Disclosed: Counsellors in Ireland give potentially life-threatening advice on abortion
An undercover investigation has revealed that leading pregnancy advice services in Ireland are offering illegal advice on abortion that is placing women’s lives at risk.
The findings were made after a team of undercover women, working in conjunction with The Irish Independent, secretly filmed appointments with clinics in 11 different locations across the country.
It was revealed that counsellors at the clinics, run by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), were advising women to “conceal” their abortions from doctors during subsequent pregnancies. This is despite the fact that post-abortion medical complications are potentially fatal for women if left untreated.
At the Crisis Pregnancy Support Service in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, one counsellor told a woman that “going on to have future pregnancies, there is no onus on you to disclose that you've had a termination.
"There is no direct relationship between termination, future pregnancy, anything like that. They don't need to know. They will ask you the same general question: is this your first pregnancy? You can say 'Yes',” he said.
Another woman was told by the Dundalk IFPA that: “Now when you go for medical attention they have no way of knowing that you have had an abortion. You need to say that you had a miscarriage. They will know you were pregnant but you need to say that you had a miscarriage.”
But the practice was condemned by Professor Sam Coulter Smith, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Surgeons, who said that the advice constituted a serious breach of “good medical practice” and could result in death of women if relied upon.
He said that he was aware of instances where women had died from abortion-related complications, such as a perforation of the womb, because they had concealed a termination from their doctor.
He added: "It is very hard for a doctor to give a woman correct advice if they are being kept in the dark and not being told the full medical history.
"There are certain recognised complications that can arise with terminations. Perforation of the womb is one of them and it can have a devastating effect on the integrity of the uterine wall in subsequent pregnancies.
"I am aware of cases where women have died because they didn't tell doctors they had had a termination which caused their womb to perforate."
Dr Simon Mills, a barrister and medical doctor, described the advice as illegal stating: "It is definitely reckless and probably negligent advice to tell a woman to conceal from doctors something that may be a vital part of her medical history.
"This is especially the case if she presented unwell in the immediate aftermath of a termination and felt that she shouldn't tell her doctor about it when it could be the key piece of information to deliver prompt and life-saving treatment.
"If somebody turned around and said the reason I didn't tell my doctor was because a counsellor told me it wasn't necessary, civil liability would almost certainly arise and Ithink it is possible that criminal liability could too.”
Counsellors at the clinic were also caught advising women on how to get hold of the illegal RU-486 abortion pill, even though an unsupervised use of the pill is dangerous and has resulted in the death of dozens of women around the world.
One counsellor was recorded as saying, “If you have an address in the North or you can buy a PO box number, and get them to send it ... You can ... then go and collect the tablets in the North and take them down here.” At the Sexual Health Centre in Cork, an investigator was told, “I suppose I’m not encouraging you to break the law or get into trouble … but it can be done.”
Criticising the practice, Professor Coulter Smith said: “This is a very powerful drug. It should be taken under medical supervision. It's not something women should go off and do on their own bat.”
The HSE has now launched an investigation into the findings, pledging to legal action against any counsellors found to have breached the law.
Eilis Mulroy, a pro-life solicitor who was part of the investigation team, said: "We had heard that questionable practices were going on.
“The 1995 Abortion Information Act is very clear when it comes to the obligations of counsellors and the information they are allowed to give.
“But our investigation found that this legislation is being breached on a wide scale and that Irish women in crisis pregnancies are getting dangerous medical advice.
“This reflects a high level of contempt for their health and well-being, not to mention the law.”
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