Government not ‘legally able’ to introduce abortion Bill, Harris says

Attorney General says law cannot be considered by Oireachtas until challenges dealt with

The Government may not be able to introduce legislation to regulate the termination of pregnancy until the autumn, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The Government may not be able to introduce legislation to regulate the termination of pregnancy until the autumn, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The Government may not be able to introduce legislation to regulate the termination of pregnancy until the autumn, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Harris said he had received clear legal advice from Attorney General Séamus Woulfe stating that the law to implement the result on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment cannot be considered by the Oireachtas until all court challenges to the outcome have concluded.

The referendum, which paved the way for liberalising the State’s strict abortion laws, was passed by a near two-to-one majority last month, but there have been a number of court challenges to the result. Three separate applications will be heard in the High Court on June 26th.

Speaking after a meeting with opposition spokespersons, Mr Harris said: “That is not an issue within my control. All of issues that are under my control are progressing very well.

“We remain on track to introduce abortion services in this country from January 1st, 2019 and we will be ready to introduce the legislation as soon as we are legally able to.”

The Eighth Amendment will remain part of the Constitution until the court challenges have concluded, at which point President Michael D Higgins can sign the Referendum Bill, the Minister added.

Decriminalise

This will mean no opposition or Government member of the Oireachtas can pass laws to decriminalise women who procure abortions, or repeal the information act to allow doctors share information.

Mr Harris added: “The legal reality is the same. The Constitutional prohibition remains until those legal challenges are dealt with.”

Legal sources expect the court to refuse the applications, but each applicant will have an opportunity to challenge that decision to the Court of Appeal and potentially the Supreme Court.

The Minister said he had met with the opposition spokespersons today and advised them of the potential delays to the legislation.

It had been the intention to introduce the legislation to give effect to the Government’s proposal for unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy will be tabled before the Dáil rises for the summer.

It was expected that the Cabinet would consider the Bill in mid-July before debate on the matter taking place in the Oireachtas in the autumn. However, this timetable is now unclear.