Politicians to push for abortion law changes as part of review

Anti-abortion TDs to advocate for retention of three-day wait and 12-week limit of access

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is planning to appoint an independent expert to review the abortion legislation. File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is planning to appoint an independent expert to review the abortion legislation. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Politicians are to push for a number of legislative changes to the country’s abortion law as part of a planned review which is set to take place in the coming months.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is planning to appoint an independent expert to review the law three years after the referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. The selection process for the independent expert has yet to be finalised.

Politicians from a range of parties have said they want to see wider access to free contraception, a removal of the three-day wait to access abortion medication, full decriminalisation and legislation to prohibit protests outside maternity facilities.

A number of anti-abortion TDs have also said that they will push to retain the three-day wait and the 12-week limit of access to terminations on request.

Independent TD Carol Nolan, who co-chairs the Oireachtas Life and Dignity Group, said she has sought a meeting with Mr Donnelly about the review but has received no response, which she described as “completely unacceptable”. Ms Nolan is seeking a commitment “to promote and provide positive alternatives to abortion in light of the 13,000-plus abortions carried out to date. This is hardly the definition of ‘rare’ that was promised pre-referendum.”

She is also seeking the retention of the three-day wait period, a commitment to retain the 12-week limit and the introduction of a commitment to provide “foetal pain relief”.

The former Sinn Féin TD has also said she wants a commitment “to end the legislative pursuit of exclusion zones and a commitment to protect the constitutional values of free assembly, peaceful protest and free speech.”

She has been backed by Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick who said Mr Donnelly must ensure a “fair and thorough” process. “We have not yet heard back from him. He has confirmed that he’s meeting with ‘stakeholders’ concerning the review but so far it doesn’t appear he has met anyone from the pro-life side. That is unacceptable.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath called for a “truly independent” review and said he had fears about a “cloak and dagger” process.

Other TDs have also called for further details on the planned review.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond signed a letter from the Irish Family Planning Association calling for clarity. The main points of that letter state that a “well-structured, evidence-based process of inclusive stakeholders is key”.

“However, it is currently unclear how the Department of Health intends to conduct the review. We urge the Minister for Health to publish the terms of reference and a timeline for this process”.

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said she has also written to the Minister and asked for a “fully independent process”.

She said that while there will be an independent chairwoman/man there is “still a way to go to secure details on the process”.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane also backed calls for the review to be fully independent.

He has also said the Oireachtas committee on health should have a role in the process.

“I believe the committee should play a role in hearing from the voices of women, clinicians and other stakeholders. No services, or extremely minimal services, are on offer in some counties. A significant number of maternity hospitals do not yet provide services. This affects women from rural areas and marginalised backgrounds the most. Any review of the act must be truly independent, and the voices of women must be front and centre.”

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said she will be calling for legislative changes to include decriminalisation of abortion. Attempts to fully decriminalise abortion as part of the abortion legislation failed in 2018 after a Dáil debate on the issue.

Criminal sanction

Former minister for health Simon Harris said criminalisation was necessary from a policy perspective and that to remove it may put the life or health of a woman at risk. He said that under the law the woman herself would never face criminal sanction.

He added that the provisions would protect women who were forced into seeking an abortion.

Fine Gael Minister of State Josepha Madigan said she hopes to engage with Mr Donnelly and the independent expert “to ensure that our laws in this area remain progressive and based on best medical practice.” She said she will call for wider access to free contraception.

Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins said she wants to see the issue of safe access zones progressed to prohibit protests outside of care facilities. Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins also said he has asked Mr Donnelly to expedite legislation to provide for safe access zones.

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has said that she has concerns around hospitals reviewing themselves when there has been an adverse or serious incident. “I am concerned about any notion of a hospital reviewing itself and to reduce the risk of that there needs to be a structure where there is an automatic external review.”