We have a cooling-off period when shopping, so why not when accessing abortion?

Allowing women the space to reflect on a matter of life and death is something both sides should agree on

The three-day reflection period before accessing abortion was designed to reassure the people often described as the middle ground in order to get them to vote for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Simon Coveney, who previously had been pro-life, argued strongly in favour of it in 2018 in the Irish Independent two months before the referendum.

He said it worried him seeing people “who raise legitimate questions about the right to life of an unborn child being dismissed as dinosaurs or anti-women”. He explained that he had been “overwhelmed by the numbers who have stopped me in supermarkets, on streets, in Leinster House or in public” because they shared his concerns about unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

He advocated a “pause period” of 48-72 hours to “allow the State to outline the alternatives to abortion and support women who choose those alternatives”. Anyone who continues to abortion, he said, after that “pause period” was likely to have “travelled to the UK or accessed a pill online in the absence of such a system being available in Ireland”.

In other words, it appears that he could live with legalising abortion if safeguards were in place. This writer would far prefer if women could change their minds because they were guaranteed the kind of support that Coveney wrote about, such as housing and financial support.


The overwhelming numbers who stopped Coveney to speak to him swung firmly towards Repeal in the end and that ensured it was carried. As was entirely predictable, a campaign started almost immediately to remove the safeguards that persuaded voters to set aside their worries and vote in favour.

The three-day reflection period has been described as paternalistic, stigmatising and unfair to women.

Women know their own minds, we are told. Assuming anything else is infantilising. Odd how there is a cooling-off period under European law of 14 days if you have shopped online or through another type of distance selling, for example by phone, mail order or from a door-to-door salesperson. Are these guarantees infantilising?

In Europe, 15 countries have reflection periods for abortion. Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have three days. Belgium has six and Italy has seven. The Netherlands abolished its five-day waiting period for abortion after 16 weeks this year, despite evidence that one in five women changed their minds during it.

Despite the constant Dutch push to remove all obstacles to abortion, including time to think, younger people in the Netherlands are more likely to disapprove of abortion; 12 per cent of women under 25 who have experienced abortion no longer stand by their decision to abort, according to a Dutch pro-choice group for young people. The penny is beginning to drop that abortion is not the promised great liberation.

More than 100 healthcare professionals signalled support for the three-day waiting period in an open letter this week

Dr Peter Boylan says that there is no medical justification for a three-day reflection period.

That is not surprising, given that elective abortion itself is a social so-called solution facilitated by abortion providers, rather than a procedure with a medical justification.

Unlike abortion, the reflection period harms no one. It allows women space for a considered decision.

More than 100 healthcare professionals signalled support for the three-day waiting period in an open letter this week. They cited figures discovered by Carol Nolan TD in answer to a parliamentary question. in 2019, some 7,536 initial consultations were provided, while 6,666 abortions took place, suggesting that some 870 women or 11.5 per cent changed their mind during the three-day period.

Figures released this week show that over the past three years, GPs fielded almost 24,000 initial consultations, but there were 19,500 completed abortions. Nearly one in five did not opt for abortion.

Of course, we do not know that all those women changed their minds due to the waiting period. Perhaps someone compassionate provided practical support, making being pregnant less of an unbearable burden. Perhaps they had a miscarriage. Perhaps they found housing. There are lots of reasons.

But it is not unreasonable to speculate that when they had space and time to reflect, a significant proportion realised that they did not want a so-called solution that involved ending their own child’s life.

The 408 GPs (10 per cent of the total number of GPs) willing to provide abortion pills earned €9.5 million between them over the last three years, while hospitals have a rolling annual €7 million fund to pay consultants and other costs. GPs earn €450 for a completed termination involving three visits but only €250 for care for the full length of a pregnancy that might involve 12 visits.

In 2019, most of the money ring-fenced to implement the long-awaited National Maternity Strategy was diverted to pay for setting up access to abortion. The discrepancy in funding for pregnancy versus abortion reflects a skewed sense of priorities, as skewed as the idea that a three-day reflection period is insulting to women.

Surely allowing women space to make decisions on matters of life and death is something that both pro-choice and pro-life people should support?