Doctors support a woman’s right to choose Irish Medical News
Dr Peadar O’Grady, Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Doctors for Choice,
I refer to Dr Sean O’Domhnaill’s letter to your newspaper (IMN, 26/11/07) regarding the excellent conference on abortion services for Ireland, whose keynote speech was given by Mr Jon O’Brien on behalf of “Catholics For A Free Choice”.
The letter refers to the organisation Doctors For Choice in Ireland. Doctors For Choice in Ireland is a voluntary confidential organisation of like-minded doctors who advocate for legal reproductive rights and healthcare for Irish women.
We are affiliated to the Global Doctors For Choice initiative, which is an international organisation of many thousands of members worldwide. We have very strong active relationships with the medical academies, as well as the statutory and non-governmental reproductive health and family planning agencies throughout Ireland and abroad.
It is vital that a community exists within the medical profession to advocate for patients and doctors in situations where abortion and other reproductive health measures are not legally available.
We are aware that some doctors do not personally agree with abortion but that many would share in the, now majority, view in Ireland that abortion services should be provided. The 1992 X case and subsequent cases have provided Irish people with several opportunities to question in real life situations whether or not they would agree to force a woman through an unwanted pregnancy. They have also been led to question why late abortions are increased by the unnecessary delay caused by women’s need to travel to have an abortion in the health service of another EU country.
It is likely that doctors, like other people in Ireland, are beginning to support a woman’s right to choose.
Like Catholics For A Free Choice we believe that people are the best judges of what is right and wrong for their bodies, rather than bishops, judges or doctors. The principle of informed consent should apply to all medical services in the same way. Rejection of patients’ personal values and private morals has unfortunately led to an atmosphere of secrecy and shame surrounding abortion. The evidence is that lack of support from the medical profession for a patient’s choice of abortion increases morbidity due to insufficient medical attention, as well as increasing emotional and psychological sequelae.
The most consistent distressing psychological sequelae of abortion are guilt and shame regarding pregnancy and abortion. Guilt is heightened in those who did not have an opportunity to consider where in the range of possible opinions their own feelings lay and who felt obliged to accept an immoral or “sinful” interpretation as the only one available. It is important to consider that the unacceptably high incidence of psychological sequelae postpartum also reflects issues of decision-making and social support relating to pregnancy and abortion.
It is important that doctors encourage access to non-directive counselling so that women with unwanted pregnancies can make an informed and unpressured decision about what is best for them in their pregnancy. We should advocate for good medical and childcare support so that the choice for women is a real one rather than just empty rhetoric.