HSE to help women find doctors who provide abortion services

Committee chair Dr Michael Harty

A new HSE helpline will provide women seeking terminations with the names of doctors in their locality who provide abortion services.

The helpline which is being set up in tandem with the rollout of abortion services after the passing of the historic referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, will provide advice on options and support to women.

Meanwhile the health committee is to begin examining over 180 amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 from today.

Three days have been set aside to go through each of the amendments which range from simple changes in the wording, to a provision to give women the option of hearing a foetus’s heartbeat prior to termination, to provision to allow women from Northern Ireland access services here.

However, committee chair Dr Michael Harty said discussions may run into second week given the numbers of amendments and fractious views on the issue.

There are a lot of amendments, many of them are repaticious and will fall others are accepted.

He said there are three main areas — the three-day waiting period, conscientious objection and late-term abortions — which have been the focus of the majority of amendments on both sides.

The bill allows medics who have a conscientious objection to providing terminations to opt out.

It is intended that the helpline would address this as it would provide women with information on doctors in their locality who provide abortion services. However, doctors would first have to agree to have their details given out by those manning the helpline.

The free helpline will be operated on a 24/7 basis by counsellors and midwives who will be working to agreed protocols of care.

It is understood counselling will be provided over the phone or in person if required. Women would also be able to get support through the helpline if they experience any issues after a termination.

Health Minister Simon Harris is to attend the committee today. He is expected to table an amendment which would allow the law to be reviewed after five years.

Committee member Louise O’Reilly said the legislation will have only served its purpose if the number of women travelling abroad for terminations or ordering abortion pills over the internet goes down. She said she hopes a number of the amendments which are similar can be combined to ensure the legislation can pass committee stage as soon as possible.

Mr Harris has also indicated he will put down a separate amendment at report stage to address the concerns of doctors around the three-day wait period stipulated in the legislation. Medics, especially those working in hospitals, had pointed out possible difficulties around a women having to return to the same doctor after three days to seek a termination.

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