Leo Varadkar says he would like to see fewer abortions in Ireland

Taoiseach calls for greater exploration around effect of abortion three-day wait

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would like to see fewer abortions taking place in Ireland, saying that while it is “sometimes necessary” it is “not a good thing”.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Varadkar was asked about the independent report on the State’s abortion law, which has recommended a number of legislative changes including an end to the mandatory three-day wait to access termination medication.

He said he was “sorry” that the report did not “properly explore” whether there were women who attended their first appointment to get abortion medication who did not return for their second appointment after three days. The Oireachtas Committee on Health is currently examining the report by barrister Marie O’Shea.

“If and when comes back to Government [from the committee] we’ll give it consideration. And most parties will have a free vote on this.”


He said: “One thing that I’m kind of sorry wasn’t explored more in the report – and it was a very good report by the way, in fairness to the author and the team they did a very good job so I don’t want to be misinterpreted as criticising them in any way – [but one thing] that came out during the hearings was there wasn’t really a proper exploration of the decisions made by women who didn’t go ahead with the termination. So, it is those numbers who attended for the first appointment and didn’t go back. It’s not a small number. That wasn’t really properly explored.”

There is significant disagreement around how many women did not turn up for their second appointment and, also, around the reasons why. Aontú have pointed towards data released to Independent TD Carol Nolan that in the first year of the Act’s operation, 7,536 women attended initial appointments for abortions, while the total number of abortions carried out in that year was 6,666.

Earlier this year, however, the Irish Family Planning Association released an analysis which showed that of 447 clients who were eligible for early abortion care and for whom the outcome was known, 97.5 per cent went on to get an abortion after the mandatory three day wait.

Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think anyone thinks that abortion is a good thing. It’s sometimes necessary but it’s not a good thing. There are over 8,000 abortions happening in Ireland every year. I would like that number to be lower.

“Now, the way you do that is through much better sex education, the greater availability of contraception – that’s why we’re extending free contraception. You can also do it by making sure that emergency contraception is readily available. You need to do all those things. But I would like to see a greater exploration of that three-day issue.

“Is it the case that hundreds of abortions are being avoided as a result of it? Or, is it the case that women would have gone ahead with it anyway. It hasn’t been properly explored.”

He said he was happy to have led a Government that repealed the Eighth Amendment “but we did go to the people with a particular proposition. And so, soon after that referendum, making changes to what we said we would do ... I’d have to think long and hard about that.”

Asked if that means the law will never be changed, he said: “No, it doesn’t mean that.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times