Simon Harris may fast-track abortion law

Health Minister Simon Harris

Decriminalising women who seek to have abortions is one of the items Health Minister Simon Harris is looking at fast-tracking into law, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

One of the options being considered is staggering the introduction of elements of the bill.

It is believed that while legislating for access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy is the most complex element of what is proposed and will require some time, other items being proposed, such as the decriminalisation of women who access abortions, are less so and could be brought into law before the end of the year.

Mr Harris committed to introducing the legislation into the Dáil by the summer recess, despite misgivings being expressed within Government about that deadline.

Having met senior officials yesterday, Mr Harris will tell Cabinet today that he expects the legislation to be published within six weeks. He intends to also meet Opposition and other stakeholders this week.

Along with the legislation, there are important things that need to progress at the same time, such as the regulation of abortion pills and development of clinical guidelines.

The Department of Health has already requested a meeting with relevant medical colleges tomorrow.

Mr Harris is determined to move quickly but also to get the legislation right and have a safe service for women.

He intends to bring the legislation into the Oireachtas before the summer recess and is confident we can complete all the necessary steps this year,” said Mr Harris’s spokeswoman.

Introduction of a new abortion regime is not contingent on the agreement of a new GP deal, the Government has also insisted.

The curent act retains the criminalisation of abortion in Ireland and permits abortion only where there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman.

Employment Minister Regina Doherty confirmed that repealing the 1995 law on doctors sharing information could be an interim measure. This measure would be discussed by Cabinet today, she said.

Ms Doherty also said that she backed proposals to give out free contraception for people from the age of 18 in order to prevent crisis pregnancies

The Fine Gael minister told RTÉ that while doctors would be entitled to a conscientious objection on treating women seeking abortion, it “would be unkind” if medical professionals did not help a woman in a crisis situation.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil is to engage in a troubled internal debate as a party after claims it lacked “leadership” during the abortion referendum which saw significant numbers of senators and TDs oppose proposed reforms.

The bruising result for pro-life parliamentary party members will be debated today when leader Micheál Martin meets his frontbench.

Limerick County TD Niall Collins lashed out at his own party yesterday, saying the no position during the campaign was a “huge concern” and elected officials lacked leadership.

“You don’t win elections approaching big issues in the manner that has played out,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime.

Some 31 Fianna Fáil TDs and senators backed a no vote in the referendum.

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