Abortion Q&A: Everything you need to know from service availability to conscientious objection

Health correspondent Catherine Shanahan answers all the pressing questions concerning the abortion legislation

Q: When will abortion be legally available in Ireland?

A: In theory, from January 1, 2019. The new law will provide for a termination where there a risk to the life or serious harm to the health of a pregnant woman; where there is a fatal foetal abnormality; or where the pregnancy has not gone beyond 12 weeks.

However, until new legislation is enacted - it’s currently working its way through the Oireachtas - there is no change to the current legal situation. Abortion remains illegal here except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. This includes a risk arising from threat of suicide.

Q: Will every GP have to provide this service once the law is passed?

A: No. There is no mandatory requirement on GPs to provide the service. This is an “opt-in” service, ie those who wish to and are trained to provide the service can do so.

Q: How will the “opt-in” system work?

A: A woman who wishes to access abortion services can contact a 24 hour help line with suitably qualified staff who can direct her to providers who have opted in, as well as provide access to non-directive counselling and provide clinical triage for complications.

Q: Who will run the helpline and will it operate 24/7?

A: The helpline will be staffed by clinically qualified personnel, based in Ireland. One Family won a contract to provide the telephone counselling service for Crisis Pregnancy and Post-Abortion, due to start in 2019.

However, this was a 20-hour per week contract based on counselling only. It’s currently not clear if the contract has been expanded or if more agencies will be contracted.

The HSE will advertise the number for the helpline via social media, a dedicated website and in a national communications campaign.

Q: Conscientious objection (CO) is mentioned a lot in relation to doctors who do not want to take part in an abortion service. What does it mean?

A: According to Medical Council guidelines, currently under revision, a doctor can refuse to provide or to take part in the provision of lawful treatments or forms of care which conflict with sincerely held ethical or moral values.

However, the guidelines say doctors who do have a CO must inform the patient that they have a right to seek treatment from another doctor; and give the patient enough information to enable them to transfer to another doctor to get the treatment they want. Some doctors are objecting to having any 'hand, act or part' in the abortion process, including having to make a referral to another doctor.

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