The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, appeared to contradict the official advice given by the HSE on abortion pill provision during a debate on the Emergency Measures legislation in the Dáíl yesterday.
Sinn Feín and left-wing TDs including Bríd Smith and Paul Murphy had sought amendments to the emergency legislation which would permit a doctor or nurse to prescribe the abortion pill over the phone, without examining the pregnant woman.
Pro-life groups described the push as a “sneak attack on abortion laws at a time of a national crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Minister Harris told the Dáil that the current legislation providing for abortion services did not preclude the abortion pill being prescribed by video conferencing.
He said that Section 12 of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 “does not prescribe the actions or clinical aspects of the medical practitioner’s examination of the woman. As it is set out in section 12, the phrase “having examined” does not exclude the possibility of the examination being carried out by other means, for example, by telemedicine or video conference.”
This seems to contradict the advice given by the HSE which states that women need to attend a “pre-abortion consultation” in a physical location.
“You need to attend a pre-abortion consultation before having an abortion,” the HSE website states.
“Where you have your pre-abortion consultation is up to you. You can have your consultation in either a GP surgery that provides abortion services, family planning clinic that provides abortion services [or a] women’s health clinic that provides abortion services,” the HSE advises.
The purpose of a physical consultation is also made clear in the HSE’s advice to pregnant women.
It is required to confirm the woman is pregnant, and, importantly, to certify how many weeks pregnant the woman is. A ultrasound may be required, and can be crucial to determine if the pregnancy is ectopic.
An undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening.
The Health Minister also seemed to contradict previous assurances he had given regarding the 2018 Bill, when he told the Seanad that under the legislation a woman “would need to see and be examined by a doctor”.
Mary Fitzgibbon, of Nurses and Midwives for Life , said prescribing the abortion pill by video conference would be an unsafe and retrograde move, and could result in increased hospital admissions at a time when the health service was under serious strain.
Peadar Tóibín of Aontú said it would be “shocking” to “weaken the right to life any further”and to see the abortion amendments passed considering “so many are doing everything they can to save human life” during the crisis.