Main points: Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013
Timeframe: The Government plans to have the legislation enacted before the summer recess, following debate in the Oireachtas.
Outline: The Bill restates the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland. For the first time, however, processes are set out to establish the circumstances in which there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of a woman and where the only treatment that will avert that risk is the termination of her pregnancy.
Risk of loss of life from physical illness: In a case of a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life arising from a physical health condition, the assessment process will require that an obstetrician/gynaecologist and a second relevant specialist must jointly agree and certify that the termination of pregnancy is the only treatment that will save the mother’s life. In addition, where feasible and with her consent, the woman’s GP will be consulted.
Emergency cases: In a case of a medical emergency, where the risk to the woman’s life is immediate, one doctor may make the decision. In such emergencies, the doctor involved will be required to certify his/her actions within 72 hours.
Risk of loss of life from suicide: In a case of a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life arising from suicide, additional safeguards will be put in place. The assessment process will involve three specialists; one obstetrician/gynaecologist and two psychiatrists must jointly and unanimously agree and certify that the termination of pregnancy is the only treatment that will save the mother’s life. In such cases also, where feasible, the woman’s GP will be consulted.
Appeals procedure: In cases where the assessing doctors decide not to certify that a medical termination is permissible, the woman will be entitled to a review of that decision. The composition of the review panel will mirror that of the original assessment and sit within three days of the original decision and complete its review within seven days. The woman can herself address this committee.
Penalties: The Bill states it will be an offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life, with guilty parties liable on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or both.
Locations: Some 25 public hospitals with obstetric units are listed as appropriate institutions where a termination can be carried out.
Conscientious objections: A person who has a conscientious objection must make arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned to another practitioner.
Ministerial oversight: The Minister will have powers to suspend a service, and to order Hiqa to investigate a service where he believes that there may be a serious risk that an institution failed to comply with the provisions of the Act.
Information: Hospitals must inform the the Minister about all terminations. The legislation provides for a certain range of anonymised information to be recorded. This includes the date and location of the termination and the relevant section of the Act under which the termination has occurred. The Minister will, on an annual basis, prepare a report on the notifications received and publish such reports.