Some women travel to the UK for first stage of abortion procedure and return to give birth to stillborn babies
A growing number of women who travel to the UK for terminations following a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality are returning to Ireland after the first part of the procedure to deliver their stillborn babies in Irish hospitals.
The practice was revealed by Prime Time’s Katie Hannon via a confidential letter from Master of the Rotunda, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, to the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health.
The Master of one of the biggest maternity hospitals in the country wrote to the Department of Health last month to alert the Chief Medical Officer to the trend.
The confidential letter outlines how an increasing number of women who travel to the UK for terminations following a fatal foetal diagnosis are presenting at Irish hospitals to give birth to their stillborn babies.
The correspondence sets out the two-step procedure for terminations required by law in the UK once a pregnancy has passed the 22 week point.
Part A involves the administration of an injection to stop the heart of the foetus.
The woman is then given drugs to induce the birth and asked to return to the hospital at an appointed time for Part B, the delivery of the baby.
But Dr Coulter-Smith says they have noted that some women are returning to Ireland for Part B – that is before they give birth.
While the number of women in this position is believed to be small, his letter states that this is “something that has started to happen with increasing frequency.”
The letter goes on to warn about the “potential for adverse publicity” should something go wrong in one of the cases where a woman was travelling after part one of the termination and requests a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer to discuss the matter further.
Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister said this week that abortions should be permitted in Northern Ireland in cases where the foetus has a lethal abnormality,
Minister David Ford said: “I believe we owe it to people who have highlighted the case in the media and others who have suffered in silence that we address those issues which have caused significant concern.”
He added: “It is clear there are very few people in Northern Ireland and very few people in the Assembly who would wish to see the full introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act.
“But, I do think when we look at the difficult issues of lethal foetal abnormality that there are people with compassion for women carrying foetuses in such circumstances that may well mean there is a small area that merits consideration for change.”
A public consultation on abortion legislation in Northern Ireland will close next January.
Tonight a Department of Health Spokesperson said: “The Chief Medical Officer was very concerned about the patient safety implications of the situation described in the correspondence.
“A meeting took place between the Master of the Rotunda and officials from the Department of Health to discuss the matters raised. The Chief Medical Officer has taken initial soundings which appear to indicate that this practice has not been identified in every maternity service in Ireland.
“However, it is too early to say that it is confined to the Rotunda. The Chief Medical Officer intends to communicate with the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the National Clinical Programme for Obstetrics to establish the further extent if any of the practice.
“The Department has great sympathy for the many couples who receive a diagnosis of foetal fatal abnormality. State-funded support services are available which provide appropriate counselling to women in these difficult situations. More information is available at positiveoptions.ie.”