Review calls for Ireland’s abortion rules to be relaxed

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly considering report by barrister Marie O’Shea which examined operation of existing law

Abortion review

A new review of the State’s abortion law is set to recommend a loosening of existing rules which could involve the removal of the three-day wait to access medication.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly earlier this month received a report compiled by barrister Marie O’Shea which examines the operation of the abortion law. She was appointed by Government to chair the review last year.

Two senior political sources said that the review recommends a “loosening” of the current law, including the potential removal of the three-day wait to access termination medication.

A number of politicians have called for the removal of the waiting period, including People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Soc Dems leader Holly Cairns and Labour leader Ivana Bacik.


Aontú, however, has said that women should wait five days to get access to termination medication.

The report is understood to offer an assessment to the Government around whether the services outlined under current legislation are being delivered. It also makes recommendations in relation to service improvement. The report is also understood to have examined the issue of conscientious objection and received preliminary observations from a Trinity College Dublin (TCD) research team which is examining the issue.

A senior source said that a new Oireachtas committee may need to be established on foot of the review in order to find cross-party consensus on any changes to the legislation. At the very least, it will likely be referred the Oireachtas Committee on Health for consideration.

One strand of the review involved looking at the experiences of women. The Health Service Executive previously commissioned Dr Catherine Conlon of TCD to examine this. In her report, published last year, she said that the data she gathered indicated that the mandatory three-day wait should be removed from legislation.

“Instead, the model of care should retain a second consultation as optional for women to attend within a time frame agreed by them and their provider while allowing the service to be delivered within one consultation if preferred.”

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly previously said he would consider its findings and bring a memo to Cabinet within weeks. It will then be published. “The Minister has received the report. After he has reviewed it, he intends to bring it to Cabinet and publish it. The Minister expects to publish it in mid April,” a spokesman said earlier this month.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act provided for a review of the legislation three years after its implementation. This work began a year ago. The Act, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, provides abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks gestation, subject to a three-day waiting period.

Terminations are also permitted after 12 weeks if there is a risk to the life or health of the mother or in cases where it is judged the foetus will die before, or within, 28 days of birth.

The National Womens’ Council has called for the report on the operation of the State’s abortion laws to be published without delay.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times