The 8th Amendment prioritises continuing pregnancy over the health of the pregnant woman

GUEST POST by Doctors for Choice

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The failure to allow abortion when pregnancy threatens an individual woman’s health means that health care professionals are compromised in their ability to provide the best medical care to these patients. In the most extreme situations, a risk to a woman’s health can turn into a risk to her life. It can be difficult in practice to make a distinction between abortions that are necessary to preserve a woman’s life, which are allowed under the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, and those that are necessary to preserve her health. It is also better medical practice to intervene when a significant health risk becomes evident than to wait until the situation has deteriorated considerably.

Pregnancy may aggravate the risk to women with pre-existing medical health conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, congenital or known acquired cardiac disease, autoimmune disorders, and severe pre-existing or past mental illness. Ideally, women with such conditions should receive pre-conception counselling; however, this is not always possible, particularly in unplanned pregnancies. Risks from pregnancy to women with these conditions include blindness, stroke, kidney failure and heart damage among others, as well as threats to psychological well-being. Suicidal tendencies are one type of threat to psychological well-being that pose a risk to life. More general risks to psychological health are common among those with unwanted pregnancy.

It is worth noting that abortion is itself a low-risk procedure. The risk of maternal death from legal abortion is associated with the lowest risk of adverse outcome resulting from pregnancy. Of the alternatives to abortion, live birth poses an intermediate risk, and ectopic pregnancy and foetal death pose the highest risk. This holds true well beyond the ‘early’ stages of abortion in the first 12 weeks’ gestation; even at the latest stages of legally available abortion, abortion is not more risky than continuing pregnancy and birth.

For those women who have underlying health conditions or develop problems with their health during pregnancy, the impact that the pregnancy has on their health is prioritised below continuing the pregnancy due to the 8th Amendment  –  unless their life is directly at risk. For some women the associated risks are acceptable, and for others they are not. Some women choose to travel for abortion. Others cannot, including those who are too unwell to travel, those without the money to travel, and migrants.

The 8th Amendment removes from these women the ability to choose what is best for them and their health care needs. The repeal of the 8th Amendment must happen to allow for women to be in a position to make the best decisions regarding their health with their doctors.

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