Abortion laws may not pass Oireachtas in time for January target

Government has agreed to some changes to the proposed legislation

Minister for Health Simon Harris proposed the amendment which would allow a second medical practitioner to become involved following the three-day waiting period. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris proposed the amendment which would allow a second medical practitioner to become involved following the three-day waiting period. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 
Concerns are growing that the Government’s proposed abortion legislation will not pass through the Oireachtas in time for its planned introduction date in January.

The Dáil was originally scheduled to debate the Bill next Tuesday and Wednesday, but this has now been pushed back until late on Wednesday with another short debate the following day. Senior Government sources have admitted the time frame is becoming “tight” and a number of late-night sittings may have to be scheduled in a bid to get the Bill to the Seanad before the Christmas recess.

The Government also agreed yesterday to some changes to the proposed legislation.

The Cabinet agreed three main amendments, including one which would mean that if the original medical practitioner looking after the woman seeking an abortion becomes unavailable, a second practitioner will be able to step in.

Proposal

Minister for Health Simon Harris proposed the amendment which would drop the requirement that the doctor who certifies a woman for an abortion must be the same one who performs it.This will mean, in effect, that where a medical practitioner has formed the reasonable opinion in good faith that a woman’s pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks and the woman has fulfilled the three-day period, a second medical practitioner would be permitted to carry out the procedure without a further three-day period.

Concerns had been raised previously by TDs that hospital staffing issues could create problems and delay a woman’s access to termination.

The Government also agreed to review the legislation after three years instead of five years. There was also a technical agreement to move the section of the Bill relating to offences to a position further back.

Members of the Oireachtas health committee met yesterday to discuss further amendments to the Bill. Bríd Smith, the People Before Profit TD, said she would be tabling proposals to change the term “serious harm” to “harm”.

The Regulation of Termination of pregnancy Bill currently states that a termination can be carried out where two doctors believe there is a risk of serious harm to the health of a pregnant woman.

Ms Smith is seeking to change this to “harm” as she said different people may have different opinions of what exactly constitutes “serious harm”.

Louise O’Reilly, the Sinn Féin TD, also held a meeting yesterday with members of the health committee in an effort to streamline previous proposed changes which were tabled during the committee’s 25-hour consideration of the Bill. She is hoping to avoid duplication and to stop the Bill being delayed in the Dáil.