Barrister appointed to review country's abortion laws

Barrister appointed to review country's abortion laws

A protest outside the GPO in Dublin over abortion laws in Texas, US. Ireland's abortion laws are now set for review. Picture: Sam Boal/

Barrister Marie O'Shea is to head up a review of abortion laws in this country.

As independent chair of the review, Ms O'Shea has been asked to examine the legislation introduced after the historic referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and report back to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly later this year.

The minister published the terms of reference of the review before Christmas but told the Oireachtas Health Committee that the process of seeking a chair would have to go through the public appointments service.

Campaigners and opposition TDs had been highly critical of the fact that the review had been established without a chair in place.

In December, the Abortion Working Group, chaired by the National Women’s Council, called on Mr Donnelly to immediately announce a chair as without it they claimed there would be no independent oversight of the initial stage of the work.

It is understood Ms O'Shea, who has also conducted research projects at the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, will work with an advisory group as part of the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act.

Two-stage review

The current abortion laws will be reviewed in two phases.

The first stage, which got underway at the end of last year, is seeking the views and experiences of women who have used the service and health professionals who provide termination of pregnancy services. Information and evidence on the effectiveness and operation of the act will also be gathered.

The second phase, which will be led by Ms O'Shea, will assess the extent to which the objectives of the act have been achieved.

However, campaigners have previously raised significant issues with the implementation of the legislation as well as continued lack of access for some women.

Of the 19 maternity hospitals across Ireland, just 10 now provide full abortion services.

Campaigners have also highlighted issues with some aspects of the current laws, including the mandatory three-day waiting period and the lack of safe access zones around maternity hospitals and healthcare practices offering services.

Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association, called for full decriminalisation of abortion services here.

Despite abortion being legalised in 2018, many Irish women and girls are still having to travel to the UK for terminations, with more than 190 going to the UK in 2020 for abortion services.

“There’s a number of areas that need change. The most urgent and the most important for us right at the moment is the 12-week limit, which is excluding women from abortion care," he said.

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