Taoiseach says abortion legislation review requires ‘careful consideration’

Women’s doctors and human rights groups say women still being ‘forced to travel’ for abortions despite legislation

Reviewing Ireland’s current abortion legislation requires “careful consideration”, Taoiseach Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris said he was awaiting proposals from the Minister for Health and in his new role as Taoiseach didn’t intend to “wade straight in”.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, the Fine Gael leader would not disclose whether he was in favour of scrapping the three-day waiting period for an abortion.

In an open letter to the Taoiseach, a coalition of women’s doctors and human rights groups said women with crisis pregnancies were still being “forced to travel” for abortions abroad despite legislation being introduced here.


They have called for “urgent action by Government” to ensure the recommendations in a report, published last year, by barrister Marie O’Shea – who reviewed the operation of the 2018 Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act – are implemented.

The report recommended widespread changes, including the decriminalisation of doctors, the removal of the mandatory three-day waiting period to access termination medication, new guidelines on conscientious objection and the reconsideration of the rules around accessing an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The Oireachtas Health Committee examined the proposed legislative changes and has produced its own report with recommendations.

“In relation to the review of abortion services, of course I have personal views, but I’m not here personally, I’m here as the Taoiseach of a country of 5.3 million people,” Mr Harris said.

“I want to await the views of the Minister for Health and his department when they come forward to Cabinet and I also want to try to approach this issue in terms of trying to respect the diversity of views and bring forward consensus insofar as possible.”

Mr Harris said he was also very conscious that commitments made by politicians before the electorate mattered. “We had a very significant debate in this country, unlike other referenda, we published legislation. We told the Irish people if you vote yes, this is what it will mean,” he said.

“Of course we also put in, and I was the minister who put this in the legislation, a review clause for this very reason so that people will continue to check their services [are] working as planned, you know, are things going as was intended.

“I do think they need to be given consideration but that is the balance. The Irish people were given the assurance that if they vote for this, this is legislation you will get and then obviously there’s a review alongside that so I think this requires careful consideration.”

RTÉ Investigates is due to air a programme on the State’s provision of abortion services on Monday evening. In an interview with the programme, Ms O’Shea has called on Government to prioritise ongoing issues with the legislation, saying vulnerable women who continue to be forced abroad for terminations were being treated like “criminals”.

When questioned, Mr Harris said he would watch the programme and that “of course” he didn’t want women to feel like criminals.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, provides abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks’ gestation, subject to a three-day waiting period.

Terminations are also permitted after 12 weeks if there is a risk to the life or health of the mother or in cases where it is judged the foetus will die before, or within, 28 days of birth.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times