Government planning system of free contraception after referendum

The Government will introduce a free contraception system after the referendum on the Eighth Amendment in a bid to revolutionise Ireland’s sex education and sexual health regime.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed the plans will be published next month as he insisted the potential removal of the Eighth Amendment will herald a “quantum leap” forward in Ireland’s abortion and sexual health laws.

Speaking during a Dáil debates on the referendum bill governing the upcoming vote, Mr Harris said an internal Department of Health group is examining the “nature and scope” of a free contraception system.

He said the group is considering how to provide and fund the service, which was called for in the findings by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, and will reveal its plan early next month.

Mr Harris’s comments came as he led calls to repeal the Eighth Amendment and support proposed laws to allow abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

At the start of the six-hour debate, Mr Harris said TDs thinking why they are unexpectedly sitting in the Dáil on a Friday should instead think of a woman waiting “in the ports and airports”.

“She might be sitting quietly next to the hen party, the businessman or woman, the honeymooners, seeming to be on a similar journey. But she’s not. Her journey is a lonely one,” he said.

His view was repeated by all but three of the 28 speakers, with Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher adding: “Nobody can deny this is happening.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Ireland of the Eighth Amendment “is gone and good riddance”. Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said the current law is “misogynistic” and “forced birthing”.

Labour TD Jan O Sullivan urged those opposed to any change to examine what this means for those affected, while Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy referred to the Christmas 2014 case of a “decomposing” clinically dead pregnant woman kept alive on life support to question “what country are we”.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said up to 40 women were unable to travel abroad for abortions last week due to the snow storms she called “an act of God”, and warned that unless the law changes, Ireland will remain a “barbed-wire prison for women to do the laundry”, a reference to magdalene laundries.

Three of the 28 TDs who spoke said the Eighth Amendment should be retained.

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick said abortion involves the end of a life, while Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keeffe said the bill was being “rushed”.

In a 20-minute speech, Independent TD Mattie McGrath claimed this week’s Supreme Court decision was “a flagrant abuse of power”, accused the Citizens’ Assembly of being a “stitch-up”, and told pro-choice TDs “the people are waiting in their houses for you”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle will meet on March 19 to decide whether it can hold an ard fheis before the referendum to support the proposed 12th week law. The discussion has been demanded by Sinn Féin TDs, who have privately criticised new leader Mary Lou McDonald for saying the change could be delayed for “logistical” reasons.

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