Approximately 16.5% of pregnant women in Ireland suffer from depression, said a respected psychiatrist yesterday.

Speaking at a public lecture on motherhood and the Eighth Amendment in Dublin’s Gresham Hotel, Professor Veronica O’Keane stated that there was a severe reluctance in Ireland to examine the mental health of women during pregnancy.

 “We conducted a new study that includes 5,000 women who have used maternity services in Ireland, and found that 16.5% suffer from depression during their pregnancy.”

 According to O’Keane, this new study is the first ever research conducted about the mental state of women in Ireland during pregnancy. She described the reluctance of medical researchers to address the issue as neglectful, and was “astounded” that more data had not been collected. Ireland currently has the highest birth rate in Europe.

 “This is about care, and that includes the mental health of the woman who is pregnant.” She claimed that the Eighth Amendment and its restriction on abortion are contributing to these high levels of depression.

 O’Keane also drew attention to what she sees as Irish society’s own reluctance to discuss abortion openly. She stated that the term ‘crisis pregnancy’ only makes sense in Ireland as the country is unable to have a straight forward conversation on the topic.

 “’Crisis pregnancy’ is a euphemism, it only makes sense here. It’s not a ‘crisis pregnancy,’ it’s an ‘unwanted pregnancy.’ People do have unwanted pregnancies, and that’s the dark heart of this matter.”

 O’Keane added that there was a stigma around the idea of “reluctant motherhood.” She stated this too exists because of the Eighth Amendment and the belief that all women will want to become mothers some day.

 Irish people need to learn how to facilitate those who feel they cannot become parents, she said.

 “A baby is a shock even if it is totally planned,” she added. “Right now, we don’t allow women to say that they don’t want to be a mother. We’re not allowed to say that sometimes babies are not wanted, and this is because we have no access to abortion services.”

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Also present was independent midwife Philomena Canning, who drew attention to the lack of control pregnant women in Ireland have over their own birthing process.

 Canning explained that the Eighth Amendment removes “any decision making involved in pregnancy from the moment of conception.” What she referred to as the “industrialisation of childbirth” is taking place in Ireland’s hospitals, where women are not allowed to decide which birthing process is best for them.

 Canning added that she believes this current system is responsible for the 28% of women who suffer from post-natal depression. Recent statistics have also shown that Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.

 “It’s a disaster. Money and power underpin it all,” she stated. “The Eighth does not protect life. And as a midwife, I can say that.”

 This lecture was the first of a series of talks about abortion in Ireland organised by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

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