Thursday 14 November 2019

Abortion law will provide for '24-7' phoneline to advise women

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Eilish O'Regan and Louise Roseingrave

A medically staffed national telephone helpline will be available to women on a 24-7 basis once the new abortion legislation is in place, Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday.

The minister, who was before the Dáil, was moving the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill which will provide wider abortion services following the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. He described it as a "historic day". "This history was made on streets, in homes and in ballot boxes across this country," he said.

The legislation allows for termination to be carried out in cases where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman.

It also provides for termination in cases of a diagnosed fatal foetal abnormality.

Abortion will be unrestricted up to 12 weeks.

Commenting on the three-day wait which is mandatory from the point a GP certifies an abortion to carrying it out, Mr Harris said the provision was not unique to Ireland.

"This requirement is not unusual. Several countries in Europe, including Belgium and Germany, have similar provisions," he told the Dáil.

His officials and the HSE are collaborating on developing a comprehensive plan for communicating with the general public and with stakeholder groups for use in introducing expanded and new services.

"Messages to the general public will highlight the pathways to accessing services, sources of crisis pregnancy counselling and information where the woman may wish to access them, and medical information on the procedure at different stages of gestation," he added.

It provides that it shall be an offence for a person, by any means whatsoever, to intentionally end the life of a foetus otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. This does not apply to a pregnant woman.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly criticised the fact that the section on criminality was moved to the front of the Bill, claiming this would create a "chilling" effect on the medical profession.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said he was concerned about the decision to set January for the introduction of the new law.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused the minister of "bulldozing through" the new legislation.

Meanwhile, the Disability Voices for Life group protested outside the Dail, claiming that unborn babies with disabilities were in the "firing line" of proposed abortion legislation. Disability is not a grounds for abortion in the Bill. Spokesman Michael O'Dowd said: "We are asking for an amendment to ensure that abortion on disability grounds is outlawed."

Irish Independent

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