No action on abortion before assembly report, says Harris

Minister says referendum needed but it is not for him to dictate what assembly discusses

In the evening on March 8th, huge crowds marched through Dublin to protest for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Video: Barry Cronin


Minister for Health Simon Harris has agreed that banning abortion does not lessen its occurrence but has insisted that “we must wait for the Citizens’ Assembly to report” before action is taken.

He told Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger a referendum was needed on the issue but it was not for him to dictate what the assembly discussed.

The 99-member assembly is debating a range of abortion-related issues, and will report by mid-year on their deliberations. A decision will then be made about whether a referendum should be held.

Ms Coppinger called on the Minister to “speak to the Citizens’ Assembly about discussing the issue of health as grounds for abortion”.

She said it would be five years in October since the death of Savita Halappanavar and “we still do not have abortion for what led to Savita’s death”, where a woman’s health is at risk and the assembly had still not dealt with the issue.

Health reasons

Ms Coppinger said “doctors gambled that her life was not at risk and it was only her health. This differentiation between a woman’s health and her life is exceptionally dangerous.”

She asked why abortion existed “for health reasons in Burkina Faso, the poorest country on the planet, but does not exist in an EU state with same-sex marriage”.

The Dublin West TD claimed it was “because of cowardly politicians failing to legislate to protect women’s lives and their health in this country kowtowing to the Catholic Church”.

Mr Harris said she could call politicians and former TDs and Senators cowardly “but she would hardly call the Irish people cowardly”. It was the people of Ireland who inserted the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution.

The Minister noted Ms Coppinger was wearing a sweatshirt with “repeal” on it. He said the challenge “will be to engage with the electorate and the citizens of this country on what would replace” the amendment.

Abortion pills

Ms Coppinger said the Dáil cameras were using a side angle shot to avoid showing the repeal message on her sweatshirt.

She wore it because she had participated in a march where “thousands of young people in particular and mainly young women are saying they will not wait”.

She said the Netherlands with the “most liberal abortion regime in the world”, had the world’s lowest rate of abortion. Holding aloft a packet of abortion pills, she said they were used for 80 per cent of abortions in Finland but a woman could be imprisoned for 14 years for accessing them in Ireland.

She said the Government’s failure to legislate to allow these pills “is just adding expense, stress, stigma, secrecy and shame”.

Mr Harris said “we must wait for the Citizens’ Assembly to report”.