Fact check: Will abortion be legalised up to the sixth month of pregnancy?

Save the 8th campaign has claimed abortion will be legalised up to six months


Will abortion be legalised up to the sixth month of pregnancy?

Who is making the claim?

Save the 8th campaign: "I had no idea they wanted to legalise abortion up to six months." (Poster assertion)


On what are they basing their claims?

Spokesman for Save the 8th John McGuirk gave a very lengthy response to The Irish Times. On the issue of abortion up to six months into a pregnancy, Mr McGuirk pointed to Head 4 of the General Scheme of the proposed legislation published by the Department of Health on the regulation of the termination of pregnancy.

Mr McGuirk says that the clause is “very clear” and makes it legal to “end the life of the unborn” where there is a reasonable opinion that “the baby will not survive”. He is referring here to the point for foetal viability (where a foetus can survive outside the womb), which is 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“Such abortions can be carried out where there is a ‘risk of serious harm’ to the health, including mental health, of a woman from continuing with the pregnancy. ‘Serious harm’ is not defined anywhere in the Bill,” he said.

Mr McGuirk also pointed to Head 5 of the Bill, which allows for terminations when there is an emergency risk to the life and the health of a mother.

He says there is no clarity whatsoever from Government about what, if any, “mental health conditions might require an immediate ending of the unborn life”.

He pointed The Irish Times to the Save the 8th website, where a more comprehensive and a lengthy explanation on their claim is offered.

The legislation:

The legislation introduced by Minister for Health Simon Harris allows for access to terminations within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (read our Q&A on what will happen after the referendum, here).

The general scheme of the Bill outlines that it will be lawful to carry out a termination of a pregnancy where a medical practitioner certifies the pregnancy concerned has not exceeded 12 weeks.

A period of 72 hours will have to elapse between the time of the certification and the termination of the pregnancy being carried out. Twelve weeks of pregnancy is dated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.

Beyond that, it will only be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy when two medical practitioners certify that there is a risk to the life of, or of serious harm to the health of, the pregnant woman.

The law states that the two medical practitioners should be an obstetrician, and the other shall be an appropriate medical practitioner. The two must agree that it is appropriate to carry out the termination of pregnancy in order to avert that risk.

The legislation states that termination will not be permitted if the foetus has reached viability. There is agreement from the Save the 8th and Together For Yes campaigns that viability is reached at 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

The Government also intends to legislate for abortion to be allowed when two medical practitioners agree there is a risk to a woman’s life or of serious harm to her health.

When there is an emergency, it shall be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy when one doctor determines there is an immediate risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman.

It will also be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy when two medical practitioners, an obstetrician and an appropriate medical practitioner, certify that there is a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth, or shortly after birth.

The position of Save the 8th is that abortion will be legalised up to six months. However, between the third month of pregnancy and the sixth month, terminations will only be permitted in particular circumstances.

The Irish Times has concluded that abortion up to the sixth month of pregnancy will not be legalised and will only be allowed when a mother's life or health is at risk, and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Therefore, we have concluded the claim is not entirely true and is, consequently, misleading.

Our verdict:

The claim is misleading because abortion will only be legalised from the third month to the sixth month in certain circumstances. Outside of these circumstances it will be illegal to perform an abortion.