Fact check: Would abortion law in Ireland be as liberal as Britain’s?

Britain has one of most unrestricted abortion regimes in EU. That’s not on the way here

Question: Will Ireland introduce an abortion law similar to Britain's?

A claim is being made that Ireland will introduce abortion laws as liberal as are in place in Britain. Who is making this claim?

This has been made by several campaigners opposing the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, including members of the Catholic Church, politicians and the Love Both campaign.

They refer to the contents of a Bill to regulate the termination of pregnancy proposed by the Government, which provides for abortion in certain circumstances. They also refer to the Abortion Act in Britain.


What are they basing their claim on?

We contacted Love Both but they did not respond. We asked Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who has also made the allegation.

Mr McGrath referred to the general scheme of the Bill published by the Government and to the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain. Mr McGrath says Head 4 and Head 5 (sections) of the proposed Bill by the Government are comparable to aspects of the 1967 Act.

Head 4 allows for terminations when there is a risk to the mother’s life, or of serious harm to the health of a mother up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Head 5 allows for terminations when there is an emergency risk to the life and health of the mother.

Mr McGrath said: “The 1967 Act has been interpreted to mean abortion on demand at any stage.” He claims that the law proposed by the Government will therefore also mean abortion at any point of pregnancy.

The analysis:

Abortion in the United Kingdom is permissible under the 1967 Abortion Act. The law allows for terminations up to the 24th week of pregnancy when two doctors agree that continuing with the pregnancy would involve a risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family. This is referred to as Ground C.

It also allows for abortions when there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

Terminations are also available when there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be “seriously handicapped”, as is stated in the legislation.

Abortions are lawful when a mother’s life is at risk, when there is a risk of grave permanent injury or when there is a foetal abnormality identified beyond the 24th week of pregnancy in Britain.

Opponents of repeal of the Eighth Amendment refer to the fact that 97 per cent of abortions in Britain occur under Ground C. However, it is important to state 92 per cent of terminations take place within 13 weeks of pregnancy; 81 per cent of these occur under 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Under the proposed law put forward by the Government), terminations will be accessible within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without specific indication.

A woman would seek a termination from a medical practitioner. The medical practitioner will have a legal obligation to discuss the woman’s options with her. A three-day waiting period will then be enforced. After the 72 hours has elapsed, an abortion will be administered to women who choose it.

If there is a risk to a woman’s life or a risk of serious harm to the health of the mother, two medical practitioners will be asked to determine if an abortion should be permitted beyond the 12th week of pregnancy.

However, terminations in these instances will not be carried out beyond viability, which is reached at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

In the case of an emergency, one medical practitioner will be permitted to perform an abortion if there is an immediate risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or of serious harm to her health. There are no gestational limits applied in these circumstances.

Abortions will also be available if a woman is informed the foetus will not survive outside the womb or will die shortly after birth due to a fatal abnormality. Terminations on the basis of a non-fatal foetal abnormality are outside the scope of the law and are therefore illegal.

There have been claims that the mental health grounds would be abused to allow wider access to abortion. Under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, seven terminations have been carried out on the grounds of suicide since its inception.

In conclusion, Britain has one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the European Union. The proposed law by the Government is significantly different.

The verdict: The claim is untrue.