Plan to draw up clinical guidelines to introduce abortion services

GP bodies and medical groups will be involved in consultation process, says Minister

Minister for Health Simon Harris  said that provision for conscientious objectors would be provided for in the final legislation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris said that provision for conscientious objectors would be provided for in the final legislation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

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Moves to draw up clinical guidelines for the introduction of abortion services will begin on Tuesday through a consultation process with GP bodies and medical organisations, Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed.

In tandem with this, Mr Harris said he wanted to make sure “medication that up to now has been illegal in Ireland can be now used in a safe, regulated and legal manner”.

These moves, he said, would be undertaken at the same time as finalising legislation for abortion services, so a deadline of the end of the year could be met. He also confirmed his intention to repeal the 1995 Abortion Information Act.

Medical colleges, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and the Irish Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists would be involved in the process, he said. The Irish Medical Organisation, which represents GPs as well as doctors in hospital settings, is also expected to be involved.

Mr Harris told The Irish Times that provision for conscientious objectors would be provided for in the final legislation.

GP bodies called on Monday for a detailed outline of how abortion services were going to be devised, introduced and resourced, especially arrangements for a GP-led service up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

‘Barriers to care’

The ICGP and the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) sought clarification on training, health standards, contraception education and arrangements where GPs do not want to provide a service for their patients.

Given not all GPs or doctors will participate, it is expected that there will be a list of those doctors who intend to provide abortion services. Other medical centres, such as the Well Woman clinics and the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), are likely to be authorised to dispense abortion pills.

Niall Behan  called on the Government to ensure women who purchase abortion pills could do so without the threat of prosecution

ICGP director of women’s healthcare, Dr Mary Short, said the service was likely to be free for medical cardholders but for others it could be expensive. Because of this, she favoured free contraception “at the point of access”.

The NAGP has called an emergency meeting of its more than 2,000 members to consider “what impact the decision might have on GPs and their patients”.

The immediate repeal of the 1995 abortion information Act was sought by the IFPA, as it would “lift one of the major barriers to care for women with unintended pregnancies or pregnancies that have become a crisis”.

Out of date

The 1995 Act meant doctors “cannot make medical referrals to clinics and hospitals in the UK, even if the woman has an underlying health complication. And our counsellors are constrained in the way they can give information by a law that is clearly in opposition to the will of the Irish people”.

Its repeal would allow pregnancy counsellors to support women through their decision-making, “free from the requirements of a law that stigmatises the decision to end a pregnancy”, chief executive Niall Behan added.

Mr Harris agreed that the 1995 Act “is now completely out of date”. He said he wanted to ensure doctors were able to give factual information. He would be consulting his officials to establish the best way to sequence its repeal but fully shared the IFPA’s view.

Mr Behan also called on the Government to ensure women who purchase abortion pills could do so without the threat of prosecution, and that those who access abortion care in Ireland in future could do so “without suffering abuse from anti-choice protesters”.

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