Pro-life campaigners should be wary of letter from NICRCOG Chair Carolyn Bailie

  • Pro-life campaigners should be wary of letter from NICRCOG Chair Carolyn Bailie
  • Pro-life campaigners should be wary of letter from NICRCOG Chair Carolyn Bailie

In a letter addressed to the All Party Group on Human Life (dated 11/11/16), Dr Carolyn Bailie states that the NICRCOG agrees “that the term Fatal Fetal Abnormality is not a medical term”. Dr Bailie also states that “enhancing the palliative care options that exist within NI would be very much welcomed by both parents and clinicians”.

Understandably, pro-life campaigners may, at first glance, consider these statements to be encouraging developments. Perhaps those dehumanising and medically meaningless terms like ‘incompatible with life’, ‘lethal foetal abnormality’ and ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ that for so long have induced fear, hopelessness and ultimately the tragically mistaken belief that abortion is the ‘kindest’ thing to do for a very sick baby will finally cease to be uttered by healthcare professionals who will, instead, impart up-to-date medically accurate information to parents about their little unborn baby’s condition. We can only hope.

However, pro-life campaigners and the thousands of constituents who have been calling for perinatal hospice care services should be wary of Dr Bailie’s statement that the enhancement of “palliative care options” would be “very much welcomed by both parents and clinicians”. When read in light of the rest of Dr Bailie’s letter, it is clear that what the NICRCOG is actually advocating is palliative care for women who ‘want to continue their pregnancy’ and a change in the law to allow abortion for women who cannot “bear to carry the pregnancy to term”.

This is exactly what Alliance Party MLA David Ford, Sinn Fein, and Amnesty International are calling for too. Calling for perinatal hospice care ‘on the side’ is merely a ploy to soften their outward appearance while the ’ABORTION RIGHTS NOW’ monster rages inside them.   

Far from being a leap in the right direction, it is clear that many obstetricians and gynaecologists in Northern Ireland are still stuck in their ways.

By way of background, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) believes that “abortion services” are an “essential part of women’s healthcare” and that abortion law should be the same across the United Kingdom.[1] But abortion is not a health service. It is the deliberate killing of an unborn child, which is why it is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. There is a defence which may be raised, that the doctor believed, and had reasonable grounds for believing, that the continuation of the pregnancy would have created a risk to the life of the mother or would have caused a real and serious and permanent or lifelong adverse effect on her physical or mental health. However, as with all other criminal offences, this defence is not automatic but depends on the circumstances of the act carried out.

In October 2013, retired obstetrician Professor Jim Dornan dared to argue that abortions were allowed “because of the effect of the abnormality on the physical or mental health of the mother” and that clinicians had been providing “this very sensitive care for over 50 years”,[2] i.e. for over fifty years paediatricians, obstetricians and midwives had been taking the law into their own hands by determining that an abortion was justified in individual cases.

Apparently, this all changed when guidelines issued by the Department of Health in March 2013 stipulated that that only a consultant psychiatrist should decide whether or not an abortion should take place on the grounds of risk to a woman’s mental health. According to Dr Bailie, the NICRCOG believes the “bar is set too high” with regard to what is considered “a real and serious and permanent or lifelong adverse effect on the mental health of the mother” which has resulted in “clinicians not being able to look after their patients” the way they used to.        

This is why the NICRCOG, in response to David Ford MLA’s consultation on changing the law to allow abortion of unborn children with life-limiting disabilities, supported the legalisation of abortion in these cases. David Ford MLA’s recent Private Member’s Bill which seeks to change the law to allow abortion in these cases right up to the moment of birth would give unfettered discretion back to those clinicians who will no longer have to worry about judging a woman’s mental health. All that would be needed would be an ‘abnormality’ to show up on an ultrasound or blood test and the abortion could be carried out.

It is an absolute disgrace that many obstetricians and gynaecologists have been flouting the law by determining that a woman’s “mental anguish” means that she can have an abortion. As stated above, that an abortion was carried out to prevent “a real and serious and permanent or lifelong adverse effect on the mental health of the mother” is a defence to the crime of abortion in Northern Ireland. It is for a jury to consider all the evidence and decide whether the defendant can rely in this defence, not for him or her to decide in the privacy of a clinical setting. 

Another cause for concern is Dr Bailie’s claim that “[f]or some women medical complications have arisen due to this change in circumstances”. If Dr Bailie is suggesting that “medical complications have arisen” because clinicians can no longer carry out abortions, this is nonsense.   

There is NO research evidence indicating that abortion is an effective treatment for any mental health disorder or distress.[3]In fact, abortion carries an increased risk of mental health problems, including suicidality.[4]As explained by Professor Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry at the Department of Adult Psychiatry, University College Dublin, and Consultant Psychiatrist in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, suicidal intent is usually due to mental illness and should be treated the same way during pregnancy as in other cases. The appropriate treatment for a suicidal patient is to ensure her safety, provide psychological support and counselling, and prescribe any appropriate medication.[5]

It would be foolish of pro-life campaigners to welcome Dr Bailie’s letter as something positive. 

Until the NICRCOG takes a stand against the killing of unborn children, the NICRCOG’s recommendation or support for better perinatal hospice care services is worth nothing.

 


[3] Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children Report on Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, May 2013, page 36.

[4] David Fergusson, L John Horwood and Joseph Boden, ‘Abortion and Mental Health Disorders: Evidence from a 30-Year Longitudinal Study’ (2008) 193 British Journal of Psychiatry 444.

[5] Professor Patricia Casey, Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children Report on Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, May 2013, page 36.

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