Expert to review abortion laws three years after referendum

Total of 6,577 abortions last year represents slight decline on first year of service in 2019

A March for Choice in Dublin, organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign in 2019. The Republic voted in a landslide referendum to allow terminations in  specific circumstances. File Photograph: The Irish Times

A March for Choice in Dublin, organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign in 2019. The Republic voted in a landslide referendum to allow terminations in specific circumstances. File Photograph: The Irish Times

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An independent expert is to be appointed to review Ireland’s abortion laws three years after the country voted in a landslide referendum to allow terminations in certain circumstances.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act provides for a review of the legislation three years after its implementation.

Sources have said they are unsure if the review process will lead to changes in the law but extensive consultations will take place in the coming weeks.

The Department of Health has said an independent expert will make a series of recommendations to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

A three-pronged approach will be taken, looking at the experience of women as well as service providers, with a public consultation also planned.

“The review is being progressed this year. At this stage it is anticipated that the review will take a three-part approach to reviewing the operation of the Act, with strands focusing on service users, service providers and a public consultation,” said a department spokeswoman.

“Research to inform the service user and service provider strands will be commissioned and carried out independently and a public consultation will be held.”

Mr Donnelly has held several meetings on the review with clinicians, civil society groups and Oireachtas members, it is understood.

“The Minister intends to appoint an independent expert to lead the review. Upon completion, a full report with any necessary recommendations, will be submitted to the Minister for consideration,” said the spokeswoman.

What does the Act state?

Section 7 of the Act states: “The Minister shall, not later than 3 years after the commencement of this section, carry out a review of the operation of this Act.”

A total of 6,577 abortions were carried out last year, which is a slight decrease on the first year of the service in 2019.

In 2020, the vast majority of terminations – 6,455 – were carried out in early pregnancies of less than 12 weeks.

Of the other abortions, 20 were carried out due to a risk to life or health under the grounds, five due to a risk to life or health in an emergency situation, and 97 due to a fatal foetal anomaly.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland has said only one in 10 GPs are providing abortion services in Ireland. The council said this meant there was a significant barrier to accessing abortion at a time when just over half of maternity hospitals provide abortion services.

The group is also calling for an extension to the 12-week limit and an end to the three-day waiting period.