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Irish abortion campaigners call for time limit increase and removing disability safeguards

A review into Ireland’s abortion laws will be taking place three years after the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. 

Ireland voted in a referendum on 25 May 2018 on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment: the amendment to the Irish constitution passed in 1983 that explicitly guaranteed the right to life of the unborn.

The “Yes” campaign received 66.40% of the vote, and 33.60% voted “No” to repealing the amendment.

Following the referendum, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act entered Irish law on 20 December 2018, and abortion services commenced on 1 January 2019.

Section 7 of the Act states: “The Minister shall, not later than 3 years after the commencement of this section, carry out a review of the operation of this Act”.

Sources have expressed uncertainty over whether the review will lead to legal changes, but extensive consultations will take place over the coming weeks and months.

Ireland’s Department of Health has stated that an independent expert will make a series of recommendations to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD.

According to a department spokeswoman, the review will take a “three-pronged” approach, and will look into the experience of women, service providers, and undertake a public consultation.

Mr Donnelly has already held meetings regarding the review with clinicians, civil society groups and Oireachtas members, it is understood.

“The Minister intends to appoint an independent expert to lead the review. Upon completion, a full report with any necessary recommendations, will be submitted to the Minister for consideration”, said the spokeswoman.

A paper submitted by abortion activists ahead of a review of Irish abortion law has recommended that protections for disabled babies be removed from the law and that the legal limit for abortion on demand be extended beyond 12 weeks gestation. The paper also complains that “Thus far the community-based model where GPs opt-in to provide services has resulted in significant geographical inequity in abortion services”. 

Under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act, which came into effect in 2019, the Irish Department of Health must conduct a review of the Act no later than three years after its commencement. However, the Department of Health has since announced that it will be “progressed” to later this year.

The review involves inviting “interested groups, organisations and members of the public to provide their views to inform the review of the operation of the legislation”.

Remove protections for disabled babies

Pro-abortion lobby group, the National Women’s Council, has already submitted its paper pushing for greater abortion provision in rural areas as well as a change in the law to make the abortion of disabled babies easier.

Currently, the abortion law in Ireland permits abortion if the baby is disabled and expected to die within 28 days after birth. The paper, published by the National Women’s Council, titled “Accessing Abortion in Ireland: Meeting the Needs of Every Woman” recommends that the 28-day limit be removed.

Extend abortion limit beyond 12 weeks

In addition to removing protections for disabled babies, the paper recommends that abortion should be made available past 12 weeks although it does not specify up until what point. It states: “The 12 week limit must therefore be reviewed and extended into the second trimester”.

Censorship zones and conscientious objection

The paper also recommends that censorship zones be enforced surrounding abortion centres to prevent people from offering alternatives to abortion. The paper says: “Exclusion zone legislation should be enacted as a matter of priority to create protest exclusion zones within a defined radius of a facility where abortions take place”.

Among its many other recommendations the paper says:

“Conscientious objection should not be permitted to obstruct access to abortion care. In cases of refusal of abortion care, a clear and timely pathway to an alternative provider must be provided immediately. Healthcare institutions cannot be permitted to conscientiously object to providing services directly or indirectly through failure to provide services”.

Pro-choice group Leitrim Abortion Rights Campaign have echoed these calls for an increase in time limit and censorship zones, and have also said that it hopes that the three-day reflection period required to receive consent and medication from GPs will be amended. They have also called for the ‘DIY’ or ‘at-home’ abortion scheme introduced during the pandemic to be made permanent.

Several pro-life TDs have said that they will push to retain the three-day wait and 12-week abortion time limit.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “As we often see with ‘research’ published by pro-abortion groups, these recommendations equate ‘expanding abortion access’ with ‘making life better for women’.”

“The single-minded pursuit of abortion means that these groups think it is justified to outlaw allowing others from offering alternatives to abortion outside of abortion centres. It further allows them to believe that it is right and proper to undermine the profession of medicine itself by putting pressure on doctors to participate in abortion. It doesn’t matter to them in the slightest that many doctors will have entered the profession when abortion was illegal. The whole nature of their job has now totally changed and the authors of this research say they should simply change with the profession.”

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.