Women between nine and 12 weeks pregnant seeking an abortion may be referred to a consultant obstetrician, Minister for Health Simon Harris has indicated.
Mr Harris was introducing the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill, which gives effect to the outcome of the abortion referendum when 66 per cent of voters supported abortion. He said TDs were making history in bringing the legislation forward to allow for abortion services in Ireland and repealing the Eighth Amendment after 35 years in the Constitution.
The legislation provides for termination of pregnancy up to 12 weeks without any restriction or justification as to reason.
About to introduce legislation on termination of pregnancy in the Dáil now. 35 years on from the insertion of the 8th amendment into our constitution. It is now gone. Time to modernise our laws and care for women— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) October 4, 2018
However, the Minister indicated doctors would be asked to refer women between nine and 12 weeks to an obstetrician.
He said not every woman would present during the first nine weeks and between then and 12 weeks “international evidence and advice I have received indicate that GPs should refer women to the care of consultant obstetricians in hospital environments”.
The Minister appealed to his Dáil colleagues to “continue to be constructive and not obstructive” during debate on the Bill.
Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said "people who are pressurising us at the moment about changing the Bill need to recognise that the people are sovereign".
Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, who became emotional as she spoke of the importance of women’s rights, said there was not a single mention of abortion in the legislation and only one reference to access.
"Abortion isn't a dirty word," she said. The referendum campaign changed the attitude to abortion but there was still the residual effect of that stigma, evident in the drafting of the Bill.
Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said institutions could not have a conscientious objection on the issue of abortion and there had to be strong procedures in place to ensure that institutions “cannot use subtle methods to try to get their clinicians to act in a certain way”.
He added: “We must also ensure such institutions could not try to force women to take the private healthcare route, given the fact that the service is to be universally available publicly.”
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said there was a “chill factor” hanging over the medical profession because the criminal sanctions for offences related to abortion were at the start of the legislation.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath, the only speaker in the three-hour debate to oppose the legislation, described the Bill as a “moral, political and humanitarian catastrophe” and it made further liberalisation almost impossible to resist.
“It is now absolutely clear we have decided to anchor our understanding of human dignity in a culture of vicious political supremacy of the strong over the weak.”
Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell paid tribute to Independent TD Thomas Pringle who she said showed leadership in Donegal when it was not popular to do so.
She said whole generations were fed on hellfire and damnation about abortion and their personal lives. “It will take a couple of generations to wash the stains of all of this out of our history,” and the knock-on psychological effects.
Outside the Dáil, anti-abortion activists and disability campaigners protested against the legislation.
Eilís Mulroy of the Pro Life Campaign said the Bill was “one of the most inhumane, unjust pieces of legislation ever to come into these Houses”.
“We’re here to say we’d like them to take a little more time, not to be railroading these proposals through,” she said.
At a protest by disability campaigners earlier, Áine Nolan, who has a child with special needs, said “the legislation doesn’t expressly ban abortion on grounds of disability”. She continued, “what I want to see is more emphasis on inclusion not exclusion”.