Cabinet reviewing four options on abortion decisions

The Government could explore four separate options on new abortion laws, including one in which responsibility for decisions could be taken by the Medical Council.

In light of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway and a global focus on Ireland’s abortion laws in the aftermath of the case, senior members of Government are now reviewing recommendations made in a report by the expert group, which was convened in light of the ABC case.

The death of Ms Halappanavar has brought the issue into sharp focus and has raised the possibility of differences within government — and Fine Gael — on how to proceed.

One option would be to delegate powers to the Medical Council and the HSE, thereby avoiding the need for primary legislation. This would mean that any decision would be taken on purely medical grounds and in consultation with the patient.

In cases where a woman was refused a termination she could appeal that decision to a panel of experts.

Another possibility is the selection of designated hospitals where terminations could be carried out, while an option also being considered is having two senior doctors signing off on an abortion.

It was reported yesterday that in cases where a woman claims to be suicidal, a psychiatrist would be required to carry out an assessment with the woman being able to use the appeals process in the event of her request being turned down.

Labour has said it wants to legislate on the X case, which would mean primary legislation would be needed.

There are differences of opinion within Fine Gael on the issue of abortion, prompting speculation that any way of avoiding the need for primary legislation — such as passing the issue over to the Medical Council — might be actively considered.

However, there are also doubts over whether that option, requiring secondary legislation, might be open to a legal challenge.

Ireland has until Nov 30 to respond to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) ruling on the ABC case which prompted the formation of the expert group and which was itself critical of Ireland’s current laws relating to abortion.

The report by the expert group, which is chaired by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, has only recently been made available to some senior members of the Government but is expected to be brought to Cabinet on Tuesday week.

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