‘Significant’ number of extra abortion providers will offer services in coming months

Actions come in wake of review by barrister which recommended widespread operational changes

A “significant” number of extra providers will offer access to abortion services in the coming months, according to a briefing note compiled by the Department of Health.

The note was sent to members of the Oireachtas Committee on Health on Tuesday night after they publicly questioned what level of work was being done behind the scenes to give effect to recommendations for change made in a recent report.

Barrister Marie O’Shea was appointed to review the adequacy of termination laws in Ireland, and delivered her final report in April which was then brought to Cabinet. While it recommended widespread operational and legislative changes, she told the committee last week that she had received no contact from the department since spring.

In follow-up information sent to committee members, TDs and Senators were told the Department of Health had provided new information that “significant progress is being made in respect of various recommendations in the report”.


“The HSE has advised that a significant number of additional sites will be introducing termination services in the coming months.”

Women can access the abortion pill up until nine weeks’ gestation at a GP clinic. Between nine and 12 weeks’ gestation, a woman who needs to access a termination can do so in a hospital setting.

The HSE has established an implementation group to progress the operational recommendations made in the report, after providers told Ms O’Shea that investment was needed in the termination of pregnancy workforce.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Shea’s proposals for legislative change were referred to the health committee, which is now compiling a final report following a series of hearings. A source said the report would be “short”, would be completed in the coming weeks and would “put the ball back in the Government’s court” when it comes to deciding what recommendations to enact.

The review recommended sweeping changes to the existing law including the decriminalisation of doctors, the removal of the mandatory three-day waiting period to access termination medication, and the introduction of a statutory obligation on healthcare workers to refrain from providing misleading information.

It comes as Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly this week signed an order to make telemedicine abortion appointments a permanent feature of the service. The phone or video consultations were made available during the Covid-19 pandemic because of travel restrictions. Under the order signed by Mr Donnelly, one of those appointments can now be by call or video regardless of the existence of restrictions.

According to review of the State’s termination laws, abortion services are “untenable” in some parts of the country because of uneven geographic coverage. Fewer contracts between the HSE and primary care providers are recorded in the southeast, northwest, midlands and Border counties.

The review also found that in some parts of the country, services are at risk of “ceasing altogether” were the provider to withdraw the service.

Half of the counties in the Republic have fewer than 10 GP contracts for the provision of abortion services while nine counties have fewer than five GPs providing abortion care, the report found.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times