Abortion Bill completes final stage in the Seanad

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill will now go to the President

A landmark Bill which will give women access to abortion for the first time in the history of the State has finished its passage through the Oireachtas and will now go to the President to be signed into law.

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill finished its final stage in the Seanad on Thursday night after weeks of sometimes heated debate in both the Dáil and Seanad.

More than 350 amendments were tabled over the course of the debate, but only a handful of proposed Government changes actually passed, including a change which would drop the requirement that the doctor who certifies a woman for an abortion must be the same one who performs it.

The Health Minister Simon Harris said it was a “historic” day.


"This is a genuinely historic moment. It paves the way for the implementation of the service for termination of pregnancy in January 2019. The passage of the legislation allows for the beginning of a new journey. It is the start of a new era for women's healthcare," he told The Irish Times on Thursday night.

Mr Harris will have to sign a number of statutory instruments to give effect to the Bill once it is signed into law by President Michael D Higgins.

The intention is to make the services available from the 1st of January onwards. Because of the bank holiday and the three-day waiting period before a woman can access medication it is likely to be the second week in January before the first legal terminations are carried out in Ireland.

The new law will legalise free access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Beyond that, terminations will only be legal in cases where there is a risk to the life or serious harm to the health of the woman, or where there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

‘Sad moment’

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said the passing of the Bill was a “sad moment” for Ireland.

“It is a moment of great change. It is a crisis for solidarity in Ireland.”

There were angry exchanges in the Seanad during the final stages of the debate on Thursday amid accusations of misogyny.

Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leyden said some Senators were becoming “emotional” during the debate.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik asked Mr Leyden not to “accuse Senators of being emotional, it is gendered language”.

Mr Leyden said he saw “more emotion here from David Norris than any of you” but withdrew his remark.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said she was emotional. “I won’t apologise for that.”

“We are all sitting here and we have to listen to these condescending misogynistic comments coming from our colleague.”

Mr Leyden said he was offended by the suggestion.

“I think that is terribly offensive. I served in three ministries, and I am in here a long time. To accuse me of something that is the most hurtful, the most hateful you can say to me.

“I have three daughters. You are accusing their father of something very grave. I regard this as one of the most offensive comments made to me in all my public life. “You are harming my family. You’re damaging my daughters. You are calling me something which is gravely wrong, gravely actionable. If you make that statement outside the house, I will sue you, I will take you to the courts.”

Ms Noone said she apologised if offence was caused.

Earlier in the day, Mr Harris accused Independent Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill of making “grotesque” comments.

Mr Ó Domhnaill had voiced concerns that “abortion up to 12 weeks will become the contraception of choice for some people”.

Senator Lynn Ruane called on Mr Ó Domhnaill to take the comment back, while Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys labelled it as “absolutely disgraceful”.

National Women’s Council

The Director of the National Women’s Council, Orla O’Connor, said the Bill followed decades of campaigning.

“In a year of historic days, today is another important one for women and girls in Ireland. After decades of campaigning from women’s organisations, after hundreds of thousands of women travelling to access healthcare services, and six months after a landslide yes vote, we now have legislation to provide abortion healthcare services. NWCI wishes to extend our thanks to TDs and Senators who worked to ensure the availability of abortion services for the January 1st, 2019 deadline.”

The Executive Director of Amnesty International Colm O’Gorman also welcomed the passage of the Bill.

“We know from exit polls following the vote in May that 62% of people voted yes because they agreed with a women’s right to choose and 55% voted because they viewed access to abortion as a women’s health issue. The new abortion legislation will ensure that most women will be able to access services in Ireland and this is a major step forward.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times