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Cora Sherlock: Midwives should not support abortion


UK barrister Elizabeth Prochaska was in Dublin this weekend to speak at the launch of the new group Midwives for Choice. As part of the ongoing quest of some lobbyists to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, Prochaska has spoken to the Irish Times about her work in this area. She would, she says, “be scared to be a woman of reproductive age in Ireland”.

It’s an odd angle to take for several reasons. Ireland is not a dangerous place to be a woman of child-bearing age; far from it. Maternal mortality is something that has received careful attention for many years as individual governments and the World Health Organisation work towards improving conditions for women, particularly in developing countries. As such, records are released every few years, showing how well countries are faring in their efforts to care for women while they are pregnant. Ireland has consistently topped the table in terms of maternal health care. Our doctors are world leaders when it comes to safeguarding the lives of pregnant women.

In the most recent report on international maternal mortality, Ireland was shown to rank far above, for example, the US, a country where abortion is widely available. Prochaska makes no mention of this outstanding record and she does a huge disservice to doctors in Ireland who work hard on a daily basis to maintain our impressive international record.

In her interview with the Irish Times, Prochaska talks about the role that midwives play in “empowering women”.  How sad then, that a number of midwives in Ireland have decided to push for a repeal of the 8th Amendment, Ireland’s original Life Equality provision. There is nothing “empowering” about abortion. Abortion tells women that they “can’t” bring their baby to term.

On their website, Midwives for Choice set out their principles, stating that “Human Dignity is the ultimate value on which respectful health care depends.” This is correct, but for the group to be consistent with this principle, they should oppose abortion, the ultimate denial of the dignity of unborn babies. Their website also states that they “respect each woman as a unique individual and make every valid and reasonable effort to protect the life and health of pregnant women and their unborn babies.”

Once again, the fact that the group has joined the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment stands in direct contradiction with this aim. Groups that want to protect the “life and health of pregnant women and their unborn babies” do not support the removal of the last remaining constitutional protection of the right to life of those unborn babies.

The group says it also adheres to the World Health Organisation definition of “health” which includes “complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”. Given that this is the case, it’s a further reason why its priority should be the eradication of the need for abortion rather than spending any time trying to introduce it into Ireland.

After all, those working in the area of the after-effects of abortion know that it can have a very serious detrimental effect on women’s health, both physical and psychological. Ireland’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme which has been monitoring the effects of abortion on women over the last number of years, has reported an increase in the number of women who say that they are experiencing sadness and regret following their abortion.

This is supported by international research, like the Fergusson 30-year longitudinal study which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and which found that there is no evidence to suggest that abortion reduces the mental health risks of unwanted pregnancy, or the Gissler study which found that women who have abortions are more likely to end their lives by suicide than women who continue with their pregnancies. These are serious facts concerning the negative effects of abortion on women’s lives. Any group that talks about abortion in the context of women’s health must address them and explain why we should even be considering liberalising our abortion laws.

And that’s before we even consider the fact that those who advocate abortion are supporting a system that allows the lives of babies to be ended. This is not something that you expect to find in a civilised society. Instead of abortion, Ireland has always operated a two-patient model. When they are treating a pregnant woman, doctors recognise the fact that they are treating two patients, not one, and they act accordingly. If a woman requires treatment for a medical condition during pregnancy, she is always entitled to that treatment. But under the two-patient model, doctors will do all they can to save the life of the woman and her unborn baby. And, as the international record shows, our doctors have been successful in that regard.

So let’s stop the scaremongering, whether it comes from barristers, abortion lobby groups or otherwise. There is no need to be “scared” of Ireland’s life equality amendment. It has ensured that women can rely on a medical professional that is at the top of its game in terms of caring for women and their babies. What we need now more than ever is a real focus on the kinds of financial, social and other supports that would help women in Ireland plan their future with their babies without having to resort to the desolation of abortion.

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Cora Sherlock
Cora Sherlock
Cora is a human rights activist, lawyer & writer. She is also Deputy Chair of the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland.

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