Legislation to make later-term abortions unlawful

The Government is to move to make later-term abortions unlawful as part of any legislation that would replace the Eighth Amendment.

Health Minister Simon Harris is to bring a proposed general scheme of the bill, which would replace the Eighth Amendment if the upcoming referendum passes, to Cabinet tomorrow.

Among the other details expected to be contained in the bill would be a defined “cooling-off” period between requesting an abortion and getting one. This is likely to be around two or three days.

While abortion would be allowed up to the 12th week of pregnancy, after that terminations would only be carried out in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, where there is a serious risk to the health of the mother, or in emergency cases.

However, the viability of the foetus would be assessed and would have to be agreed by two doctors, one of whom would be an obstetrician or gynaecologist.

If viability is established and the pregnancy is to be ended on health grounds then it would be done through early delivery and not termination, with a full medical team on hand.

Where a termination is carried out, the two doctors would be required to certify that not only is there is a risk to the life or serious harm to the health of the woman, but crucially, that the foetus has not reached viability.

This clause would make laws more restrictive here than in the UK, as this prohibition does not exist in Britain.

It comes as the latest polls indicate that the result of a referendum could be much closer than expected.

The Yes campaign has seen its lead slip, with a 10-point swing against the proposal to let the Oireachtas legislate for abortion by repealing the Eighth Amendment.

The Sunday Business Post/Red C poll showed numbers who favour repeal have dropped by four points from 60% in January to 56%.

The number of voters opposed to repeal increased by six points, from 20% to 26% in the same period.

Mr Harris is also expected to bring details on ancillary recommendations made by the abortion committee, which include increased access to contraception, sex and relationship education, counselling, and perinatal care. Mr Harris has been in discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure about funding these additional services, especially contraception.

The committee which examined the Eighth Amendment recommended the “introduction of a scheme for the provision of the most effective method of contraception, free of charge”. This is expected to be done in two phases, with free barrier contraception such as condoms introduced first. This would be less expensive than giving free access to other contraceptives such as the pill, which would require legislation.

It is understood that Mr Harris has been pushing to have this first phase introduced this year, instead of waiting for funding under Budget 2019.


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