Dáil rejects abortion Bill from Rural Independent TDs

Issues such as foetal pain relief can be raised within review, Minister for Health says

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said issues such as foetal pain relief can be raised within the review looking at how abortion is operating in the State.

Mr Donnelly said medical colleges are working on reviewing clinical guidance documents and, where necessary, they will be updating them “according to the latest evidence and international best practice in the area”.

Mr Donnelly was speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday morning as Rural Independent TDs sought to move a Bill that would require pain relief for a foetus during later abortions.

The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Foetal Pain Relief) Bill 2021 was sponsored by Carol Nolan, Peadar Tóibín, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Canney, Michael Collins, Richard O'Donoghue, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath.


The Dáil rejected a second reading of the Bill on Wednesday evening, and a Government counter motion was passed by 107 votes to 36.

Earlier, Mr Donnelly said it would not be appropriate for a piece of legislation to dictate clinical practice in a medical or a healthcare setting.

He said issues brought up by the TDs could be raised within the review, which commenced earlier this month and is examining how abortion is operating since it was introduced in 2019.

“What we need to do now is allow the review to be completed. We need to allow for its recommendations to be considered,” he said.

“Let’s see what those recommendations may be, they may be operational, there may be recommendations around regulation and recommendations around the Act itself … We need to give the review the space that it needs now to do its work and to report back to all of us so that we can take the appropriate actions.”

Experiences of women

Mr Donnelly said the review will take into account women’s experiences, the experience of those involved in providing abortion services as well as a public consultation for other interested parties. Recommendations are due to be made to him by later next year, he said.

Independent TD Carol Nolan said it was reasonable to expect that the issue of pain relief will be discussed as part of the review and that “it is something that cannot be left out”.

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said he found it impossible to believe Government would not accept the Bill and that the legislation would “help a small little vulnerable person from feeling pain”.

The Kerry TD said people would be voting with their party on Wednesday evening rather than their conscience.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said pain relief for unborn babies must be included in the review. “It should be the top priority for all of us in every review,” he added.

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín said there was a cruelty and lack of compassion and sympathy that forces political parties to “completely ignore the humanity of these living individual human beings”.

‘Upsetting’ legislation

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the proposed legislation was "upsetting for the women and families who have had later abortions and insulting to our healthcare practitioners".

“This bill represents sensationalism that has no place in any humane system concerned with best medical practice and it definitely has no place in a Republic which voted overwhelmingly for free, safe and legal abortion care,” she said.

Sinn Féin's health spokesman David Cullinane said "we must be careful not to cross the line between legislation and clinical guidelines".

“We should not infringe on the independence which is so essential to the delivery of modern healthcare. This is an important principle, which must underpin access to any healthcare, that we must trust doctors to deliver the service in an ethical and safe way,” he said.

"If they do not, there are mechanisms for recourse via the professional and regulatory institutions such as the Medical Council. "There is nothing prohibiting the administration of pain relief where deemed necessary by a clinician in the existing legislation."

The Waterford TD said Sinn Féin is committed to delivering the same termination services North and South of the island. He said the party wanted services available in this State to be implemented in the North.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times