Abortion legislation review to begin, Donnelly tells Cabinet

Act includes three-year review to monitor delivery of services, operation of legislation

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has told the Cabinet that he has started a review into the State’s abortion legislation.

Mr Donnelly is understood to have made the comments during the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday in an informal update to ministers.

Sources have said the review is at a very early stage. The abortion legislation is due to be reviewed, three years after its passage.

A review clause was included in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 to monitor the operation of the legislation in practice, as well as of the delivery of services in the area.

Last year it emerged that anti-abortion TDs had set up a new all-party group and will seek to amend the legislation on abortion when it comes up for review this summer.

The new group is called the Oireachtas Life and Dignity Group and last December the group called for what it described as “a humane response” to the question of foetal pain.

Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly has said there has been a “limited number” of reports of protests outside centres that provide for abortion care.

He was responding to a question from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns about legislating for protest-exclusion zones.

In a parliamentary response to Ms Cairns, Mr Donnelly said that, while it was originally intended to provide for this in legislation, “a number of legal issues were identified which necessitated further consideration”.

“Since services under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 commenced in January 2019, there has been a limited number of reports of protests or other actions relating to termination of pregnancy.

“This is an extremely positive development, suggesting that termination of pregnancy services have bedded in relatively smoothly to date and are becoming a normal part of the Irish healthcare system, in line with Government policy.

“However, where problems do arise with protests outside health care services, there is existing public order legislation in place to protect people accessing services, employees working in the service and local residents.”

Mr Donnelly said that the Department of Health has previously liaised with An Garda Síochána around safe access to termination of pregnancy services, and the Garda National Protective Services Bureau issued a notice to all Garda Stations raising awareness about the issue.

“The notice directed that any protests be monitored, and breaches of existing law dealt with. The Department has provided information on existing public order and other relevant legislation to the HSE for appropriate distribution,” he said.