Abortion training to begin next week

Training for staff who will be performing abortions is to begin on December 10, even though the legislation has not passed the Oireachtas.

The “educational sessions” will commence next week for all the staff who will be terminating pregnancies from January 1, across community and hospital settings.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he needs the cooperation of opposition TDs to ensure abortion legislation passes to allow new services by January 1.

Because of what the minister on Sunday described as “filibustering” by opposition TDs in the Dáil, there is growing concern that the necessary legislation to give effect to last May’s referendum result will not pass in time.

He said that while TDs who object to the bill have a right to table amendments and to speak on the bill, they must “balance” that right with their duty to respect the will of the people.

“Substantially, it is the same as what we published in March. Of course, TDs have a right to put down amendments and to speak, but when you know today that nine women will leave the country and three women will take an abortion pill, you have to balance your rights as a TD with your duty,” he said.

“I really hope not; in theory, it is possible. I gave a commitment to see this in place by January.

“That is still my position. I do need the cooperation of the opposition,” he said.

Mr Harris pointed to the fact that Solidarity TDs have given up their private members’ time this week to allow the abortion legislation to progress, but Fianna Fáil has refused to sacrifice its time.

Mr Harris said it is “entirely hypocritical” for opposition TDs to criticise the slow passage of legislation, but do nothing to quicken the process.

Mr Harris said he hopes the legislation will pass the Dáil this week and move to the Seanad before the Oireachtas rises for Christmas.

“My plan is to get it through the Dáil this week, then to go to the Seanad, and it is possible to get it passed by the time of the recesss. I am one person in a minority government. I need the cooperation of the opposition,” he said.

This week, much of the focus in the Dáil will be on the ability of doctors who have a conscientious objection to opt out of offering abortion services.

“This is likely to be the slowest part, the area where a lot of TDs are likely to want to speak, especially Fianna Fáilers who want to be able to go on their local radios and say they defended the doctors,” one government source said.

Behind the scenes, the secretary general of the Department of Health has issued a notification to the deputy director general of the Health Service Executive, stating the service should be available in all 19 maternity units from the outset and has sought plans from each hospital group to have plans in place for that date.

Mr Harris also confirmed that a plan has been finalised for the provision of the 24/7 abortion helpline from January 1.

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