Abortion, sexual health and maternity services to cost €50m a year

Simon Harris is optimistic about GP accord to have abortion available by start of 2019

Providing abortion services, improving obstetric care and promoting sexual health, including free contraceptives, will cost the exchequer about €50 million a year, the Cabinet was told as it formally approved the abortion legislation.

Minister for Health Simon Harris told his colleagues that a delay in negotiating fees with GPs would endanger the commitment to roll out abortion services at the start of next year, but he was hopeful of reaching agreement in the coming weeks.

Asked if he could guarantee that services would be available from January 1st, Mr Harris said he could guarantee that abortion services would be legal, and it was his “absolute expectation that abortion services will be available in line with the grounds of the legislation”.

“Everyone is working absolutely to make this happen. It’s an ambitious and challenging timeframe. I expect it to happen. Most of it will happen in the primary care setting,” he said after the Cabinet meeting.

Mr Harris declined to reveal the cost of the new service but The Irish Times has established that Ministers were told yesterday that the full-year cost for the GP service will be approximately €5 million.

Nine weeks

All abortions after nine weeks of pregnancy will take place in a hospital. The full-year cost of providing the service in acute hospitals is expected to be €7.35 million. The Government is also committed to implementing recommendations from the Oireachtas committee that considered the Eighth Amendment on maternity services, which are expected to cost €26.5 million in a full year, plus €3 million in minor capital costs and €1.4 million to cover perinatal hospice services.

It also recommended a programme of sexual health promotion and crisis pregnancy prevention which costs €9.5 million annually.

The Dáil Business Committee on Thursday agreed to a proposal from Mr Harris to skip the pre-legislative scrutiny of the abortion legislation – a move which drew criticism from anti-abortion TD Mattie McGrath – enabling him to bring the Bill to the floor of the Dáil next week.

Scrutiny and delay

Mr Harris appealed to TDs not to hold up the Bill.

“It’s important that the Oireachtas balances its own duty to scrutinise legislation with facing up to the reality that Irish women are still experiencing in this country today,” Mr Harris said.

“It’s 125 days since we held a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. During that time more than 1,100 Irish women have had to travel abroad to access terminations . . . During that time about 375 Irish women have had to access the abortion pill online, illegally, and without medical supervision.”

Mr Harris said there was a duty on TDs to scrutinise the legislation but he added that “the Irish people have already scrutinised this proposition”.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times