Abortion legislation contains number of significant changes

Minister will have power to suspend the service if he believes an institution is failing to comply with the provisions

Minister for Health James Reilly said the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill will clarify the law for women who need access terminations and for the medical practitioners who have to deliver them.

The Bill was published by the Government shortly after midnight.

It contains some significant changes from the draft heads published in April.

Significant changes:


- No medical practitioner will be obliged to carry out a termination if they have a conscientious objection to the procedure, but the outline provision in the heads stating that “no institution, organisation or third party shall refuse to provide a lawful termination” has been removed

- Medical professionals with a “conscientious objection” will be required to make arrangements for the “transfer of care of the pregnant woman” so she can avail of the procedure from another practitioner

- It will be an “offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life”, with those guilty liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 14 years. This is a tighter definition than in the draft heads, which stated that “it shall be an offence for a person to do any act with the intent to destroy unborn human life”, which may have included the pregnant woman

- The Minister for Health will have power to suspend the service if he believes that an institution is failing to comply with the provisions of the Act

- Information about the date and location of terminations and the section of the Act under which they were performed will be recorded and published in an annual report prepared by the Minister

- General practitioners will only be consulted “with the pregnant woman‘s agreement”, which was not specified in the draft heads

- The number of hospitals where terminations can be performed has been widened from 19 to 25 to include the major teaching hospitals providing intensive care services (the final list of appropriate institutions in the Bill excludes the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, which the Department of Health has confirmed is an error).

Speaking on RTE Radio this morning, Dr Reilly said the Government had reflected "long and hard" on reservations expressed by some psychologists that abortion was not an appropriate treatment for suicidal ideation, but added a law must be in place in the "rare occasion" that it would be needed, in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling on the X case and the ABC judgement from the European Court of Human Rights.

Dr Reilly said no medical institution would be able to refuse to perform an abortion if her life was in danger.

“All institutions mentioned (in the Bill)are funded by the taxpayer. We could not have a situation where a service funded by the taxpayer could deprive a citizen of their rights,” he said.

“In those circumstances we see absolutely no indication or room for an institution to have a conscientious objection.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore last night welcomed the publication of the Bill, saying it would give statutory effect to the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case.

“If this Bill is passed, every one of the tens of thousands of pregnant women who are admitted to hospital every year will know that any action which may be needed to save her life in an emergency will be taken,” he said.

Speaking this lunchtime, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Bill would bring “clarity and legal certainty to the constitutional rights which women have in this country”.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published today shows there is overwhelming public support for the Government's proposed legislation on abortion, with 75 per cent of respondents saying they were in favour of permitting abortion where a mother's life is in danger.

There were clear signs last night that the newly-agreed abortion legislation will not appease some of the doubters in Fine Gael but there was confidence in Cabinet that the Bill will be backed by the overwhelming majority of the party.

The Bill met immediate questions from a small group of TDs and Senators when the Fine Gael parliamentary party met last night. These included TDs Terence Flanagan, Michelle Mulherin and Peter Mathews, and Senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy Eames expressed concern.

There remains anticipation in Government circles that new measures such as giving the Minister for Health the right to direct the suspension of services under the law will give comfort to some naysayers.

The hope within the Coalition is that this would convince some of the doubters that the new law would not open the “floodgates” to abortion on demand.

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times