No abortion legislation until all court challenges have ended

Minister for Health plans to publish legislation in early July regardless of court actions

Mr Harris will brief the Opposition on Thursday on the issue but a source said the Government was mindful of the fact it could not be committal on the timeline. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mr Harris will brief the Opposition on Thursday on the issue but a source said the Government was mindful of the fact it could not be committal on the timeline. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Government cannot introduce legislation to allow for abortion services until all court challenges to the result of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment are concluded, The Irish Times has learned.

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.

Government sources confirmed the petitions initiated could cause a delay in implementing the legislation to allow for access to abortion. Three separate applications will be heard in the High Court on June 26th.

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.

“Legal cases have to conclude before legislation is enacted,” the Government source said.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has previously stated 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.

Timeline

Mr Harris will brief the Opposition on Thursday on the issue but a source said the Government was mindful of the fact it could not be committal on the timeline.

“The Minister is sticking to his timetable and a huge body of work is under way in relation to the legislation, clinical guidelines and regulation of medicine,” the source added.

Regardless of the court actions, the Government source added, “the Minister will plan to publish the legislation in early July.”

Until the court challenges are concluded, the Eighth Amendment remains part of the Constitution and laws to decriminalise women seeking abortion or repealing the information act to allow for doctors to share information cannot be progressed.

Meanwhile, a number of anti-abortion TDs are considering tabling a number of amendments to the legislation when it enters the Oireachtas.

Disability

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he would be seeking to change the law to categorically state terminations on the basis of a disability are not permitted, as had been expected. However, he is also to table an amendment to ensure medical practitioners who morally object to abortion will not be bound to refer women to another doctor.

Currently, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act allows for conscientious objection for medical professionals but places a legal obligation on them to refer patients to a colleague.

This is likely to be replicated in the Bill to regulate the termination of pregnancy. However, Mr McGrath said he would be seeking to change the law to mimic the situation in New Zealand, where doctors are not bound to refer the patient to another doctor.