First widespread administration of abortion pills likely to take place today
Law requires at least three days elapse between a consultation and a termination
Amid the continuing controversy over an anti-abortion protest outside a GP clinic in Galway last week, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said: “It’s up to the Government to provide ways in which the various rights of people are protected.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Today marks the day when Ireland’s new abortion service gets under way in earnest, with the first women likely to receive their medication in GP surgeries around the State.
With legislation requiring that at least three days elapse between a consultation with a doctor and a termination, a woman who visited a GP surgery that reopened last Wednesday, January 2nd, would have been due to take mifepristone, a drug that stops the pregnancy, on Saturday.
However, because most surgeries are closed at weekends, the first widespread administration of abortion pills is likely to take place today.
A woman would then take a second medication, misoprostol, to complete the termination within a further 24 to 48 hours.
The first surgical abortions in hospitals are unlikely to take place until later this week, due to the certification requirements involved.
It remains unclear how widely available the service has been since it began on January 1st. Just 200 out of 3,500 GPs have agreed to provide terminations, with only 112 of these are accepting referrals from the MyOptions helpline, the main pathway for those seeking a termination.
As The Irish Times reported on Saturday, no doctors in four counties – Sligo, Leitrim, Carlow and Offaly – have signed up to provide the service.
The National Maternity Hospital, the State’s largest maternity unit, begins accepting referrals from today, but only for women in its catchment area of south Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare.
The Irish Family Planning Association, which operates clinics in Dublin city and Tallaght, said it intended to start providing abortion services today. However, all appointments are currently filled and the appointment line will remain closed until Thursday, according to its website.
Amid continuing controversy over an anti-abortion protest outside a GP clinic in Galway last week, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said while “everybody has a right to make a protest” GP surgeries were used by “everybody”.
“I would be particularly cautious about protesting against GPs because everybody is going there, and people go there for all sorts of reasons,” he told RTÉ radio.
Asked about plans for exclusion zones around medical facilities where abortions were being administered, Dr Martin said “exclusion zones have to be introduced within the realm of the Constitution which allows people to protest and demonstrate”.
“Protest can be legitimate, but you can’t absolutise. It’s up to the Government to provide ways in which the various rights of people are protected.”
Those involved in the Galway protest have insisted it was peaceful and no intimidation was involved.
Catholic Primate Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin last week said the new law on abortion had no “moral force” and must be resisted.
Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was “examining” extending eligibility for free access to the service to women from Northern Ireland.
Guidelines prepared by the HSE state that the service is free if a woman normally lives in the Republic. “If you live in Northern Ireland, you can have an abortion in Ireland, but you will have to pay for it.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris pointed out that women from Northern Ireland will be able to access terminations in the Republic. “The Minister has met with representatives from Northern Ireland to discuss this and intends to do so again.”
There is no fixed rate for a termination for women who have to pay for the service. In the case of abortions up to nine weeks, GPs are free to decide on the cost of the service, and their €450 fee is seen as a benchmark for paying customers seeking medical terminations.