Harris ‘disappointed’ at hospital warning that it cannot meet abortion deadline

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen accuses Minister for Health of ‘hustling’ hospitals

Minister for Health Simon Harris during the Health (regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he is “disappointed” at comments from the Master of the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital who warned that the hospital will not be ready to provide abortion services by the planned deadline date of January 1st.

At a meeting of stakeholders on Monday, Coombe master Dr Sharon Sheehan said that despite extensive preparatory work in the hospital, it would not be in a position to implement the new legislation by the New Year.

Mr Harris said in the Seanad that it is a “reality today in Ireland that some women can travel and that other women, particularly marginalised women, can’t travel.”

“That is why I am disappointed when I hear comments like the comments from the Coombe hospital today who say they won’t be in a position to provide the services. Let’s remember the overwhelming majority of these services will be provided in the community through your general practitioner and let’s also remember that our maternity hospitals are already providing, albeit in limited circumstances, access to termination under the 2013 Act.


“Yes, there is a time for leadership in these houses in the Oireachtas but there is also a time for clinical leadership. I really think if everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel we can make sure that the services are in place in January. Of course it will take time to fully embed and evolve, but safe services can commence in the New Year. That’s why I do not believe legislation can be delayed.”

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen accused Mr Harris of “hustling” hospitals.

“I don’t think it is good enough for the Minister to be hustling them in the language that he just did. We hear a lot these days about the need to defer to medics and medics knowing best, how we are not going to write the script for medics. But people seem to be very willing to do that when they want.”

“It is entirely unfortunate to be sending out any ministerial, political message to the Coombe hospital or others. The Minister should be deferring to the medical facilitates on this one instead of hustling them on for the sake of some politically motivated time limit. That is entirely the wrong approach.”

Mr Harris insisted his comments were appropriate.

“I won’t be provoked during this debate, but I won’t sit here either and be neglectful in my duties as Minister. It is entirely appropriate for me to step up to the plate in ensuring there are free safe and legal services available for women in crisis pregnancies.”

Mr Mullen’s comments led to a sharp exchange with Mr Harris in an otherwise calm debate in the Seanad as the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill makes its way through the Oireachtas. It is expected that the Bill will finish its passage through the Seanad on Thursday night.

An amendment tabled by anti-abortion Senators on the administration of pain relief to a foetus during an abortion was defeated during the debate last night.

Independent Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said that it was “disturbing” that the provision was not included in the Bill. Mr Mullen labelled it as the “second mercy amendment.”

Mr Harris previously said that the proposed law could not regulate or dictate the practice of obstetrics.

“There is a very thin line that we should not cross where we move from being policy makers to being doctors.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times