Is induced abortion ever medically needed to save women's lives?
It is important to stress that Ireland ranks among the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant — as the Green Paper on Abortion recognised, our maternal mortality rate is so low that it can hardly be improved upon – and this has been achieved without recourse to abortion. So abortion is not needed to save mothers' lives because Ireland is a safer place than say the UK for a mother to have a baby, and we do not have abortion.
The Submission from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Abortion (2001) now forms the basis of the Irish Medical Council's latest ethical guidelines on abortion.
The second paragraph of the Submission reads:
In current obstetrical practice rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention is required at a stage in pregnancy when there will be little or no prospect for the survival of the baby, due to extreme immaturity. In these exceptional situations failure to intervene may result in the death of both mother and baby. We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother.
This Statement represents the consensus among the country's obstetricians and gynaecologists and brings much needed clarity to the debate.
Every three years the Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom is published. The 1997-99 Report identified 2 deaths and the 2000-02 figures (published in 2005) recorded 3 deaths directly attributable to induced abortion. So rather than protecting women induced abortion puts the lives of some women at risk.
But isn't any termination of pregnancy really an abortion?
It is very important to be clear what we mean by phrases like ‘termination of pregnancy'. All pregnancies are terminated. Most of them terminate with the birth of a normal healthy baby. Some unborn children die before birth as a direct result of serious maternal illness or as a side-effect of standard treatment of such illnesses. Furthermore some die, in spite of the best efforts of all involved, as a result of being born too early: such births may occur spontaneously or may be induced in cases where it represents the only, albeit very low, chance of survival.
What about abortion on grounds of threatened suicide?
The referendum proposal in March 2002 would have excluded threatened suicide as a ground for abortion. As the recent Oireachtas hearings on the subject demonstrated undergoing an induced abortion itself is a significant risk factor for suicide.
The suicide ground for abortion was introduced by the Supreme Court in 1992, and was roundly criticised most particularly by the medical profession. A recent and much publicised Finnish* study showed that the incidence of suicide among women who had an abortion was six times that among women who had given birth to a baby.
*The European Journal of Public Health 2005 15 (5): 459-463, Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland by Mika Gissler, Cynthia Berg, Marie Helene Bouvier-Colle and Pierre Buekens.