Government sets out 21 clauses to regulate abortion
Simon Harris to publish policy paper outlining how Government intends to legislate
The policy paper to be published by Simon Harris contains 21 clauses detailing how the legislation would take effect. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Medical professionals will be able to conscientiously object to providing terminations if the Eighth Amendment is removed from the Constitution, the Government will confirm today.
Minister for Health Simon Harris will publish a policy paper outlining how the Government intends to legislate if Article 40.3.3 is repealed.
The paper, which has been seen by The Irish Times, identifies 21 policy principles that would inform the drafting of legislation.
The legislation would provide for terminations without specific indication up to 12 weeks, and state a time period must elapse “between the initial assessment by a medical practitioner and the termination of a pregnancy being carried out”.
It is proposed abortions could be carried out after the first trimester of pregnancy when a mother’s health, which includes the risk to life, is threatened and in the cases of a foetal condition which would result in death before or shortly after birth.
Two doctors will be required to assess the appropriateness of a termination and gestational limits will not apply in these cases.
Government sources stressed that late-term abortions would be outlawed as most pregnancies were viable after the 23rd week.
The paper will also commit to the decriminalisation of women who obtain an abortion, but those who perform terminations outside the law will face an offence of 14 years in prison.
The policy document stresses the statements contained within it are only relevant if Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is repealed, and further detail would need to be added.
The planned publication follows a Cabinet decision to hold a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment in its entirety and to introduce an enabling clause stating “provision may be made in law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”.
Ministers were advised by Attorney General Seamus Woulfe of the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling, which determined the unborn had no Constitutional rights outside the Eighth Amendment.
Mr Woulfe also advised the meeting that the Supreme Court judgment referred to the common good and the unborn, and that the Oireachtas must consider the unborn when legislating.
Speaking after the meeting, six Cabinet Ministers including Mr Harris, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Arts Josepha Madigan, committed to campaigning in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
A number of Fine Gael TDs, as well as several Deputies from other parties, have said they would be campaigning to retain the amendment.
The Government will also move today to establish the Referendum Commission, which will be chaired by Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy. The Dáil will also consider the Referendum Bill today.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has confirmed the party is unlikely to hold a special ard fheis ahead of the referendum. Its party leader Mary Lou McDonald cited logistical difficulties.
The 21 principles or provisions, which would underpin the proposed legislation, are:
- Terminations to be provided on the grounds of risk to health, which includes the risk to life, of pregnant women;
- No distinction will be made between physical and mental health;
- Two doctors will be required to assess the appropriateness of a termination on the grounds of a risk to health;
- One medical practitioner can assess to terminate when there is an emergency risk to health;
- In the cases of a foetal condition which is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth, a termination can be provided;
- Two doctors will be required to assess the appropriateness of a termination in such cases (of fatal foetal abnormality);
- Terminations can be provided up to 12 weeks “without specific indication”;
- A time period will be required to elapse between the initial assessment by a medical practitioner and the termination of a pregnancy being carried out;
- Gestational limits will not apply in cases of a foetal condition or on grounds of risk to health;
- A medical practitioner is defined as anyone certified as an appropriate medical practitioner on the medical register;
- Termination of pregnancy should be certified by a medical practitioner;
- Termination of pregnancy should be notified to the Minister for Health by the appropriate medical practitioner;
- A formal review process can occur for a woman (to review a decision of her doctor) in certain defined circumstances;
- Conscientious objection will be allowed for;
- Nothing in legislation will interfere with a woman’s right to travel or seek information;
- The offence for the destruction of the unborn outside the law will remain;
- A woman who procures or seeks an abortion would not be guilty of an offence;
- An annual report will be provided;
- The Minister for Health would be provided with details of all appeals or reviews carried out;
- Consent must be given for an abortion; and
- The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act will be repealed.