parikh, D.O., John Langer, M.S., Charles Green, Ph.D., and Rosemary D. Higgins, M.D. for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network*

The Government’s position is that this will be “restrictive” legislation that would only permit abortions on the grounds of a “serious risk” to health. However, the heads of bill also make clear that health in this case also includes mental health:

For comparison, the UK’s 1967 abortion act also permits abortion on the grounds of “risk… of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman”:

Link to 1976 abortion act »

[3] GP Notebook, UK website for practicing medical professionals

In the UK, nearly all abortions (97%) were carried out under this ground in 2016 (the most recent year for which statistics were available:

In the UK, ground C is the “abortion on request” ground.

The similarities to this ground in the Government’s proposed legislation are obvious:

– Risk to health, including mental health
– Two doctors to sign off
– Up to 24 weeks (UK) or viability (Ireland, usually defined as around the 24th week).

In Ireland, the wording is slightly different, and on this point, the Government and the YES campaign may seek to rely:

    In Ireland, the proposed legislation reads “serious risk”, whereas in the UK, it reads “risk greater than if the pregnancy were continued”.

    This difference, which will be exaggerated by the YES campaign, relies on the idea that doctors will implement strict and restrictive guidelines under which this ground is interpreted. It also relies on the very thin hope that such guidelines would not be found in breach of the will of the people should this legislation be adopted.

But it is the guidelines themselves that should alarm voters. Last week, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists announced that it had formed a working group to put these guidelines in place:

Link: UK official Govt stats on abortion

Link: Obstetricians To Agree Principles If 8th Amendment Repealed – The Irish Times

At this point, it is worth noting that the Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is Dr. Peter Boylan (pictured above). Dr. Boylan is also a leading figure in Together for Yes.

In February, Repeal Campaigners (who favour abortion in all circumstances) were actually alarmed at the prospect of the “serious risk” wording, fearing that it may, actually, be too restrictive:

In this article, Justine McCarthy writes:

"Ailbhe Smyth, the convener of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said legislating for “serious risk” would be unacceptable and legally problematic."

“In our view, it would be dangerous to qualify the risk. A law cannot determine a medical decision,” Smyth said. “Doctors who gave evidence . . . said medicine is not an exact science and they need to be able to make decisions.”

There, on the record, is the first indication that as soon as this referendum is passed, a campaign to widen access to abortion up to six months will begin.

However, happily for Together for Yes, Dr. Peter Boylan, Chairman of the Institute, and the man responsible for implementing the guidelines in the event of repeal, is quoted in this same piece saying:

Dr. Boylan’s words are worth highlighting:

“It should be the woman’s assessment of the risk that counts”

In other words, the man responsible for the organisation that will practically implement head 4 of the bill is on the record stating that it will not be medical practitioners whose opinions count – but those of people who are not medically qualified to determine medical risk.

Conclusions – Factual statements

1) A Yes vote absolutely legalises abortion up to six months, or “viability”.

2) Abortion up to six months is legalised on UK-style “2 doctors” basis

3) Abortion up to six months includes “mental health” grounds, under which 97% of all UK abortions are carried out.

4) It is the official position of Together for Yes that this is too restrictive.

5) It is the on the record position of the Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that the “2 doctors” should actually be subservient to the opinions of a non-medically qualified person (the patient).

So far, in this debate, “12 weeks” has been the position of the media, and of politicians.

That is inaccurate, and misleading.

A yes vote goes much further than 12 weeks. It legalises abortion up to six months.

In fact, in some cases, where an unborn child is very seriously ill, it legalises abortion up to birth.

This simply goes too far for most Irish voters. The problem is that, until now, hardly any of them have been informed about it.