Abortion law reform to be much sooner than expected

Simon Harris says Bill will be tabled before summer and sent to President by autumn

Minister for Health Simon Harris during the Irish Times Women’s Podcast on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris during the Irish Times Women’s Podcast on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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A cross-party consensus has emerged to pass legislation to reform Ireland’s abortion laws through the Oireachtas much more quickly than had been anticipated.

Minister for Health Simon Harris now says the legislation to give effect to the Government’s proposal for unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy will be tabled before the Dáil rises for the summer. It is likely the Bill will be sent to President Michael D Higgins by the autumn.

Mr Harris will on Tuesday brief the Cabinet on the accelerated timetable at its first meeting since the referendum. He will also meet Opposition leaders later in the week.

The political fallout from the referendum campaign will also be discussed in Leinster House itself, with Dáil statements on the issue on Tuesday afternoon.

No hero: the failed Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which attempted to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion, was led by Micheál Martin as the minister for health
Micheál Martin: Most of the TDs and Senators in Fianna Fail opposed repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Fianna Fáil TDs expect the referendum to be discussed at a meeting of their frontbench, as well as at the weekly parliamentary party meeting. Most of Micheál Martin’s TDs and senators opposed repealing the Eighth Amendment and Mr Martin said many are now “reflecting” that they were at odds with the vast majority of the public.

Summer recess

The Cork South Central TD and other Opposition figures have lined up to insist some TDs and senators should sit over the summer recess to ensure the legislation is passed into law speedily.

As well as Mr Martin, Labour’s Brendan Howlin and Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said the Oireachtas Health Committee could hold sittings on the legislation over the summer break.

As of now, the Dáil is scheduled to rise for the summer recess on July 12th. While Mr Harris has committed only to introducing the legislation in the Dáil by the summer, it is understood the Government is open to Opposition suggestions for the House to sit longer to allow the Bill pass second stage. The Oireachtas Health Committee would then take it at committee stage during the recess.

The main work now is being carried out by Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to ensure the legislation is strong enough to withstand any legal challenges

Such a timetable would see the legislation finally passed through the Dáil and Seanad by September or October, and then signed into law by President Higgins.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said he “intends to bring the legislation into the Oireachtas before the summer recess and is confident we can complete all the necessary steps this year”.

Clinical guidelines

It is envisaged Ireland’s new abortion regime would be fully in place by the end of the year, once clinical guidelines have been drawn up by medical practitioners and the abortion pill has been regulated.

Department of Health officials will meet with the relevant medical colleges, who will assist in drawing up clinical guidelines, on Tuesday.

The potential passage of the legislation has been eased by the high number of TDs who campaigned to retain the Eighth Amendment but now say they will either support or abstain on the Government’s Bill. This has convinced the Government that the passage of the Bill will not be a problem.

Rather, the main work now is being carried out by Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to ensure the legislation is strong enough to withstand any legal challenges.

Ms O’Reilly said that since the No side in the referendum said the vote was on the basis of the 12-week proposal, the overwhelming vote for Yes means the legislation should be enacted as quickly as possible.

Abortion Referendum

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