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Call to relax laws on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality

Human rights body says current law means many women facing devastating diagnosis are still obliged to travel to Britain

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The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the impact of the current law is disproportionately borne by women who don't have means to travel abroad. Photo: Stock image

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the impact of the current law is disproportionately borne by women who don't have means to travel abroad. Photo: Stock image

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the impact of the current law is disproportionately borne by women who don't have means to travel abroad. Photo: Stock image

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has come out in favour of the State relaxing its abortion laws for families who receive a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

At the moment, terminations for such reasons are only legal if two medics believe the condition is likely to lead to the death of the baby shortly before birth or within 28 days of being born.

But the IHREC has said it is concerned that the current law means that women who receive a fatal diagnosis are still having to travel to Britain.

“Official figures pertaining to abortion carried out raise concerns that this provision may be limiting access to termination for pregnant women who receive fatal foetal abnormality diagnoses but who are required to travel to access healthcare,” it said.

“The impact of being denied care is disproportionately felt by women who may not have the permission, clearance or means to travel such as migrant women, international protection applicants and disabled women.

“We therefore recommend reform of the act so that there are legal avenues for abortion in all cases where fatal foetal anomalies are diagnosed, so all women who receive this devastating diagnosis can receive healthcare in Ireland.”

The commission made its comments in its submission to a government review of Ireland’s abortion laws, which have been in effect since January 2019 following the repeal of the Eight Amendment the year before.

Dr Aoife Mullally, national clinical lead for the HSE’s abortion services, told the Irish Independent last week that some families who received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality were still having to travel if medics believed the baby would probably live longer than 28 days.

She said that because doctors still face criminal sanctions if they go beyond the law, the “restrictive” nature of the 28-day limit might lead to some making “conservative decisions”.

But Professor Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda, said he did not see a way to expand the current law without legislating for abortion on grounds of disability, which he did not believe the majority of the public or politicians would support.

Both Dr Mullally and Prof Malone backed the removal of a mandatory three-day waiting period. Under the current law, a woman who requests an abortion on a Monday can’t access the procedure until at least the following Friday. The IHREC has also called for the three-day wait to be scrapped.

“Waiting periods can cause delays in accessing abortion services, and can impact access to care and completion of care, especially if the initial termination of pregnancy fails and the woman is close to the 12 weeks gestation limit,” the commission said.

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In its review, the IHREC said abortion should “be decriminalised in all circumstances as a matter of urgency.”

It also called for a register of doctors who refuse to provide abortions.


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