Trinity academic among 838 medical professionals to sign Amnesty International open letter calling for decriminalisation of abortion

Dr Veronica O’Keane: Repeal of the eighth amendment will not be enough


Trinity professor in psychiatry, Dr Veronica O’Keane, and Dr Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital, where the two Irish doctors who, along with 838 other physicians from 44 countries, last week signed an open letter published by Amnesty International calling for governments to decriminalise abortion.

The letter urges governments to stop interfering with health professionals’ ability to provide care and says that criminalizing abortion puts women and girls’ health and lives at risk. It states that criminalising abortion “disregards sound medical judgment and can undermine the professional duty of care and confidentiality that doctors bear towards their patients.”

Professor O’Keane spoke to Trinity News about the issue. Asked why more Irish medical professionals did not sign the letter or take part more vocally in the campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion, O’Keane commented that, of all the issues facing Irish society, “abortion is the most sensitive.” Abortion in Ireland is a criminal act, she said, and “why would medical professionals come out in favour of a criminal act?”

According to O’Keane, there is a large amount of discontinuity in Irish law regarding abortion. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act only provides for abortion in cases where there is a risk of suicide, or physical illness of the mother, which would prove fatal if the pregnancy were not aborted. The government is also required by law to provide information on the availability of abortion services in the UK as a result of the 1995 Abortion Information Act. O’Keane argued that this leads to confusion as regards which “certain situations apply,” as “95% of people would support abortion in the cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality.”

Regarding the Repeal the Eighth Campaign, which seeks to repeal the amendment to the constitution that equates the life of the mother to that of the unborn child and therefore criminalises abortion, O’Keane argued that this does not go far enough. “Leaving the Protection of Life Act in place will not be moving forward,” she said, claiming that what is needed is both the repeal of the eighth amendment and the introduction of “liberal legislation.” She suggested that abortion should be regulated “within the medical profession” and not left as “a criminal issue.”

Hitting back against the publishing of the open letter, Cora Sherlock of the pro-life campaign is quoted in the Journal stating: “The latest attempt by Amnesty to push for the liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws seeks to depict abortion as ‘healthcare’ when in reality it is nothing of the sort.  All it does is end the life of an unborn baby.”