Women to be urged to get abortions as early as possible

HSE and Government prepare communications campaign for rollout of abortion services

Minister for Health Simon Harris. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Women will be urged to attend crisis pregnancy services as early as possible in their pregnancy in a communications campaign being prepared by the Department of Health and the HSE.

As practical and legislative preparations intensify for the introduction of abortion services on January 1st, the Cabinet has been told the department and the HSE are collaborating on “a comprehensive plan for communicating” information about the new services.

One of the key messages, Ministers heard, will be “emphasising the importance of attending services early, particularly where a termination of pregnancy is being sought under section 13 of the Bill, where the termination must take place before 12 weeks of pregnancy”.

“Early attendance for services is key from a patient safety perspective,” a document given to the Cabinet on Thursday said. “All the international evidence confirms that the earlier the procedure is undertaken, the safer it is for the woman and her health.”

In order for women to obtain an abortion at their GP’s using abortion pills, they will need to attend their doctor before nine weeks of pregnancy. Between nine and 12 weeks, the women will be referred to a hospital for the procedure.

After 12 weeks, abortions will be legal only in cases where there is a serious threat to the life or health of the woman, and where there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Clinical guidelines

Work is ongoing between the medical colleges to draw up clinical guidelines under which doctors will operate the new services. The department has recently provided a grant to promote speedy completion of the work, which is expected in the coming months.

Minister for Health Simon Harris also briefed his colleagues on a number of changes to the Bill since the general scheme was published, though none relate to the grounds for abortion or the manner in which the service will be provided.

A number of new additions have been made, however, to the section on offences. The Bill will stipulate it is an offence to intentionally end the life of a foetus otherwise than in accordance with its provisions. There will be an exemption from this provision for a woman with regard to her own pregnancy, as was included in the earlier drafts of the Bill.

It will also say it is an offence to assist a woman to procure an abortion, unless it is within the scope provided under the Bill.

Ministers have also been told that while the State will provide the service free on a universal basis, women will also be able to access abortions in private clinics.

The Bill is finally due to be tabled in the Dáil next Thursday, when it will undergo its second stage, during which TDs debate the general principles and outline of the legislation.

Amendments are expected to be tabled by both pro-choice and anti-abortion TDs, but the Government has said it will not accept any which would shorten or abolish the proposed three-day waiting period for access to a termination.

March

The Abortion Rights Campaign is holding a “March for Choice” in Dublin on Saturday – the first since the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in May.

The Abortion Rights Campaign is holding a ‘March for Choice’ in Dublin on Saturday.
The Abortion Rights Campaign is holding a ‘March for Choice’ in Dublin on Saturday.

“The march has two purposes,” said campaign spokeswoman Sarah Monaghan. “It is a reminder that there is still a lot to be done. Nothing on the ground has changed. We still have 10 women a day travelling for abortion and three a day importing abortion medication online.

“We still don’t have the legislation and this will be a reminder to Government that we are still demanding legislation in line with the changes we voted for, so resoundingly.”

The march has been held annually since 2011 to coincide with the International Day for Safe Abortion, which falls on September 28th and is marked in almost 50 countries.

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