Abortion review: Rights campaigners welcome mooted liberalisation of regime

Pro-Life Campaign says mooted changes a ‘complete departure’ from what people voted on in 2018 referendum

Abortion rights campaigners have welcomed a review of the State’s laws which is expected to substantially liberalise the existing regime.

The report by barrister Marie O’Shea is expected to recommend sweeping changes including the decriminalisation of doctors and changes to the granting of abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The report, which will go to Cabinet on Tuesday, recommends an end to the mandatory three-day wait before a woman can access abortion services.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) said the recommendations were similar to those it made in a joint submission on behalf of more than 20 civil society groups last year to the public consultation on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.


“We have been advocating for the last year for robust legislative reform. All the evidence points to a need to look at the legislative framework and to make substantial changes,” said NWCI women’s health coordinator Alana Ryan.

She added that it was the view of the NWCI that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines on abortion services should be followed especially in relation to the ending waiting periods.

“Mandatory waiting periods are patronising and demeaning to women as competent decision makers,” she said. “They ultimately push women into unsafe situations. Women may need more time to think about it, but it shouldn’t be a legal requirement.”

As an alternative to the three day wait, the review suggests that women should instead have a statutory right to request a waiting period.

‘Deeply extreme’

The Pro-Life Campaign described the proposed changes as “deeply extreme in nature and driven by a fundamentally flawed process”.

Its spokeswoman EilÍs Mulroy said the review amounted to a “complete departure from the basis on which people voted in the 2018 referendum”.

The concept of decriminalisation effectively means, she added, that there will be “no legal recourse to prevent an abortion being performed shortly before birth”.

For every seven babies born last year, one was aborted and there has been 30,000 abortions since the legislation came into effect in 2019, she noted.

“This huge rise should prompt serious reflection on the lack of safeguards and alternative pathways offered by state agencies to women in unplanned pregnancies apart from just abortion,” Ms Mulroy said. “We know the HSE MyOptions service is unequipped to offer information to women on alternatives to abortion.”

Forced abroad

The NWCI believes limitations to the present legislation is pushing women into buying abortion pills online and has forced some 775 Irish women to seek abortions in the UK since the law was enacted. “This is a direct result of our legal framework. It is really heartening to see that barrier to access recognised within this abortion review,” Ms Ryan said.

Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) chief executive Niall Behan said the review contains “very positive signs” that it will be address the “harms, delays and barriers” experienced by women who need abortion care.

He said the three day wait had “no health rationale and is unjustifiable. It causes delay, stress and harm to women. It must be removed from the law”.

“We haven’t seen the report, but we hope the report will mark the final stage from criminalisation and restriction to abortion being fully regarded as a healthcare issue,” he said.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times