Stephen Donnelly asked to explain 'confusing and contradictory' messages on abortion review

Stephen Donnelly asked to explain 'confusing and contradictory' messages on abortion review

Orla O’Connor, National Women's Council director, said significant legal changes and practice improvements were required if the Termination of Pregnancy Act is to guarantee equitable, accessible and legal abortion for all in need. File picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The Abortion Working Group has written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly raising serious concerns over "confusing and contradictory" messages on the legally mandated abortion review.

The group, which is chaired by the National Women’s Council (NWC), said this review was announced last March, however, there is still a lack of clarity regarding the timeline or scope of the work.

Under section 7 of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act, a review of the law, which was introduced in the wake of the historic referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, must be initiated by January 2022.

The group has called on Mr Donnelly to publicly announce the independent chair and the panel of experts, including service users, providers and reproductive rights advocates, who will govern this process.

They want the terms of reference of the review published on the Department of Health website.

Finally, the letter asks Mr Donnelly to provide a clear timeline for the review duration.

In its letter, the group says that when questioned on this process in the Dáil on November 9, Taoiseach Micheál Martin appeared to have "little knowledge" of it.

"As a group of organisations working with often vulnerable service-users, we see first-hand the reality of ongoing barriers to abortion care," the letter states.

Orla O’Connor, NWC director, said significant legal changes and practice improvements were required if the Termination of Pregnancy Act is to guarantee equitable, accessible and legal abortion for all in need.

"This can only be achieved by having a robust, human-rights based review of abortion law, policy and practice, grounded in lived experience. It is critical that we have clarity around the review timelines, terms of reference and independent chair, without further delay.”

Separately, Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said Mr Donnelly first informed the Cabinet he was commencing a review of the law back in March.

"It is deeply concerning that, eight months later, this review has yet to begin," she said.

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