Harris rejects claims he is sitting on his hands in relation to abortion services reform

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith says women still being treated as criminals for accessing reproductive healthcare

Taoiseach Simon Harris has rejected claims he is sitting on his hands in relation to reforms of abortion services and an expert report issued to Government a year ago.

Mr Harris said the Government is considering the expert report and its recommendations and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will shortly engage with the Cabinet subcommittee on health.

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, when legislation clearly stated that a review would be carried out.


Women with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality still have to travel abroad for terminations. Irish law forces them to do so, she said, either because doctors cannot definitively say abnormalities will lead to death within 21 days.

Or else “they interpret the law conservatively because of the threat of criminal sanction of up to 14 years prison sentence”.

The Cork South-West TD called on the Taoiseach to “take the advice of your own expert report” before more women and their families experience more trauma.

She asked Mr Harris to remove the mandatory three-day waiting period, end the criminalisation of healthcare workers who provide abortions, and provide more clarity in the law regarding abortions in cases of foetal abnormalities.

The Taoiseach said that since the referendum on abortion the number of hospitals providing services had increased from 12 to 17 and now all 19 would provide abortions by the end of the year.

The safe zone legislation is expected to pass in the Seanad shortly and there has been a small increase of 20 additional GP community providers “and that matters in terms of geographic access across our country”, he said.

Referring to the expert report Mr Harris told the Dáil that the “bulk of the recommendations are in the operational space. They’ve largely been put in place and are being embedded across the health service.”

But he pointed out that legislation was published with the referendum and people were told that “if you vote yes that’s the law” and that had to have meaning.

But he also acknowledged that a review was promised and the Government will consider the expert report’s recommendations.

Ms Smith said that women are still being treated as criminals for accessing basic reproductive healthcare and she accused Mr Harris and the Government of “sitting on your hands”.

The Dublin South-Central TD said that six years after the repealing of the Eighth Amendment banning abortion a significant number of women were still being denied abortion rights.

She also highlighted concerns about “rogue agencies” which had also featured in the RTÉ documentary which she said had not been addressed.

The Taoiseach defended the Government’s approach, he said there was a phoneline in place to direct people to appropriate, non-judgmental services.

There had been a lot of work done on the report’s recommendations and the Minister would engage with the Cabinet Health Committee.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times