We asked a GP what he does when a patient asks about abortion
Dr Ross Kelly is a GP practicing in Dublin. He is a member of Doctors For Yes.
In your experience as a GP, have many women sought information on terminations?
Yes. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon to have women coming in with an unplanned pregnancy, a crisis pregnancy. Every GP in the country would face that scenario, not every day thankfully but it is something we do see.
What do you say to someone in that situation?
The most important thing is listening. There are a few steps. Number one, you’re going to get an idea of where that individual is in their own thinking – try to have a general chat about their ideas, concerns and expectations. Is it something they just found out today, something they just found out in your surgery? It can be a bit of a shock to the system.
There isn’t a set way we can approach it. The good thing about being the GP is that generally you know the patient, their past mental history for example. You can be in a position to explore. Often it’s useful to give someone time to digest information.
All of it is about exploring where that woman is at in her decision making process, giving her space to make that decision and giving information along the lines of what she wants.
What if someone explicitly says they want a termination?
Number one – you talk in a non-judgemental manner. It’s the woman’s decision and we shouldn’t be making that decision for her.
We have an obligation to talk about parenting, we have an obligation to talk about adoption but we can also, when requested, talk about termination. When asked we can absolutely give information about what termination involves and give information about where they can access care, give them the names of reliable centres in the UK – but that’s the point that we stop.
We can advise her but it’s entirely up to her to make contact with those places but we can’t give a referral letter like we would in any other medical scenario.
The idea of 'abortion regret' has come up during the referendum debate. Have you ever come across situations of abortion regret?
Personally, no I haven’t. What I can say is in terms of the evidence that’s out there – and in medicine we rely on evidence – the studies would tell us that the rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy are the same whether they have an abortion or they give birth. We don’t see a difference in terms in specific harms depending on abortion.
There was a study in the UK a number of years ago that would suggest that for the vast majority of women the emotional response was relief. That isn’t to say there aren’t women who don’t run into difficulty after.
What do you think termination care would look like in Ireland if the 8th were removed?
The key for me is that it’s delivered in the community. GPs will form part of this, the GPs that opt into it. Not all will and that’s fine but I think enough will to make it workable. Other clinics will play a role, women’s health clinics.
What’s important is having it accessible in Ireland will mean decisions are made in a better way and a proper way. It means we’re no longer hiding it and we’re not rushing things and the decisions are about what they want and not ‘do I have to sell my car to go to England?’
It’s important that it’s in the community and that we don’t put up any unnecessary barriers to women accessing care.