Health committee to debate 180 amendments to abortion Bill
Government to accept only minor changes to legislation published before referendum
The committee stage will see TDs go through the abortion legislation line by line, debating the amendments proposed by pro-choice and anti-abortion TDs
The legislative battle over the abortion legislation will begin in earnest on Tuesday morning when the Dáil’s health committee begins debating 180 proposed amendments to the Bill.
The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 has already passed its second stage vote in the Dáil, but the committee stage will see TDs go through the legislation line by line, debating the amendments proposed by pro-choice and anti-abortion TDs.
Some minor changes will be accepted by Minister for Health Simon Harris, it is understood, but no substantial deviation from legislation published before the referendum on the Eighth Amendment will be entertained by the Government.
This means that a large number of amendments seeking to liberalise the legislation, as well as a series of changes proposed by anti-abortion TDs, will be rejected by the Government.
Though it does not have a majority on the committee, the Government is likely to be in a position to win votes with the support of Fianna Fáil and Independent members.
A large number of amendments have been proposed to include references in the Bill to “pregnant persons” to mean “a person of any sex who is pregnant”. This is intended to ensure the Bill includes transgender people in its provisions.
However, a spokeswoman for the Minister for Health said that while the Bill would apply to pregnant transgender people, on legal advice the amendments would be rejected.
Attempts to remove references to “ending the life of a foetus” and substitute “ending a pregnancy” will also be rejected.
All amendments submitted by a group of anti-abortion TDs will be rejected, including one requiring parental notification of those seeking an abortion who are under 16 years of age.
The anti-abortion TDs will also seek to introduce regulations governing the disposal of foetal remains and a requirement for ultrasound imaging and offering the women the opportunity to listen to the heartbeat of the foetus. These will also be rejected by the Government.
Meanwhile, health sources say that preparations are continuing for the establishment of abortion services from the beginning of next year. Mr Harris hopes to conclude negotiations with the doctors’ unions in the coming weeks over a financial package which will cover the operation of the service, though no agreement is in place yet.
Separately, arrangements for a 24/7 helpline, to be operated by midwives and counsellors for the Health Service Executive are thought to be nearing conclusion. The helpline will be able to direct patients seeking abortion services to medical practitioners offering what they are seeking in their local area.