Deliberations on abortion law reform may speed up, Varadkar signals

Oireachtas committee may now ‘consider legislative changes’ rather than wait to examine independent report

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled that any potential legislative changes to the State’s abortion law may happen more quickly due to the passage of a People Before Profit (PBP) Bill.

The PBP Bill, which passed second stage in the Dáil on Wednesday evening, provides that the three-day wait to access abortion medication would be removed, fully decriminalises abortion and removes the existing 14-year prison sentence that applies to medical professionals if they perform abortions outside the law.

Government TDs were given a free vote on the Bill, which was put forward by PBP TD Brid Smith, and was passed by 67-64. There were eight abstentions.

The PBP Bill will now be further examined at committee stage.


Speaking in Moldova on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said the Government’s intention was to allow the Oireachtas Health Committee to consider the independent report from barrister Marie O’Shea before “looking at any particular legislation changes”.

“The vote in the Dáil now changes that. It is now possible for the [Oireachtas] health committee to both look at Ms O’Shea’s report and also at the same time, consider legislative changes because Deputy Smith’s Bill has now passed second stage,” Mr Varadkar said.

“So that’s what will now happen. It’s a big job of work, both for Deputy Smith and for the committee and the committee members to do, but that is how democracy works and that is what parliamentarians are for.”

Ms O’Shea’s report has recommended sweeping changes including the removal of the three-day reflection period for women seeking abortion, the decriminalisation of doctors who fail to adhere to current legislation and potential changes to the granting of abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The Taoiseach also said the State was “always at risk of legal challenges, no matter what our laws are on abortion”.

“That’s the nature of how democracy works,” he said. “I think the risk is there, whether we act or whether we don’t and even if we did act, I think there’s also risks. I think that’s a statement of fact.”

During Wednesday’s health committee session, Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said he believed there would be a legal challenge against what was proposed by Ms O’Shea’s review.

“It will be decided on the basis of whether or not this changes the legislation,” he said of any challenge. “So I would say caution, be careful. Let’s try to make sure that we make available the services that were envisaged in all such situations and circumstances before we start to change it.”

Mr Durkan said he was making the comment as a “politician who has to go before the electorate every so often”.

Ms O’Shea said that, on the contrary, failing to implement the changes she has recommended could result in legal challenges and the taoiseach of the day potentially issuing a fresh apology to women.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times