Abortion DVD request dismissed as ‘offensive’ and ‘unnecessary’

Heated exchanges during scrutiny of abortion legislation as it passes committee stage

 Minister for Health Simon Harris: is committed to providing free contraception across the State. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris: is committed to providing free contraception across the State. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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A request that women intending to terminate pregnancies be given a DVD explaining how to reverse the effects of abortion-inducing drugs has been dismissed as “offensive and entirely unnecessary” by the Minister for Health.

Simon Harris made the comment as legislation allowing for abortion within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy passed committee stage on Thursday.

The Oireachtas health committee spent three days discussing 180 proposed amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. The only amendment accepted by the committee was a proposal by Mr Harris that a review of the legislation be carried out within five years.

The Minister said he would further examine some of the issues raised during the sittings and meet the committee again early next week before the Bill goes to report stage.

There were a number of heated exchanges during the scrutiny of the legislation, with Thursday’s dispute arising over the proposal by anti-abortion TDs relating to information and informed consent.

The amendment included a provision to give women seeking a termination printed material and an information DVD showing how the effects of taking abortion-inducing medication can be reversed.

Mr Harris said he found the proposal “offensive and entirely unnecessary” and promised there would be further increases and investment in counselling services for those facing a crisis pregnancy.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger told the committee “We’re only a breath away from The Handmaid’s Tale with this.” Ms Coppinger said the proposal was “laughable”.

“Most people don’t even have a DVD player,” she added.

‘Confused’ by proposal

The amendment also included a proposal to inform the pregnant woman that the father of the foetus is “legally liable to assist in the support of the child”, even in instances where he has offered to pay for the termination of pregnancy.

Mr Harris said he was “confused” by this proposal and that “it implies that it’s only a certain type of woman who seeks a termination”.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said such a proposal would “take the country back 60 or 70 years”.

Independent TD Carol Nolan, who was among those who proposed the amendment, said it was about giving women “options and choice”.

The committee also examined amendments in relation to conscientious objection by medical practitioners, nurses and midwives.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused Mr Harris of refusing to listen to GPs and said he would go down in history “as the most incompetent Minister for Health”.

Mr Harris said there would not be “any pressure on staff to in any way negate their conscientious objection”. He said medical practitioners would have to ensure that the care of the patient was transferred to a colleague however.

Mr Harris said GPs would have to be “remunerated” for abortion services.

‘Adequately resourced’

“I believe in a couple of days, I can’t say more than that, but in the coming days we will be in a position to issue a contract for that service and it will be very clear for all to see that we are adequately resourced in general practice to provide this service properly and comprehensively and safely,” he said.

Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick said many GPs would be “incredibly uncomfortable with the ending of an otherwise healthy pregnancy”. Mr Fitzpatrick also said the public would be uncomfortable that their local GP “has turned into an abortion clinic or abortion referral service”.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly said despite three days of debate, “there’s a lot of work still to be done, there’s a lot of issues which you’ve agreed to take away”.

Separately, Mr Harris said he was committed to providing free contraception across the State.

“I want to see free contraception in this country . . . We will require primary legislation to be changed. We will require clinical input as to what’s the best thing to do by women,” Mr Harris said. “I’m committed to doing both of those things in 2019.”

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