Regina Doherty: Ireland will not be introducing UK-style abortion laws

We have learned how to put together a restrictive, yet compassionate, and caring system

The persuasive power of numbers should never be underestimated in the upcoming referendum.

Many media have been used by both sides to impart their messages. Google and Facebook have banned adverts from both sides in an attempt to even the playing field. But we still have posters, leaflets and websites. In many cases the messages and the statistics you are seeing on these platforms are misleading at best, untruthful at worst. And the images… well, I won't go there.

Let me be very clear about some of the main assertions you will see on the lampposts. The two main assertions show how the persuasive power of numbers makes this very dangerous indeed.

Ireland will not be introducing widespread abortion up to six months as has been alleged. And Ireland will not be introducing a so-called UK-style abortion regime up to six months, should the referendum pass.


The Government proposals will mean that Irish women could access care on consultation with their doctor up to 12 weeks only, not 24 weeks as in Britain. We also propose a 72-hour pause for women to access all information and counselling, so as to make a considered decision. This does not exist in Britain.

Terminations after 12 weeks would be in exceptional, strictly-controlled circumstances, and would include a prohibition on late-term terminations, which does not exist in Britain. This would include where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman, and in circumstances of fatal foetal conditions.

Given that Ireland is coming to this much later than most other countries, we have learned how to put together a restrictive, yet compassionate, and caring system.

Currently, termination of pregnancy is provided in law in most of the 28 EU countries. Malta has a complete ban. Ireland, Northern Ireland and Poland have the strictest termination regulations in the EU. Termination of between 90 days and 12 weeks of pregnancy with no specific indication is permitted in 18 out of 28 EU member states; three until 10 weeks, and four beyond 12 weeks.

Another false assertion, and a very dangerous one, is that the new law might lead to abortion of children with disabilities. This is not true.

The proposed law does not allow for abortion on the basis of disability. All the expert advice tells us that it will not be possible to diagnose disabilities accurately before 12 weeks. Private screening tests are available from nine weeks, but they do not provide diagnoses. They only provide indications of the likelihood of a chromosomal disorder.

Furthermore, we know from evidence of Prof Fergal Malone and Dr Rhona Mahony, that a far lower proportion of parents who receive such a diagnosis in Ireland choose to terminate their pregnancies than is the case in England and Wales. There is nothing to indicate that a dramatically high increase would follow repeal, especially as 'abortion for disability' will not be allowed by the law.

Another aspect of the scaremongering has centred on the theory that our proposals will lead to an increase in abortion for Irish women.

Actually, countries such as Spain, Portugal and Switzerland have seen a reduction in abortion rates due to the comprehensive provision of sexual and reproductive healthcare, including crisis pregnancy prevention measures, in conjunction with the legalisation of abortion. In tandem with our proposals, we are introducing a broad range of measures to reduce crisis pregnancies: free contraception and better sex education must ensure there is less of a need for abortion.

Returning to the persuasive power of numbers.

Our most recent figures show that 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK for a termination in 2016. This included 100 women from my own county of Meath. Keep in mind; these are just the women who have gone to the UK, not further afield. And these are just the women who gave Irish addresses; many do not. So the figure of 3,265 could easily be doubled or trebled. It also doesn’t include the three women per day who take medication bought online. They take these pills at home alone and in secret, without GP supervision, putting their lives at risk.

All of this shows that abortion is already a reality for Irish women.

We are trying to ensure they do not have to travel abroad, adding to their trauma in the case of rape, or a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Removing the Eighth Amendment is the only way for us to care for victims of rape or incest.

Removing the Eighth Amendment is the only way for us to care for parents whose baby has a fatal foetal abnormality.

It is also the only way to stop Irish women risking their lives and health by taking unregulated medication they procure illegally on the internet.

We are trying to provide them with a safe, regulated, and doctor-led system, here in their own country. A system that shows compassion and care for women and couples in crisis.

Women are more than statistics. That is why I am voting yes on May 25th.

Regina Doherty is Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection