- 05 Apr 19
Dr Tiernan Murray of Doctors For Choice discusses the challenges faced by those providing abortion services in Ireland, including the lack of exclusion zones and the duplicity of the anti-choice side. But the service, he says, is working well.
Dr Tiernan Murray is a committee member of Doctors For Choice – an organisation who have been campaigning for free, safe and legal abortions since 2005. He is also a GP in the south Dublin suburb of Goatstown. Following the Repeal referendum, the group turned its attention to monitoring the implementation of the new service.
“The first thing to say is the service is going fantastically well,” says Dr. Murray. “The proof of that is this: if you look at the newspapers, there is nothing about the service. If there were problems, that wouldn’t be the case. The number of doctors providing the service is at an early stage, but there are already nearly 300. Most of those have signed up to provide within their own practice, but about 130 doctors are providing abortion services for any woman. On top of that, you’ve got the family planning clinics and well woman centres. In terms of the hospital service, that’s gone phenomenally well too, and great credit is due to the HSE administrative offices who’ve put it together.”
Of course, issues have arisen, including access to adequate contraception. Dr. Murray believes this is currently the most pressing issue. In this regard, one promising development is that the Minister for Health Simon Harris announced the establishment of a group to examine ways of removing barriers to accessing contraception.
“The biggest problem is having to pay for contraception,” Tiernan says. “The third visit a woman gets in a GP service looks at contraception to prevent future unwanted pregnancies. The most common area we look at is called LARC (long-acting reversible contraception) – which is the best form of contraception. But that’s not free.
“There’s very little the pro-abortion and anti-abortion sides agree on, but we all agree if you want to reduce abortions, you do it by effective contraception. Everybody knows that you do not get effective contraception without free contraception. This is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed.”
Northern Ireland is now the only part of Ireland and the UK with a near total ban on abortion. Last month, 28 women marched across Westminster Bridge in London with suitcases in hand, protesting the restrictive abortions laws in the North. Twenty-eight was not a random number – it symbolises the 28 women forced to travel to England every week to access an abortion.
“The situation for women in Northern Ireland is an absolute disgrace,” says Murray. “The fact that an Irish citizen living in Northern Ireland coming south would have to pay €450 is also a disgrace. No GP wants to charge this, but we do not get recompensed by the service. If you are a woman in Derry and you go to Donegal on holidays and you get sick, you go to the GP and you do not pay.
“But if you go to the GP to access an abortion, you have to pay €450. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. It puts us in a ridiculous situation in the Republic, where we say ‘all of these people are Irish citizens’, yet we refuse them a service that’s available to southern Irish citizens.”
The issue of exclusion zones and the role of rogue agencies has been another issue.
“The area of exclusion zones which we were promised, we didn’t get,” says Murray. “In Dublin, it’s not really an issue. There have been very few protests and they’ve all gone away. But the minister needs to make good on his promise to give us exclusion zones. We know that the anti-choice side have always used rogue agencies and deception as a form of block, to make it difficult for women to source abortions. We’ve no reason to think they are going to stop.
“I have to say, though, the My Options phone line is a stunning success. One free phone call gets the woman real information. Everything should be done to close down rogue agencies, but they are never going to be a major problem. The anti-choice people will always open up offices or provide services that are dishonestly portraying them as being non-judgemental – but when the woman enters, she finds that they are aggressively anti-abortion.”
It looks as though there will be no abortion opt-out for Catholic hospitals. Does the doctor think they should be allowed to object?
“As a taxpayer, I believe that State-funded hospitals must provide all legal services,” he replies. “If any hospital says they won’t, then funding should be taken from them, and given to somebody else who will. That’s how you solve the problem. I know some people feel that it would be nice not to go that far, but I think that is how countries address this issue.”