Legislation is the same in its essence as outline in Heads of Bill published in April
Party leaders calculate that measure will be acceptable to sufficient numbers of deputies
The Bill, as it makes clear at the outset, covers existing constitutional rights only and does not create any new rights. It does not allow for terminations in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormalities, despite considerable public support for such provisions. If there is a physical threat to a woman’s life, two doctors, one of them an obstetrician, will have to provide certification in order for a termination to go ahead. In a slight change, there is provision for consultation by the doctors with the woman’s GP if she so wishes.
In case of risk of loss of life from suicide, a termination can only proceed after certification by three doctors. Two of these will be psychiatrists and the other an obstetrician, as before.
In what may be a tightening of the rules, one of the psychiatrists will have to have experience of working with women “in respect of pregnancy, childbirth or post-partum care”. Previously, it had been suggested that one of the psychiatrists would have to be a perinatal psychiatrist, but then it was pointed out that there were only three of these in the State. It remains to be seen how many in the profession have the experience now required.
The absence of the gestational time limit has caused unease among many who would otherwise support the Bill, because of the perceived risk that this would allow, however unintentionally, for late abortions. Government Ministers were clear in saying they didn’t have the power to restrict a constitutional right and so it is no surprise that the Bill doesn’t contain any compromise on this issue.
The Bill means women contemplating a termination will be better informed about their options. But are women more likely to wrestle with the new procedures and submit themselves to multiple examinations, or simply continue taking the boat to England? One suspects the latter.
On the other side of the argument, the concern that the suicide clause might open the floodgates to easy abortion, is addressed somewhat by new provisions for regular reporting of the number of procedures carried out and the suspension of facilities in certain circumstances.
For Minister for Health James Reilly to argue that cases of suicidal ideation in pregnancy are rare misses the point, however. It will take only one difficult case to stir the hornet’s nest again, despite the Government’s best hopes. Of course, if this doesn’t happen for a few years yet, won’t it be someone else’s problem?