Alan Kelly highlights ‘problems’ with abortion legislation

Safe access zones and other issues should be examined, Leo Varadkar says

Labour leader Alan Kelly has requested clarification as to why the Minister for Health is planning a review of how abortion is operating in Ireland without a review of the underpinning legislation.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Kelly said the review will not consider any policy changes to the legislation and claimed this “amounts to a pre-determined process and is at odds with previous statutory reviews”.

The Tipperary TD said when the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act was debated and passed three years ago, it was the understanding of TDs that there would be a review of the operation of the act, “inclusive of policy”.

“Instead, the minister is only planning a review to see how it is operating as intended, and not looking at the legislation underpinning it,” Mr Kelly said.


He said there were “a range of well-known problems with this legislation”. “We know only 10 maternity units offer full termination services and very few GPs,” he added.

“There are geographical issues across the board. Three years on, legislation for safer access zones around maternity hospitals hasn’t been published.

“The reality is for women is that the three-day waiting period and a 12-week limit creates serious access problems.”

Mr Kelly said there are “real problems” with the legislation and it should be reviewed. “We’ve had many strategy reviews of legislation in recent years that have looked at legal framework,” he added.

The Labour leader asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar if he did not trust the women of Ireland and said the Government had taken this course because “so many members” of Fianna Fail “opposed and voted against this legislation in the first place”.

In response, Mr Varadkar said: “I trust the women of Ireland and this Government trust the women of Ireland and I led the Government that allowed people to have their say on the Eighth Amendment”.

In terms of the review, the Tánaiste said he did not recall having seen the terms of reference.

“That’s not to say I didn’t, as you can imagine lots of things cross my desk and I will check up on that as to what the terms of reference are and if they’ve been signed off by Government yet,” Mr Varadkar said. “I don’t think they have, it’s possible they have been but I will check that out and I do agree with your basic point that we should, at least at some point, examine some of the issues around the legislation, safe access zones is definitely one.

“You mentioned an issue of the waiting period – many people feel the waiting period is a good idea, I appreciate many people don’t.

“We also need to look at the issue that does come up quite a lot now around non-fatal foetal abnormalities, which is a difficult one, and is one of the reasons people travel to the UK.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times