Abortion reform will not be in place until next year, Varadkar says

Taoiseach warns that clinical guidelines will need to be drawn up as well as legislation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the Dáil will sit through the summer recess to move on the upcoming abortion legislation if needed. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

It will be January of next year before full effect is given to the will of the people as expressed in the abortion referendum, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said it was not just a matter of legislating for the issue in the Dáil and Seanad, but that clinical guidelines would have to be drawn up as well.

“It will be necessary to regulate and license new medicines.”

Mr Varadkar said there were meetings under way on Tuesday in the Department of Health with groups representing doctors regarding those clinical guidelines. He said the Government wanted to legislate as soon as possible, but it also wanted to ensure the matter was not rushed.

“There are people who do not accept the weekend’s result,” he said. “There are people who may challenge the referendum itself in the coming days and may wish to challenge the legislation once we pass it in the months and years ahead.”

He was replying in the Dáil to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said the referendum result had ended the “cruel inflexibility” of the Eighth Amendment.

“The people have given the Oireachtas the mandate, and indeed the obligation, to legislate for a new approach,” he added.

In Friday’s referendum, the electorate voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion, allowing the Government to legislate for terminations without restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Information Act

Mr Varadkar

told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the legislation being prepared by Minister for Health Simon Harris will repeal the Abortion Information Act, under which doctors cannot refer women to abortion clinics abroad and cannot consult with doctors in other jurisdictions about their medical status.

“It is our intention to have that on the floor of this House before the summer recess in six or seven weeks’ time,” he said.

The Taoiseach added: “We are open to repealing that legislation [the Abortion Information Act] as a discrete move but that is something we will need to do on a cross-party basis.

“It will be the same people, parliament and Oireachtas that will have to sit and pass that legislation.

“And the likely effect would be to delay the main legislation.”

‘Discrete legislation’

He noted that Labour Senator Ivana Bacik had sought “discrete legislation on decriminalisation” of abortion, which currently incurs a 14-year penalty.

“If we have three, four or five discrete pieces of legislation, it will push back the main legislation that actually gives effect to what the people decided on.”

Ms McDonald pointed out that women and girls will still have to travel for abortion with just a telephone number in their pocket and none of their medical records until the legislation was finalised.

Ms McDonald said: “I’m not proposing this discrete move to repeal [the Abortion Information Act] as optimum but I think that we all accept that we have to be sure-footed.

“We cannot leave women in the impossible situation that they leave by boat or plane with a telephone number and without their medical files.”

Mr Varadkar said Mr Harris would meet the Opposition parties’ health spokespersons on Wednesday.

He said: “There will be a lacuna between the point the referendum is certified and the implementation of the legislation.

He said he totally understood Ms McDonald’s proposal and good intentions, “which is why we want a cross-party approach”.

Abortion Referendum

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