Thursday 19 April 2018

Women having abortions in cases of Down syndrome are not doing so lightly: Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Women who have an abortion on the grounds their child will be born with Down syndrome are "not doing it lightly," Health Minister Simon Harris has insisted.

He was speaking as figures showed 83 women travelled to Britain over two years to terminate their pregnancies after 24 weeks gestation following a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Mr Harris also said he accepted his "colleague and friend" Simon Coveney supported repeal of the Eighth Amendment but cannot back 12 weeks' unrestricted access to abortion. "You know what? That's OK. That's his decision," he said.

Earlier this week, the Health Minister said it was "offensive to suggest women in Ireland are seeking abortions on the grounds their babies will be born with disabilities like Down syndrome". Asked yesterday if he was shocked at the figure of 83 such abortions, he said: "I am not shocked by it at all."

It was wrong for others to put themselves in the shoes of a woman who has an abortion and pretend to know what is going on in her life or her mind and heart, he said.

"I acknowledge that 3,265 women travelled for an abortion in Britain from every county in Ireland in 2016," he added.

"Over 170,000 women have travelled from this country to other countries since the 1980s when the Irish people put in a Constitutional prohibition to stop abortion in Ireland. It has not stopped abortion."

Asked about the uncertainty among several of his Cabinet colleagues and many members of the public about proposals to allow unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, he said disability would not be a grounds for termination.

"What is a reality today is that Irish women through the abortion pill and travelling abroad can access abortions."

Before the legislation becomes "even hypothetical" the Irish people must decide if they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment, he added.

He will show the public the draft legislation that could follow repeal. "That law would have to go through the same scrutiny and debate as any other law," said Mr Harris.

He agreed with parents of children with Down syndrome that it was "grossly offensive" to make it part of the abortion debate.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that growing numbers of women with crisis pregnancies are shunning HSE-funded free counselling and going straight to the internet to access information on abortion services.

The number of women availing of the counselling, which includes information on all options, has fallen from 4,662 in 2010 to 2,750 in 2016.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News