Introduction of abortion ‘not like flicking a switch’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach gives first signal termination may be introduced on phased basis

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in.” Photograph: PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in.” Photograph: PA Wire


Abortion services will be rolled out on a phased basis from January 1st, and terminations of pregnancy will not immediately be available in every hospital, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, he said introducing abortion services was not “a case of just flicking a switch”.

Following the referendum in May on repealing the State’s constitutional ban on abortion, the Government insisted terminations would be available from the start of next year. However, a number of doctors and maternity hospitals have warned in recent weeks that the timeframe for establishing the service may be too tight.

The legislation, which would see the introduction of legal abortion inside the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, is yet to be approved in the Oireachtas, but the Government hopes the President will sign it into law before January.

However, the Taoiseach on Monday gave one of the first indications that the roll-out of abortion services across the country may take longer than initially envisaged.

“I am confident that the service will be available in January,” he told reporters. “Obviously there are a number of contingencies. The legislation has yet to go through the Seanad. If it is amended in the Seanad, it will have to go through the Dáil and then, of course, the President always has it within his prerogative to refer it to the Supreme Court. ”

Mr Varadkar added: “There are number of dependencies there. But assuming the legislation is enacted and signed into law by the President, the service will be available in January.

“But like any new service, it is not going to be a case of just flicking a switch and on one day there is no service and on the next day it is 100 per cent available. It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in.”

Time to evolve

The Minister for Health Simon Harris told the Seanad the Taoiseach had pointed out that it would “take time for services to embed and evolve and be fully implemented”.

Mr Harris also met on Monday with the HSE, GPs, obstetricians and hospitals that will be involved in implementing the new abortion services.

It is understood the meeting heard that new clinical guidelines being drawn up by the Institute of Obstetricians and the Irish College of General Practitioners are likely to be concluded later this week.

Details of the number of GPs who have expressed interest in providing the service, understood to be about 200 at present, are also likely to be made known over the next week or so.

The Minister said hospital groups had now submitted reports to the HSE on their plans for the new abortion service.

The HSE and a number of hospital groups declined to answer questions on Monday on whether abortion services would be available in maternity units that they operate from January 1st.

The HSE and a number of hospital groups instead issued identical statements that they were “working collaboratively on an implementation plan for the delivery of the termination of pregnancy service by January 1st, 2019”.

The meeting was also told that a helpline, My Options, will be established from January 1st for women in crisis pregnancies.

It will be manned by counsellors but will have the support of nurses. The helpline will offer women all options, including termination of pregnancy. It will also offer a signposting service, advice line counselling and signposting to free face-to-face counselling and clinical advice.