The number of hospitals providing abortions is lower than the nine officially announced in the run-up to the introduction of the service.
Of the maternity units in the State, nine were “confirmed” as being ready to provide the service, Government sources told journalists before Christmas. Another 10 were not ready.
But days before the service was introduced on January 1st, a number of hospital groups contacted the Health Service Executive (HSE) to say their maternity units were not ready to accept referrals from the first week of the year, The Irish Times has learned.
Senior HSE officials responded urgently, saying that while they recognised the “logistical challenges at local level” abortion was now legal and “we need the service to be provided in the initial nine hospitals, with the remainder to come on stream during Q1 2019”.
A number of leading obstetricians, as well as the chairman of the Oireachtas health committee Dr Michael Harty, have complained that the introduction of the new service is being rushed.
There is also disarray over restrictions placed by hospitals that are providing the service on which women they will accept for terminations.
Hospitals have been warned by the HSE not to restrict abortion services to women from their catchment area.
It says there is no legal basis for catchment areas and women seeking an abortion have the right to choose the location for their termination.
“Women routinely travel to different hospitals for their maternity care, and the provision of TOP [termination of pregnancy] services must be managed on the same basis,” according to the letter to individual hospitals.
The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin currently states: "If you are seeking termination of pregnancy before 12 weeks gestation, you must live in the Rotunda Hospital catchment area and be between nine and 11 weeks' gestation."
Separately, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger has criticised a decision by the Rotunda to accept abortion referrals only up to 11 weeks into a pregnancy.
Ms Coppinger called on Mr Harris to clarify with doctors that terminations can be accessed up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, as provided in the legislation on the issue.
Procedures that have begun before 12 weeks can be completed but no new termination can be undertaken after this limit except in the limited circumstances set out in legislation.
The HSE letter also states that women who present to a hospital that is not currently providing abortions without having seen a GP should be referred to the MyOptions helpline in the first instance. This is to avoid self-referrals.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion protesters picketed a Galway GP practice for several hours on Thursday morning.
The group stood outside the Galvia West Medical Centre bearing signs such as "Say no to abortion in Galway", before leaving before lunchtime.
A photo of the protest was posted on social media with a message claiming the clinic was picketed because it was “on the HSE list as being an outlet for the abortion pill”.
The HSE has warned of a number of websites claiming to offer pregnancy support services using an address that is a variation of the official MyOptions site. Some linked to anti-abortion websites.
The MyOptions helpline, which is the main point of referral for women seeking a termination, fielded about 100 calls from women during its 24 hours of operation, according to sources.