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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Abortion law comes into effect - without guidelines

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

Published 01/01/2014 | 02:30

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Taoiseach  Enda Kenny,TD and Health Minister Dr.James Reilly,TD at  the media briefing  at Government Buildings  following the publication of  The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013. Pic Tom Burke 1/5/13
Taoiseach Enda Kenny,TD and Health Minister Dr.James Reilly

THE law allowing abortion in limited circumstances comes into effect today, despite clinical guidelines for doctors not yet being in place.

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Health Minister James Reilly said the debate on abortion would continue but the Coalition would not be taking any further measures.

Dr Reilly also stood over his controversial commitment two years ago to take action in the area -- before an expert group recommended the introduction of legislation.

Although passed in the summer, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill 2013 only comes into effect today.

Dr Reilly said the lack of guidelines does not affect the legislation coming into effect.

"The panels are sorted out. All that is done. The HSE are ready. The one outstanding issue is the clinical guidelines, which are not complete," he told the Irish Independent.

"But it would never be a case that you could have the legislation pending on completion of clinical guidelines, which are a matter for clinicians and totally out of our control.

"There will be clinical guidelines for obstetricians from the Institute of Obstetricians and for psychiatrists from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

"The whole lot will have to sit under the Medical Council. But I have no doubt that they will.

"I am told they are very near completion -- very early in the New Year. But the Act is set to commence on the first of January 2014," he added.

Dr Reilly said abortions can be carried out without the guidelines. "You can. Absolutely. Totally. The most important thing you need is the panel of experts to review an appeal case," he said.

Under the legislation passed in July, there are varying circumstances under which an abortion can be carried out.

Where the mother's life is deemed to be at risk, one doctor can make a decision.

However, in the case of a substantial risk to a woman's life arising from suicide, the assessment involves three specialists; one obstetrician/gynaecologist and two psychiatrists.

Dr Reilly said he regrets losing five Fine Gael TDs and two senators over the legislation. But he stands over the decision to pass the legislation -- and his statement two years ago that the Government would act.

"This is a hugely emotive issue that has divided Irish society and has been avoided by several governments. And I did undertake in the Dail early on that we wouldn't be the seventh government to leave it behind us," he said.

DEBATE

He said the passing of the legislation will be the Coalition's last act in this area.

"It's the end of it in terms of our commitment to legislate during the lifetime of this Government. That's the end of that.

"I wouldn't say it's the end of it by a long shot in terms of the debate and the discussion that will continue," he said.

Dr Reilly said he believes the manner in which there was widespread consultation on the legislation, with lengthy Oireachtas committee hearings, will be replicated in the future.

"I think the fact the heads (draft legislation) came to be discussed first. This has become now the standard for many bills because I think it was very helpful," he said.

Irish Independent

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