Cabinet to hear about possible abortion legislation today

Women must consent to the termination and wait 72 hours before abortion pill is given

Simon Harris: The Minister will also publish today measures aimed at reducing crisis pregnancy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Simon Harris: The Minister will also publish today measures aimed at reducing crisis pregnancy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


The Government will require a woman to consent to a termination and wait 72 hours before an abortion pill can be administered, if the Eighth Amendment is removed from the Constitution.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring to Cabinet this morning the general scheme of a Bill outlining how the Government will seek to legislate, if the referendum on article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is passed.

The Bill will confirm terminations will be permitted up to the 12th week of pregnancy without specific indication, meaning a woman will not have to outline her reasons for an abortion.

However, some restrictions will be imposed including an obligation on medical professionals to outline the woman’s options in a non-impartial manner.

The woman must consent to the termination being carried out and the medical practitioner must certify that the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks.

There will be no requirement on doctors to seek a scan but if there are concerns regarding the length of the pregnancy, clinical guidelines for medical professionals will allow for a scan to be accessed.

Risk to life

The Bill will specify 72 hours must elapse between certification and the termination being carried out.

After the 12th week of pregnancy, abortions will only be permitted when there is a risk to the life of the mother, or when there is a risk of “serious harm to the health” of a woman.

Two doctors will be required to assess the size of the threat before deciding if an abortion should be permitted.

As reported yesterday in The Irish Times, the Bill will explicitly restrict late-term abortions by stating terminations “would not be lawful beyond viability”, usually around the 23rd-24th week of pregnancy.

The viability of the foetus would be assessed and agreed by two doctors, one of whom would be an obstetrician or a gynaecologist.

If viability is established and the pregnancy is to be ended on health grounds, then it will be done through early delivery.

Conscientiously object

The legislation will allow for medical professionals to conscientiously object to providing terminations but will oblige them to give alternative information.

It will also commit to the decriminalisation of women who procure an abortion but retain a 14-year jail sentence for a person who carries out an abortion outside the scope of the law.

Mr Harris will also publish a series of measures aimed at reducing crisis pregnancy in Ireland – including increased access to obstetric care and counselling, and contraception and more funding for sexual education.

On contraception, the first step will focus on widening access to so-called barrier contraception, such as condoms, because this can be done more easily than widening access to the pill, which would require legislative change.

Alongside that it is expected the Government will announce it intends to widen free access to the contraceptive pill to all women.

Free contraception

Currently the pill is only available free to medical card holders. The Minister is expected to establish a working group to assess how free contraception can be rolled out but it is likely these initiatives will take some time to implement and may require discussions with GPs.

The general scheme of the Bill will be published after this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

While there is agreement from all Cabinet Ministers on the proposition to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, there are differing views on what should replace it in law.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh have expressed concerns about allowing abortions on request up to 12th week of pregnancy.

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys and Minister of State with special responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe have yet to publicly state their position on that specific proposal.