The lack of support for women who experience mental illness during or after pregnancy in Ireland should now be a matter of serious concern. While greater attention is welcome in regards to access for care, much of the discussion in recent times has been towards regarding abortion as a solution for women who are pregnant and mentally ill. Why is abortion continuously the focus of treating mentally ill pregnant women, and why hasn’t the access to mental health care been the focus of this debate all along?
The lack of resources are disturbing: there are only three perinatal psychiatrists in all of Ireland and all of them are located in Dublin. Cork University Maternity Hospital has around the same number of deliveries as in Dublin, but has no psychiatrists specializing in mental illness during pregnancy. Anyone, no matter what their beliefs on abortion, can agree that this is an issue that deserves recognition and must be changed. Pregnant women deserve to be protected and cared for, especially those who suffer with mental illness. It is fair to say that the HSE can do much more in this regard.
And at this moment in the debate regarding care for mentally ill pregnant women, abortion seems to be the sole focus of the media.
Commentators lament that the requirement that three doctors are needed to sign off for an abortion due to mental illness – while only two are needed for physical illness – is ‘onerous’. A lack of abortion access is reported as denying women their rights, and campaigners continually call for the law on abortion to be be broadened to include ending the lives of unborn children with fetal abnormalities and women who conceive due to rape.But why does abortion even seen as a solution when it comes to the rights of mentally ill women? If Ireland was truly concerned for pregnant women with mental difficulties shouldn’t the focus be on the lack of specialists who care for these women? Shouldn’t all the debate about mental illness during pregnancy focus on the fact that there is a huge neglect in this area of medicine and that these women deserve more while pregnant? After all the new law is called the the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, but the law does nothing to improve the treatment of those who are mentally ill during pregnancy; instead it simply offers abortion.
Despite all of Enda Kenny’s protestations last year, it’s clear that the government did nothing to actually protect and improve the treatment of women who suffer with mental illness during pregnancy.