Abortion reform unlikely before next general election

Opposition accuses Government of delaying on review, but Ministers reluctant to bring in legislative change before next election

Ministers are set to discuss a new options paper for abortion law reform, but senior Government sources have warned that further change is unlikely before the next general election.

Last April, barrister Marie O’Shea submitted a review to Government on the adequacy of the State’s abortion laws. The review recommended the decriminalisation of doctors, the removal of the mandatory three-day waiting period to access termination medication, and the introduction of a statutory obligation on healthcare workers to refrain from providing misleading information.

Her review also found that there is a lack of clarity around allowing abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality.

Taoiseach Simon Harris has now rejected claims he is sitting on his hands in relation to reforms of abortion services, given the report has been with Government for a year.


The accusation came in the Dáil as Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith highlighted the RTÉ Investigates documentary on abortion services in which a number of women shared their personal stories and were “traumatised, stigmatised and penalised”.

Ms Cairns said that, instead of action, there had been a game of “political pass the parcel” as she claimed the report had been kicked back to the Oireachtas Health Committee and then to the Government.

Sources have confirmed that Mr Donnelly is working on an “options paper” to address the findings of the report including the calls for legislative change. This will be brought to the Cabinet Committee on Health where Ministers will discuss the proposals.

There is a growing reluctance within the Coalition, however, around making further changes, with one senior source saying it is hard to envisage any major change prior to the general election. Another Government source said they were not sure how much appetite there is for legislative change.

“There’s a clear view in Government that it’s important to respect what people voted for as part of Repealing the Eighth (Amendment), while doing everything possible for women who need to use termination services,” a source said.

There is also a view within the Coalition that people are more worried about access to public services, the cost of living, housing and climate change.

A spokesman for the Green Party said there would be strong support among Green ministers for change.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told reporters that some improvements to the provision of abortion services are already under way.

“At the start of this Government, only 10 of the 19 maternity hospitals or units were providing termination services, that’s gone from 10 to 17 and I want to see it at all 19 by the end of this year.

“When it comes to things which are in conflict with the heads of the bill that people voted to repeal based on, that’s a conversation, it’s an ongoing conversation in Government. We have to be cognisant of two things – I want to make sure we are doing the right thing by women and we need to facilitate our healthcare workers to the greatest extent possible. We have to also be very cognisant and respectful, regardless of our individual feelings on different elements, of what people voted for.”

There is a strong desire within Government, however, to regulate “rogue” crisis pregnancy agencies. Labour leader Ivana Bacik said it is “imperative” that Mr Donnelly should “bring in regulations to ensure that these agencies are no longer able to give dangerous advice to vulnerable women”.

“How is it tenable to stand over a situation in which dieticians and opticians must be regulated before they can offer any service to the public, but those counselling women in vulnerable situations face no requirement to register or be regulated at all?” she said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times