Pro-life doctors in Ireland call for robust conscience protections

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A "small but significant" number of general practitioners in the Republic of Ireland are appealing to the county's health minister to exempt them from being forced to refer patients to other doctors for abortions, the Irish Independent is reporting.

Ireland is facing a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a March survey of Irish healthcare professionals found that that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

The Independent reports that the objecting GPs "will require some form of accommodation," though it is not yet clear how it will be done.

The current draft of the legislation to be debated in Irish parliament states that a doctor, nurse or midwife who has a conscientious objection to abortion must make arrangements for the woman to "transfer her care " to another medic who will terminate her pregnancy, and must do so "as soon as may be."

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in September called for the establishment of "clear procedures within healthcare facilities for medical personnel to report in advance their refusal to provide certain services," as well as the "establishment of a register of objecting providers."

Dr Maitiu O Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners, wrote in June that his organization had voted unanimously that its 2,000 members wanted to be able to opt in to abortion procedures rather than opt out.

"Medical abortion is not part of routine general practice. 85% of GPs are of this opinion. This has again been replicated in several polls consistently," O Tuathail wrote in The Journal. "By equating abortion to the management of asthma, heart disease or diabetes, people are being disingenuous and I believe disrespectful to women."

Health Minister Simon Harris has criticized the "opt-in" stance of the National Association of General Practitioners, and even recently expressed his hope that abortion would soon be provided in Ireland free-of-charge.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar clarified to the Dáil in June that individual medical professionals will be able to opt out of performing abortions, but entire hospitals will not be able to do so, now that abortion is being legalized in the country. Many publicly-funded hospitals have historic ties to the Catholic Church and operate under Catholic ethics.

General practitioners would be able use medication to terminate pregnancies under the new law, without restriction, up until 12 weeks. If there is a serious risk to the life of the mother, two doctors will be able to certify that they believe an abortion to be necessary after 12 weeks, as long as the fetus has not reached viability. The law also allows doctors to carry out abortions in what they deem to be an emergency, when they consider an abortion to be immediately necessary.

The Irish Independent reports that 24-hour phone line is expected to be set up to give women in a crisis pregnancy advice and direction if complications arise due to a medical abortion.

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