Abortion regime criticised as being available only to ‘a select few’

Pro-choice groups write open letter expressing fear that people are being left behind

Minister for Health Simon Harris: ‘There is, of course, still work to be done to improve services.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

Minister for Health Simon Harris: ‘There is, of course, still work to be done to improve services.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

 

The number of GPs who have signed up to provide abortion services has risen to 274, according to the latest figures from the HSE.

Ten hospitals are also providing the service, which was introduced at the start of January.

However, pro-choice organisations have claimed a lack of progress in implementing abortion, as well as restrictions on services, means it is available only to “a select few”.

Thirty-five pro-choice organisations have written an open letter to Minister for Health Simon Harris expressing “fear and disappointment that some people are being left behind by the new abortion legislation”.

Among the issues raised in the letter are a lack of rural provision of abortion, a lack of “safe access zones” outside clinics where protests take place and the three-day waiting period before women can access a termination.

The non-availability of free abortion to women from Northern Ireland and difficulties faced by marginalised groups in accessing services are also raised in the letter.

‘Evolving’ service

Mr Harris said the service was “continuing to evolve”, with the number of GPs involved up from 164 in December.

“Every week, we are seeing the number of GPs increasing. There is, of course, still work to be done to improve services, and the department is continuing to work intensively with the HSE to address issues as they arise and to improving termination of pregnancy services.”

The pro-choice group says rural provision of abortion is sparse, with some counties having no provision as no GPs have signed up. Women requiring hospital care are not being seen in their nearest hospital but instead are being referred to larger maternity units in cities.

The mandatory three-day waiting period is a significant barrier for rural women seeking a termination who already have to travel long distances to access care, according to the letter.

“It serves to discriminate against those who are forced to travel long distances to access abortion healthcare, whether that be from Northern Ireland or from rural areas. It’s also likely that the waiting period will push some people beyond the gestational time limit for accessing an abortion.”

Northern aspect

The group says Mr Harris has a duty of care towards the people of Northern Ireland, who have the right to be seen as Irish citizens. “To hinder access for people living in Northern Ireland shows a failure by the State to adhere to its legal and constitutional obligations towards all of its citizens.”

Women in the North can access abortion in the Republic but have to pay €450 for the service, although the Minister says he is looking at ways around this legal obstacle.

The letter is signed by groups from around the State, as well as Northern Ireland and London.

“The end goal of the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment was not to introduce abortion care for a select few,” they conclude.

Mr Harris said the legislation allows for a review within three years. “With regards to women in Northern Ireland, the department is examining extending eligibility to women there and is consulting with the Attorney General’s office in this regard. The Minister has stated very clearly he wants to find a mechanism to do this and work is continuing in this regard.

“It is important to state the fee is set by individual GPs and providers, if outside the legislation.”