Wednesday 21 March 2018

Free contraceptive pills and condoms will be offered to 'prevent crisis pregnancies'

Health Minister outlined his policy should the Eighth be repealed

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath

Shona Murray

The Government is examining funding free contraceptive pills and condoms as part of its package of measures to reduce crisis pregnancies.

Health Minister Simon Harris was outlining his policy statement on the type of abortion services that would be provided should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.

The minister kicked off the Dáil debate on the abortion referendum, making the final steps before a vote on the Eighth Amendment, to take place at the end of May.

He said he was considering the ancillary recommendations from the Oireachtas Committee which called for free access to contraception as a way of keeping the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions low.

It made recommendations focusing on decriminalising women, free access to contraception, comprehensive sex education, and obstetric care and counselling.

"These recommendations are extremely important to me as Minister for Health and to my commitment to ensuring that all women accessing maternity services should receive the same standard of safe, high-quality care," he said.

"If our underlying principle is that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, then we must do all we can to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and to support women in every way," he added.

Mr Harris announced that he has asked the chief medical officer to look into the feasibility, and in particular the cost, of a State-run contraception service.

Read More: Taoiseach warns of 'realistic possibility' that some TDs will try to thwart Eighth bill

"Work is under way to consider the nature and scope of a free contraception service and what the introduction of such a service would involve," he told the Dáil.

"I have established a group, under the chairmanship of the chief medical officer, to address the recommendations and formulate an effective and comprehensive response."

He said he will return to the matter within a month and present the findings to the Dáil.

According to the minister, preparatory research into this policy has established that the provision of free access to contraception, which is currently limited to those with medical cards only, would require new legislation.

It is also yet to be decided whether terminations will be free, as access is due to be facilitated - for the most part - through the use of abortion tablets.

The Government is yet to establish exactly how it will provide its abortion services to women.

The policy paper, published and read to the Dáil by the minister, concentrated mainly on the circumstances where an abortion would be lawful, as opposed to the full detail of how it would be rolled out.

If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, women will be able to have an abortion up to 12 weeks gestation regulated through a GP-led service.

GPs and other health practitioners will be licensed to prescribe the abortion pill.

A woman will be obliged to wait 48-72 hours before a termination can take place.

This "consideration period" will begin from the first meeting with the woman's GP or healthcare practitioner.

Calling for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Mr Harris referred to the nine women a day that travel for an abortion from Ireland.

"No matter what her circumstances, she cannot access the care she needs in her own country."

Irish Independent

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