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200 GPs sign up to provide abortion but four counties still without a service after first week

'Safe access zones' listed as a legislative priority for the next Dail term

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Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Fergal Phillips

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Fergal Phillips

Fergal Phillips

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There has been a 'steady stream' of contacts from women seeking abortion services since termination of pregnancy became legal for the first time in Ireland on January 1, as more GPs continue signing up to provide services, according to the HSE.

Yesterday it was reported that, so far, no GPs in Sligo, Leitrim, Carlow and Offaly have signed up to the new service.

At the end of the first week since abortion became legal, the number of GPs who have agreed to perform medical abortions has risen to 200, from 187 last Wednesday.

The HSE's 'My Options' free helpline and website service, which provides information and support for those affected by crisis pregnancies, has received a steady stream of calls since January 1. The HSE does not provide details of GPs or clinics who provide abortion on its website, but offers this information to women who request it through the helpline.

One doctor, who signed up to provide termination of pregnancy services, saw five women in one day last week who were seeking an abortion.

It is understood that less than 170 GPs signed up to provide abortion services in time for the January 1 launch date, which represents about 5pc of the country's total GP population of approximately 3,500.

However, more GPs and clinics are signing up daily to provide abortion services. GPs are legally entitled to provide medical (pills) abortions up to nine weeks, while abortions for women with a pregnancy between nine and 12 weeks, those with fatal foetal abnormalities and the other limited indications, are dealt with (surgically) by the maternity units. Not all maternity units were ready to provide services last week, but all are expected to have services in place during the coming weeks.

The HSE has stressed that for those seeking information on abortion services, the correct contact details are www.MyOptions.ie, which is part of the HSE website, and the official My Options helpline is 1800 828 010.

This follows a number of websites and ads from rogue pregnancy agencies appearing in search results and social media under variations of the HSE's My Options banner.

Meanwhile, following anti-abortion protests outside a medical clinic in Galway last week, there were renewed calls for the introduction of 'exclusion zones' to ban such protests and harassment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told the Sunday Independent that the Minister for Health has listed 'safe access zones' as a legislative priority for the next Dail term.

Draft proposals aim to ensure that patients and staff can enter such premises without fear of intimidation or harassment, and without being subject to unwanted communications including oral, written or visual displays.

It was intended to provide these protections in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 but a number of issues were identified during the drafting process so a separate companion piece of legislation was deemed necessary. "Work on this legislation will be concluded as soon as possible," the Department said.

The HSE is also preparing for the initial expansion of free access to condoms for the public, as part of the Government's commitment to help reduce unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Department of Health has a working group looking at how to increase and provide comprehensive access to contraception to reduce crisis pregnancies.

Pharmacists have previously indicated their desire to be able to provide free condoms and to have legislation introduced to allow them to dispense the pill without prescription. GPs have called for funding to allow them to provide free long-acting reversible contraception such as the coil or implants.

The HSE has budgeted €12m for termination of pregnancy services in 2019.

Sunday Independent