Claims by Prof. Eamon O’Dwyer not Grounded in Medical Fact.

This is a letter from GPC in response to a letter in last week’s Galway Independent which can be read here. The signatories of this letter included several high profile long-standing members of the catholic anti-choice campaign. The Galway Independent did not publish our response this week, however they did publish another anti-choice letter.

Galway Pro-Choice believes that the letter from Prof. Eamon O’Dwyer published in last week’s Galway Independent may have misled some readers in several significant respects.

The headline used, ‘Abortion not necessary to save a woman’s life’ is not a medical fact, it is merely the opinion of a tiny percentage of obstetricians and gynaecologists. This minority opinion is contrary to that of the World Health Organisation’s Millennium Development Goal Number 5. The WHO believes that access to safe and legal abortion for women is an important factor in reducing the number of deaths during pregnancy. In fact, unsafe illegal abortion is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide. Galway Pro-Choice sees no rational reason why women in Ireland should be denied access to a necessary medical procedure.

The letter was also accompanied by 22 signatories of a document called the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Healthcare, September 2012. This declaration is the only medical document in history to ever express the opinion that abortion is never necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. Most of these signatories are also members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, one of the world’s leading professional bodies in this fieldThe Royal College has over 12,500 registered members; 22 is a very tiny percentage of 12,500. Evidently, over 99% of Prof. O’Dwyer’s colleagues do not agree with the declaration. We will leave it to the reader to judge whether it is significant that only three of these 22 signatories are women.

Prof. O’Dwyer is certainly an experienced professional; he was head of the Obstetrics Unit at UCHG for over 30 years. However, his opinions on other matters may give rise to some concern. In a talk he gave to a catholic association in Korea in 2002, he stated that 14 year old Miss X had ‘consensual sex’ with her 42 year old attacker, Mr. Sean O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien was subsequently found guilty of unlawful carnal knowledge and sexual assault in 1994.This was two years after the Supreme Court found she was entitled to an abortion as a result of the fact that she was suicidal due to pregnancy. O’Brien was also found guilty of the kidnapping and sexual assault of another 15 year old girl in 2002. An appeal to this conviction in 2003 was unsuccessful.

Abortion was necessary to save the life of X.

Furthermore, in a recent letter to the Irish Times, Prof. O’Dwyer attempted to call into question the professional opinion of Prof. Peter Boylan, the former Master of the National Maternity Hospital. Prof. Boylan was called by the coroner to give expert testimony to the Savita Halappanavar inquest in May. During his testimony he expressed the opinion that Ireland’s restrictive laws were to blame for Savita’s death. Prof. Boylan also appealed for legal clarity so that doctors could save women’s lives without the threat of possible imprisonment. Neither Prof. O’Dwyer nor any of his co-signatories were called upon to give statements to the coroner’s inquest. Their statement is not representative of the majority medical opinion within Ireland.

In short, last week’s letter was a purely ideological position not grounded in current medical understanding. It fundamentally does not trust women to make choices for themselves regarding their own medical treatment. We in Galway Pro-Choice believe that women can and should be trusted. To ensure such trust we are calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, Article 40.3.3, is a dangerous obstacle to women’s right to health. It prevents necessary treatment for victims of rape and incest, and for those women forced to leave Ireland because of fatal foetal abnormalities. Until this Article is removed women will continue to be second class citizens in this country.


[1] www.who.int/topics/millennium_development_goals/maternal_health/en/index.html
[2] http://www.dublindeclaration.com/signatories/
[3] http://www.rte.ie/news/2003/0206/34895-xcase/
[4] http://www.fiamc.org/fiamc/03events/0209seoul/texts3/01odwyer/odwyer.htm
[5] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/letter-an-attack-on-my-professional-opinion-says-obstetrician-1.1379025
[6] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/laws-not-doctors-to-blame-for-savita-halappanavar-death-says-expert-witness-1.1363741
[7] http://galwayindependent.com/20130717/news/abortion-not-necessary-to-save-a-womans-life-S21380.html
[8] http://www.rcog.org.uk/membership


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