The Seanad has passed the second stage of the Government's controversial abortion legislation by 27 votes to 3.
The Upper House is due to sit on Monday especially to try to pass the Bill's remaining stages in order to enable abortion services to be in place by January 1.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the Bill delivers on the will of the Irish people as expressed in last May's referendum, where two-thirds of the electorate voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment:
“We have our rights and they have their rights so we need to make sure that we pass this legislation in as swift a manner as possible so that we can move forward to a future where any woman facing a crisis pregnancy can be assured that she will be treated with compassion, in a non-judgemental way and will be able to access all of the care that she and perhaps her family need in this country, supported by those who love them."
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill moved to the Seanad after it passed through the Dáil late on Wednesday night, where it was passed by 90 votes to 15 with 12 abstentions. The new law will legalise free access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation.
A number of senators, who are in favour of abortion being legalised, expressed concern at how the 12-week time limit and the three-day waiting period are treated in law. Senator Alice Mary Higgins said: “I worry how the 12 -week period may be interpreted. We don't want a situation that intrusive medical practices are happening simply because doctors are worried. Clarity is attached by guidance and good faith."
Independent Trinity College Senator, David Norris, said the three-day waiting period is “daft” and is not needed. He said the legislation is rushed: “For an issue as important as this we need proper consideration.”
He said the decision to use GP practices to handle cases of abortion is a mistake, insisting that dedicated abortion clinics are a much better way to deal with them. He said forcing GP doctors who have objections to abortion to refer women to other doctors is problematic.
Senator Norris paid tribute to Ivana Bacik for bravely and courageously championing this issue 30 years ago as a student when it was not a popular topic.
In the Seanad, despite repeated requests from supporters of the bill for people not to filibuster, those opposing the proposal criticised attempts to rush it through the Oireachtas.
Senator Ronan Mullen said the frightening truth of this bill is that it will end the lives of unborn children: “I firmly believe the referendum and this legislation are decisions which will be rued by future generations. It is truly frightening. This legislation does what it says on the tin. It ends lives of unborn children, it is a situation beyond tears."
“It is a strange world where healthcare involves the deliberate ending of life, it is another example of the banality of evil,” he added.
He hit out at that fact that €12m a year has been earmarked to fund abortions, saying no other elective procedure is fully funded by the State.
TDs also voted down proposed amendments which would seek to set down in law what information a doctor would have to give to a woman before she could access a termination.
The bill has been passed by the Seanad. The Upper House will sit especially on Monday to further debate the bill in the hope to pass it in time to allow services commence on January 1.
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill passed by 90 votes to 15 with 12 abstentions.
The bill passed second stage in the Seanad by 27 votes to 3.
The bill will then go to President Michael D Higgins to be signed into law.
The bill provides for the legal termination of an unborn baby for up to 12 weeks in all cases where requested and in certain cases beyond that. The bill calls for a 3-day waiting period before it can occur, a measure which has been strongly criticised. GP doctors who have conscientious objections to providing abortion services will not be forced to do so.
Simon Harris has asked the Secretary General of the Department of Health to issue a notification to the deputy director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE) stating the service should be available in all 19 maternity units from the outset and has sought plans from each hospital group to have plans in place for January 1.
Mr Harris also confirmed that a plan has been finalised for the provision of the 24/7 Helpline from the same date.
The HSE is also providing resources to enable the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to invite the WHO to provide one week of sessions on values clarifications in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.
Educational sessions will commence on December 10 and will be made available to all staff who will be providing a termination of pregnancy service from January 1, across community and hospital settings.