The first consultations for women seeking an abortion have taken place since the service became legal on January 1st.
GPs, who have opted in to providing terminations, say they are aware of about 20 women from across the country who sought terminations on the first working day of the service on Wednesday.
The MyOptions helpline set up by the Health Service Executive (HSE) as the main referral path for women seeking a termination was said to be "busy but not overwhelmed" on its first full regular day of operation.
Initial cases referred to doctors ranged from four weeks’ gestation upwards. Cases close to the 12-week limit under the legislation were facilitated with a same-day appointment at the nearest maternity unit.
It will be next weekend at the earliest before the first terminations are carried out
Abortions over 12 weeks are not permitted except in limited circumstances so it is expected the flow of Irish women travelling to the UK for a termination will continue, albeit at a reduced level.
Because of the three-day “cooling off” period provided for under the legislation, it will be next weekend at the earliest before the first terminations are carried out.
Doctors are required to notify the Minister for Health of the number of terminations performed within 28 days, so the exact level of demand for the service will not be known with any accuracy for some weeks.
A number of teething issues have arisen already, some relating to blood testing procedures and the provision of ultrasound.
In Cork, the private company engaged to provide ultrasound is not ready to see patients this week, but Cork University Maternity Hospital is handling referrals instead, according to Dr Mike Thompson, one of the Start group of doctors who are providing the service.
“The level of preparedness varies, but the initial experience with the HSE’s helpline has been very positive,” he said.
While participating doctors have been provided with the information they need to operate the service, those GPs who are not providing terminations are suffering an “information gap” in relation to referral pathways, he said.
It was also “anachronistic” that terminations were free but many women had to pay for long-term contraception, he added.
The list of GPs has not been published as many fear being targeted by anti-abortion activists
Some GPs who have yet to receive their contract from the HSE for providing the service for a €450 fee were unclear whether they were in a position to treat women, but a HSE spokesman said any doctor who had opted in to the service was entitled to begin providing it immediately.
Just 187 of the State’s 3,500 GPs have signed up to provide abortion services, and only about 100 of these are accepting referrals from the MyOptions helpline.
The list of GPs has not been published as many fear being targeted by anti-abortion activists, but women who ring the freephone line will be provided with details of their nearest provider.
After nine weeks, women will be referred to the nearest hospital providing abortion services. Currently there are nine hospitals in the State willing to provide abortion services.
The hospitals are the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street; the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar; the Rotunda Hospital; Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda; University Hospital Galway; Mayo University Hospital; University Maternity Hospital Limerick; Cork University Maternity Hospital; and University Hospital Waterford.