Nuns will be unable to stop lawful abortions at new hospital, says consultant

editorial image

One of the country’s most respected consultant obstetricians has said nuns will not be able to stop lawful abortion or contraceptive treatment in the new National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.

Amid furore over nuns potentially determining clinical care at the hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, said medical care at the new hospital will be entirely independent.

“Can we get real about this,” the leading consultant said.

Ms Mahony said means contraceptive treatment or abortions when a woman’s life is at risk will be carried out at the new campus when it opens in about four or five years time.

“At the moment in Holles Street we provide services to women. This includes contraception. We have about five terminations a year, otherwise women would die. This will continue in the new hospital

“The clinical independence is absolutely copper-fastened.”

It has been reported that the Sisters of Charity will be the sole owner of a new company, the National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC, while the identity and ethos of the current National Maternity Hospital will be retained.

The proposal to give the Sisters of Charity ultimate ownership of a 300 million euro public hospital also provoked anger as the congregation has yet to pay three million euro of redress for victims of institutional child abuse.

Health Minister Simon Harris insisted during the week that the new National Maternity Hospital will have “full clinical, operational, financial and budgetary independence, free of any religious or ethnic influence”.

The minister said “reserved powers” have been set out in the agreement to guarantee independence. The Minister for Health will also hold a “golden share” to copper-fasten the governance structure.

The deal also has a clause stating that the “reserved powers” can only be amended with the unanimous written approval of the directors of the new National Maternity Hospital and with the approval of the Minister for Health.

Dr Peter Boylan, a board member of the National Maternity Hospital and former Master at Holles Street, questioned whether clinical care at the new National Maternity Hospital, including terminations or IVF treatment, would be influenced by the nuns’ religious beliefs.

“The state is investing 300 million of your money and my money in a new maternity hospital.

“It’s inappropriate that that hospital should have a strong religious influence, particularly from the Catholic Church, with all its bad history in relation to women’s healthcare,” he told RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland.

The terms of the deal brokered between the National Maternity Hospital and the Sisters of Charity last November were supposed to be confidential.

The nuns own the land that the new hospital is being built on and it is understood they were not asked to sell the site to the state.

There will be nine people on the board of the new National Maternity Hospital - four nominated by the St Vincent’s Hospital Group which is owned by the Sisters of Charity, four by the current National Maternity Hospital, including the Master, and it will be chaired by an international expert in obstetrics and gynaecology.

About 50,000 people have signed an online petition opposing any role or ownership for the nuns in the operation of the new National Maternity Hospital.

A decision on a planning application on the new hospital is due in August or September.

Dr Mahony told Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio: “We have to come with an agreement that protects the integrity of both hospitals.

“We require independence to give the acre that we need to give and that includes contraception, termination of pregnancy and we have achieved that.

“We have absolute operation and clinical independence.

“This is absolutely the way forward to deliver modern 21st century healthcare. It is not the way forward to continue to stay in a dilapidated building that cannot provide the facility for modern care.”

“What we don’t need is misinformation. What we don’t need is scaremongering. And what we don’t need is completely inaccurate information. What we don’t need is this attack on the nuns who will not be involved in the delivery of maternity, gynaecological and neo-natal care.”