Dozens of senior clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital say they're concerned 'misinformation' about the hospital's planned move to St Vincent's campus in Dublin could delay the project.
The debate about the project has reignited in recent weeks, amid fresh calls for the site to be fully state-owned.
The site is currently owned by a religious order, but proponents of full state ownership have raised concerns about potential church influence on medical practices like abortion and IVF.
In a letter published in the Irish Times today, however, 42 senior clinicians have moved to reassure women and their families that doctors will be able to provide "all obstetric, neonatal and gynaecological care within Irish law" at the site.
Those services include tubal ligation, terminations of pregnancy and services for transgender people.
They say any further delays will damage "the interests of the mothers and babies who are grossly ill-served" by the current Holles Street campus, and it's "inaccurate" to say services at the new site would be curtailed by any religious ethos.
Signatories including the hospital's current master Shane Higgins and three of his predecessors (Rhona Mahony, Michael Robson and Declan Keane).
Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist Professor Mary Higgins also signed, and she told Newstalk Breakfast the clinicians want to raise their voices to highlight "misunderstandings and misinformation".
She said: “We wanted to reassure the women, girls, transgender people and the men of Ireland who might be accessing services in the national maternity hospital, when hopefully we move to Vincent’s campus, that we will be able to provide all the care that is legal within this country.
“We feel the debate that has been going on has been one-sided, and our voice was very important.”
Professor Higgins says the NMH already operates in a secular way, and the clinicians “cannot countenance” any restriction or practice based on religion.
She fears the project has gotten caught up in an ongoing culture war in Ireland, despite the urgent need for a new hospital building.
She said: “I think there’s a huge amount of pain and anger in Irish society as a result of religion, but this move to Vincent’s is being used in that campaign - and it’s being used wrongly.
“I advocated to repeal the 8th [Amendment], I voted to repeal it, I was involved in guidelines, I set up the clinic with other people on the team.
"I think this is important. I want it to continue, and it will continue.”
Professor Higgins says NMH staff have had "no issues" in its work with St Vincent's so far, with no impact from religion.
She explained: “I’m not a legal expert or politician.
"But I can say as a clinician I’m 100% confident that we’ll be able to provide this care, as part of our overall care for women’s health.”
She said she only cares about being able to provide the necessary care to women - and the hospital being co-located with St Vincent's Hospital would mean extra resources, including the existing hospital's intensive care unit.