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“We won’t be bullied”: Pro-life nurses defiant as Minister insists abortions must take place

Nurses have said that today they “will not be bullied” into performing abortions after Minister Stephen Donnelly said that it is “totally and utterly unacceptable” that only 11 of the country’s 19 maternity hospitals are carrying out the procedure.

Nurses and Midwives for Life said that their members “entered nursing and midwifery to save lives” and that they “would not take part in any procedure or have any role in arranging any procedure that ended a human life”.

“We have a conscientious commitment to upholding  the right to life of the unborn child, and will not be bullied by the Minister or the HSE into taking part in abortion,” a spokeswoman for the organisation told Gript.

“The Minister needs to understand that this is a red-line issue for medical practitioners – including many, many experienced staff members from midwives to clinical nurse managers who say that any effort to force them to take part in abortion would result in them leaving the profession,” she said.

“Given the crisis in staffing that already exists in the health service and the current haemorrhage of experienced staff and levels of burnout, Stephen Donnelly would be well advised to avoid attempting to pressurise medical practitioners who have every right not to engage in ending the life of a living, growing child,” she added.

Any attempt to force pro-life medics to go against their conscience would lead to a clash that would damage health service provision that was already under huge strain, the group said.

“Stephen Donnelly wants every maternity hospital to carry out abortions, but the truth is that only 10% of GPs provide abortions because most medical practitioners know abortion is not healthcare, and most don’t want to get involved. There is a reality to ending a life in abortion that is easy for the Minister to ignore, but not so easy for the nurse on theatre to avoid, and I won’t take part in that,” one nurse told Gript.

She said that research from UCC, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, showed that Irish doctors carrying out late-term procedures saw it as ‘brutal’, ‘awful’ and ‘emotionally difficult’ – with one doctors describing it as ‘stabbing the baby in the heart’.

Reporting on the research at the time, it was observed that the researchers – who supported abortion provision – recorded a doctor saying:

“I remember getting sick out in the corridors afterwards because I thought it (feticide) was such an awful procedure and so dreadful.” 

It was also noted that:

Abortion providers said that they faced “widespread opposition” from other doctors, and in particular from neonatologists who care for babies after birth. Half of the specialists providing late-term abortion said that they experienced “opposition with conscientious objectors” and others shared that there was ‘a massive uncomfortableness’ and ‘suspicion’ with abortion. “Half of the participants shared feelings of disapproval and disrespect from local, national and retired colleagues,” the paper notes.

Megan Ní Scealláin of Life Institute said that it would be unconscionable for a Minister to attempt to force doctors or nurses to perform abortions  – and she questioned whether the HSE was failing women by seeking to drive out pro-life medics at a time when the authority had a staffing crisis.

“The Minister, and the media, seem obsessed with abortion provision, but the idea that they might drive away excellent, experienced staff because those medics don’t want to be involved in abortion is deeply troubling,” she said.

“Abortion supporters, including those who are engaged in making submissions or writing reports with pre-ordained outcomes, may want to penalise pro-life doctors and nurses, but the public would see that as a petty, bullying exercise,” she said.

The Minister also told RTÉ last week that some 8,500 women had “availed of abortion services in Ireland” in 2022 – a huge jump of 25% since 2021 and almost three times the number of women who travelled for abortion in 2018 before the 8th amendment was repealed. Another 1,000 women may have taken abortion pills in that year.

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