Independent expert to review abortion law, says Minister

Appointment to take three-strand approach – service users, providers and public consultation

Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte:  ‘The approach will be finalised in due course.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte: ‘The approach will be finalised in due course.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

 

An independent expert will be appointed to lead the review of abortion legislation that has been in operation since January 2019, Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte has confirmed.

She said in the Seanad that the review will have three strands focusing on women who have used the service, service provides and a public consultation.

Under the terms of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act a review of the operation of the Act must take place not later than three years of its commencement.

Ms Rabbitte, speaking on behalf of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, said he had had several meetings with stakeholder groups to discuss this approach.

“There appears to be a broad agreement that it should be appropriate and effective. However that process is continuing and the approach will be finalised in due course,” she said.

Mr Donnelly told the Cabinet in March he had begun the review process but that it was at a very early stage.

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Ms Rabbitte said “women who have used the service are clearly crucial to consult on how the act has operated”, whether the legislation provides access, and “women’s experience of termination and their view of how the service has been provided”.

The expert would also “gather the views of those involved in providing the service in community and acute settings in Ireland”, including hospital and GP surgeries, and would hear as well from medial colleges and the HSE.

Members of the public, special interest groups or any other interested party will also have the opportunity to to submit their view through a public consultation process.

The issue was raised in the Seanad by Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan who said that the review should be expansive in its scope, conducted in line with human rights standards, and that its terms of reference of review process should be public.

Maternity hospitals

Mr Gavan said that only one in 10 GPs were providing abortion services and “we also know that almost half the maternity hospitals in the State are not providing the services”.

He added that there had been no action on ancillary recommendations by the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment on the need for free contraception, which he said was linked directly to the reduction in unwanted pregnancy.

And he asked about pledge to introduced safe access zone legislation, which was included in the programme for government. “In my city of limerick there was a protest each day during lent outside the maternity hospital,” he said.

“I am very fearful this Government is trying to walk away from that commitment.”

Ms Rabbitte said that “regrettably I can’t answer the exact specifics but only from script that the Minister has provided me with”.

But she said the Minister and the Department of Health “continue to work with the HSE to ensure all women can access this service without bias or judgment and that we continue to provide a compassionate and dignified termination of pregnancy service”.

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