Legislation requires objectors to refer patients seeking abortions

Minister for Health confirms abortion services ‘will be provided on a universal basis’

Minister for Health Simon Harris committed to the introduction of exclusion zones outside facilities providing abortion services. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris committed to the introduction of exclusion zones outside facilities providing abortion services. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Medical professionals who have a conscientious objection to providing abortions will be legally obliged to refer patients, under legislation published by the Government on Tuesday.

The Cabinet approved the heads of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill, which provides for access to abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The proposed legislation states there will be a three-day waiting period enforced and the 12th week of pregnancy will be determined by the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.

It also commits to making abortion lawful when a mother’s life or health is at risk, but not beyond the point of viability.

Two doctors – an obstetrician and an appropriate medical practitioner – will determine if a termination can be provided in these circumstances.

In the cases of an emergency risk to a woman’s life or health, one doctor will make that determination.

The Bill also makes abortions permissible in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, when it is determined the foetus has a condition that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth.

Two doctors – an obstetrician and a medical practitioner of a relevant specially – will make the decision in these circumstances.

Conscientious objection

Elsewhere, the Bill provides for medical practitioners to conscientiously objection to providing terminations.

However, it is clear that they must make “arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned as may be necessary to enable the woman to avail of the termination of pregnancy concerned”.

The Bill, which cannot be introduced in the Oireachtas until the legal challenges to the referendum result have been completed, also commits to decriminalising abortion and removing the threat of a criminal sanction for women who procure a termination of their pregnancy.

However, anyone who performs an abortion outside the law faces 14 years in prison, the Bill states. The law also makes it an offence to receive any financial payment or reward for giving information, advice or counselling to members of the public in relation to termination of pregnancy.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed services for the termination of pregnancy “will be provided on a universal basis – so that cost is not a barrier for women to access these services”.

Mr Harris also committed to the introduction of exclusion zones to ensure “patients and staff can go without fear of intimidation or harassment, and without being subjected to posters or protests”.

With regard to how the law affects transgender people, it is understood Mr Harris has been advised the Bill will provide for trans people but is open to examining it further.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he would be putting forward a number of amendments to the legislation including a clause to ensure terminations are not permitted on the basis of a disability.

Meanwhile, the National Women’s Council has called for the the legislation to be named Savita’s Law in memory of Savita Halappanavar.

Director Orla O’Connor added: “Every day at least nine women are travelling outside of Ireland to access abortion services and more women are taking abortion pills ordered over the internet.

“The referendum has given a clear mandate to the Oireachtas to change our laws and ensure women who need an abortion can access care here in Ireland.”

The Bill also insists a report must be provided to the Minister for Health every year outlining the number of terminations that occur in Ireland.