Clinical guidelines on the provision of abortion services in the State will be published by two key medical bodies on Monday ahead of the introduction of the service in the new year.
The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), will circulate guidelines to all their members as part of the preparations.
Minister for Health Simon Harris opened a training day for more than 60 GPs who have committed to providing the service over the weekend, and the ICGP will hold similar training courses online this week.
Dr Peter Boylan, the clinical adviser to the Health Service Executive on the introduction of abortion, said services would start in January but would be “unrecognisable” in a year’s time once they are fully up and running. Dr Boylan said this was a “completely new service” and something that people had not handled before.
"There is understandable nervousness about it and there are a lot of difficulties as we know with infrastructural deficits in the Irish healthcare system. But this is a major improvement for Irish women's health, where they won't have to travel anymore," he told RTÉ's This Week programme.
Mr Harris will meet Dr Boylan and senior Department of Health, and HSE, officials on Monday to discuss preparations. He said he appreciated that it involved challenges.
“I want to work with doctors and healthcare professional to assist them as they take on this task. It is essential we cultivate an environment where doctors are supported in their work,” he said. “I must balance that with my responsibility to women. I do not see January 1st as a deadline. I view it as an opportunity to compassionately care for women in this country.”
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill finished its final stage in the Seanad on Thursday night after weeks of debate in both the Dáil and Seanad.
The Bill has gone to the President to be signed into law. Michael D Higgins, under the provisions of Article 25 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, must sign the Bill in the law (or decline from doing so) on the fifth, sixth or seventh day after it is presented for his signature, meaning the Bill may not come into law until Friday.
Dr Boylan noted the legislation would have an impact on more than just women in crisis pregnancies, because it extended to those carrying a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality and to women who were very sick but whose lives were not under a real threat. “So there is a very extended sort of service coming in.”
He said there had been a lot of concentration on the provision for terminations up to 12 weeks’ gestation because this was a “huge cultural change” for Ireland and a huge cultural change for the medical profession and hospitals.
Dr Boylan said his understanding was that there were plenty of GPs available to make the service available to women up to 12 weeks’ pregnant, with “a good geographic spread around the country”. He said a 24-hour, seven-day helpline would be operational from January 1st.