Update: Hospitals 'have an obligation' to follow new abortion legislation, says Tánaiste

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

Update: The Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said hospitals have an obligation to make sure decisions on abortions are consistent with the new laws.

It comes after a woman was allegedly denied an abortion at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin, despite having a fatal foetal abnormality.

She now intends to travel to the UK to get a termination.

Two TDs claimed the board of the Coombe overruled the recommendation of two doctors.

The hospital has denied its board has any role in decisions on abortions.

Simon Coveney said he will not comment on individual cases, but that the legislation is clear.

Mr Coveney said: "The law in this area is now clear, that legislation was passed in a way that was consistent with what the Government committed to doing before the referendum last year and it's what people voted for.

"So hospitals in Ireland have an obligation to make decisions in a way that is consistent with that new legislation."

Earlier: Minister calls for 'full facts' to be known after woman is denied abortion at Dublin hospital

A Government minister says all the facts should be known in an abortion case that was raised in the Dáil on Thursday.

The woman, who was allegedly refused an abortion by a leading maternity hospital, will travel to England for a termination.

Two TDs claimed in the Dáil that the woman was refused a termination in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.

Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith said they had been contacted by the woman.

Junior Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor told Newstalk Breakfast we need to have the full facts of this case.

"I think it's a really sensitive story and I don't think we can rush to judge.

"The board have said that they have no role in the ruling of the case - I do think we need to have the full facts.

"But I do also know that we must acknowledge it is a new service, there are new challenges of course around a service such as this.

"But the service is significantly better than what was there on the 31st of December, when women had to leave the country, leave the jurisdiction to travel abroad for a termination of pregnancy - or they had to purchase medication illegally online.

"Nineteen maternity hospital have signed up to provide this service, so obviously there are challenges at the beginning of this service - but as I said I'm not going to rush to any judgement".

Earlier: Woman forced to travel to UK for abortion claims she was denied termination

The woman at the centre of claims a leading maternity hospital blocked her from terminating her pregnancy after a fatal foetal abnormality was detected has said she will be forced to travel to England for an abortion.

Sources close to the woman confirmed her plans half a year after the historic vote to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, and as the National Women’s Council of Ireland demanded “complete clarity” over what happened.

In a claim under Dáil privilege yesterday, Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith said they were contacted by a Dublin woman in the past 24 hours who told them that Coombe officials stopped her from having an abortion — a claim the hospital denies.

The TDs said during the woman’s 12-week scan in her 13th week of pregnancy on January 3, she and her partner were told by their obstetrician their foetus had a fatal foetal abnormality.

File photo of the Coombe Hospital.
File photo of the Coombe Hospital.

In a follow-up scan on January 10, a second obstetrician confirmed the diagnosis as the developing organs of the foetus, including the heart, were in the wrong position, and discussed an abortion with the doctors, who said they needed to meet with an internal ‘board’ to finalise the decision.

The TDs said the woman sought a termination a fortnight ago, but claimed under privilege that after intervention from this board, the request was blocked.

“One doctor, her consultant, and another consultant was brought in who said yes, it is a fatal foetal abnormality, but a week later it went to the board, and the board overruled that,” said Ms Coppinger.

“This is about the law. A main maternity hospital in the capital city is refusing this woman her constitutional right... She has been told you can go to England.

“Her words to me were ‘this is not what I voted for’. She finds it hard to sleep knowing the condition her much wanted child is in.”

The Irish Examiner understands that after the Dáil debate the woman had a meeting with hospital officials including her original obstetrician yesterday.

At this meeting, she was told her pregnancy “doesn’t fall neatly into a fatal foetal abnormality” diagnosis, despite the doctors initially saying “the baby wouldn’t survive”.

As such, sources close to the woman confirmed last night she has decided to travel to England for an abortion, the type of decision that was believed to have been consigned to history after last May’s referendum.

A Coombe spokesperson rejected the Dáil claims last night, saying its board, which has not met since Christmas, had no case role: “In the context of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 and the latest draft Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Pathway for Management of Fatal Fetal Anomalies, the board of guardians and directors of the Coombe has no role whatsoever in certifying a termination of pregnancy.

“Insofar as recent media coverage has stated that the board has had a role in determining whether or not the criteria for certification have been met, those reports are untrue.”

However, at the time of going to press, the Coombe had yet to respond to queries on whether another internal medical board as opposed to the hospital board was involved in the case.

In a statement, National Women’s Council of Ireland director Orla O’Connor said it is essential that “complete clarity” is brought to the case, saying what happened “has the potential [to cause] widespread anxiety for women in Ireland”.

A HSE spokesperson declined to comment due to patient confidentiality and because the Coombe is a voluntary hospital.

While also declining to comment on the case, Health Minister Simon Harris’ spokesperson noted the post-referendum laws, saying: “The law allows for terminations when two obstetricians certify the foetus will not survive outside the womb.”

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