Government not putting review of abortion law on ‘long finger’, Dáil told

Immediate priority must be to expand availability of termination in hospitals and tackling ‘uneven geographic spread’ of GPs providing services, Tánaiste says

The Government is not putting a review into the State’s abortion law on the “long finger”, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin said the “immediate priority” must be to expand the availability of termination services in hospitals and tackling the “uneven geographic spread” of GPs providing services.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, the Tánaiste also said his understanding was that the number of maternity hospitals currently providing termination services, 11 out of 19 in the country, would increase significantly by the autumn.

A report from barrister Marie O’Shea 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.


People Before Profit tabled a Bill in the Dáil on Thursday evening to give effect to many of the recommendations, but the Government tabled a one-year timed amendment on it, effectively stalling its progress through the Oireachtas for 12 months. A Dáil vote on the amendment will take place next week.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said more than 200 people a year were still forced to travel to access abortion services, with “many more” taking abortion pills illegally, without proper medical supervision.

Ms Smith said it didn’t make sense for a review to be commissioned and then “not look at it”.

“You’re attempting to kick for touch, to give cover to those in the Cabinet and those in the parties across the House who do not want to touch this issue, who never wanted to touch it, but were dragged kicking and screaming by a mass movement from below,” she told the Tánaiste.

Mr Martin said the report was being referred to the Oireachtas health committee and the legislative aspects of it needed examination.

The Fianna Fáil leader said the significant operational recommendations made were now being progressed by the Health Service Executive.

“The issues in the report itself deserve significant, substantive and informed consideration by the Oireachtas before legislative proposals are contemplated. I think that’s fair. I think it’s in line with how we handled this issue prior to it going to the [2018 repeal] referendum itself,” he said.

“In my view, the immediate priority must be to expand the availability of termination services in hospitals and then the uneven geographic spread of GPs providing the service.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the proposed legislative changes required “careful consideration and careful discussion”.

Mr Donnelly said the Oireachtas health committee was an appropriate forum to consider the recommendations. The Fianna Fáil TD said he hoped that 17 out of 19 maternity hospitals would provide abortion services by the end of the year.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman David Cullinane said the report’s recommendations “stand on their own two feet” and it was for the Government to decide whether or not they would implement the changes.

“We cannot kick the can down the road and expect the Oireachtas health committee to repeat a process which has already happened,” he said.

“I believe that would undermine the work of the independent review which has already been done ... Different groups and different parties will have their views on each of the different policy and legislative recommendations, as my party does. But ultimately right now, it is for Government to act and they should act.”

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the review “shocked most people in society” and was “devoid” of humanity and compassion.

“In many ways, the review reads like a checklist for abortion campaigners, and obviously has been welcomed wholeheartedly in this chamber by pro-abortion political parties,” he said.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said it was “disturbing to see” that only 11 out of 19 maternity hospitals were providing abortion services, which was “a real shortfall”.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times