It was with surprise that I read Dr Ruairi Hanley’s article ‘Addressing the great taboo’ (IMT September 10, 2010).
He claims that it has taken him six years to summon up the courage to address the subject of abortion; he goes on to describe it as “the most contentious subject in Irish medicine”. He fears “irrationality and base hostility”, claiming they are part and parcel of an engagement with the issue; he even anticipates “hate mail”!
Having ventured into the area, he then criticises the pro-choice movement for allegedly concentrating on rare and emotive abortion cases. On the contrary, surely? As a founder member of Doctors for Choice — an organisation representing Irish doctors who support a woman’s right to choose abortion, seeing it as an integral part of her right to self determine her bodily integrity — we have consistently asserted that the key issue is the approximate 5,000 Irish women who travel each year to access abortion abroad. There is nothing ‘rare’ in these numbers.
It is variously estimated that between one in ten and one in fifteen Irish women of reproductive age have had an abortion. These women are our everyday patients. We are likely to meet them in our consultations at least once a day, yet don’t know who they are. These many thousands of women, as well as being our patients, are also our friends, our sisters and our children. This is the reality of abortion in Ireland.
It needs to be acknowledged that Irish doctors have been complicit in the silence surrounding the subject of abortion in this country. It is indeed time to end that silence. To this end, Doctors for Choice welcomes Dr Hanley’s (somewhat belated!) writing on abortion and his request for a rational discussion by Irish doctors; this debate is indeed urgently needed.
However, we would stress that the debate should remain firmly focused on the many, many thousands of Irish women who have had and continue to have abortions. A focus on patient autonomy, patient safety and equity of access to services must be at the heart of the debate. These values are also at the heart of best practice in medicine; it is time to include abortion as part of that best practice.
Dr Mary Favier,
Doctors for Choice