Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has been urged to outline arrangements for the review of abortion legislation, on the third anniversary of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
The Termination of Pregnancy Act provides for a review of the legislation three years after its implementation and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick said the legislation has worked for many women but it "has not been perfect".
The National Women’s Council (NWC) reported in a paper to mark the third anniversary of the referendum that just one in 10 GPs provide abortion care and coverage remains a significant barrier to accessing services in rural areas and in marginalised communities.
Ms Fitzpatrick said some women in disadvantaged situations are further disadvantaged when “only 10 of the 19 maternity services in the country are providing abortion care”.
Some 98 per cent of terminations take place before 12 weeks but 30 women are estimated to have travelled to the UK for an abortion, during the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.
“Can you imagine the loneliness, pain, the hurt and having to deal with strangers and justify a trip that no woman would ever have wanted to make.”
Ms Fitzpatrick added that legislation to create safe zones around abortion care facilities is still pending, and she said that in 2019, some 375 women with an Irish addressed travelled to the UK for a termination. The NWC said a majority of those women were seeking care in the second trimester.
She called on Mr Donnelly to confirm that an independent expert would chair the review.
She said that all stakeholders should be engaged with, “most critically women who have availed of abortion in Ireland but also in the UK, and those who have been charged with provision of abortion care in UK so that the recommendations can be evidence-based and promptly made”.
Independent Senator Sharon Keogan said that in repealing the Eighth Amendment on abortion "we effectively view the unborn as a non-person".
She said that “while we all want to support reproductive health we have to look at the rights of the unborn”.
Ms Keogan said “we were told they would be rare but 6,666 are the number of abortions” that have taken place since the legislation was introduced.
“I would like to think that this Dáil would be compassionate when looking at the legislation and being compassionate to the unborn as well.”
Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway, referring to the NWC report that 10 per cent of GPs provide advice and support on termination of pregnancy, said "it's very, very worrying to hear reports that so many GPs have opted out of this".
The Clare-based Senator said “my fear is that women in rural Ireland in particular are being extremely affected by this decision.
“It is troubling to hear also that so many people find it necessary to go to England to terminate a pregnancy, alone and with no support.”
He said “the legislation needs to be reviewed and changed to reflect these challenges and difficulties in the system”.