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'The State will fund abortions if people vote for change' - Harris


TD Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

TD Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

TD Ruth Coppinger. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The State will fund abortions in public hospitals if the law changes regarding termination of pregnancies, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

"I believe if the people make a decision about a health service, it should be available in the public service," he added.

Mr Harris also said he did not believe that religious ethos would see some hospitals opting out, pointing out the experience of the operation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is that publicly funded facilities operate under the law of the land.

He was speaking after the Oireachtas committee on abortion voted not to retain the Eighth Amendment in full.

However, internal divisions within the committee continued to rage after it emerged Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger had written to other members urging them to take another vote and clarify the recommendations of the committee.

She claimed Wednesday's vote was "not a vote for repeal or even for a repeal referendum and potentially leaves the way open for little or no change".

Mater Hospital psychiatrist Dr Patricia Casey has also withdrawn from giving evidence to the committee next week, saying the process has become "deeply imbalanced".

"There are 25 on the pro-choice side with four on a pro-life or neutral perspective.

"Ireland deserves better than that," she said.

Mr Harris said his personal view is that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed - but he declined to reveal how far he believes any legislation on abortion should go.

The views of Mr Harris were echoed by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone yesterday, who also said it should be removed from the Constitution with the issue of abortion dealt with by legislation.

Responding to reporters' questions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the committee vote gave him "some assurance" that the cross-party group of TDs would be able to come to conclusions on the matter by the end of December.

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He was "confident" that the committee would reach conclusions that the Government could then take forward in the new year.

The December deadline is important to allow enough time to organise a referendum on abortion as planned by May of June next year.

Mr Harris also said he and his officials welcomed the "direction of travel" following the committee's vote as they have to start the work of preparation for potential legislation, reviewing various scenarios.

"I have been tasked to prepare for a referendum. I am very conscious of that, without wishing to pre-empt the work of the Oireachtas committee," he added.

"I am in favour of a referendum being held on the issue."

The Eighth Amendment had led to a lot of unintended consequences for women, the minister added.

He had been told of parents who had been left "lonely" and "isolated" by the current restrictions.

Mr Harris was speaking at the launch of the implementation plan for the National Maternity Strategy.

The wide-ranging strategy, which was launched nearly two years ago, aims to put more measures in place to safeguard safety and also provide women who are pregnant with more choice.

Dr Peter McKenna, a former master of the Rotunda Hospital who is clinical director for the strategy, said it was too early to say how services would respond in the event of a referendum to widen the grounds for abortion.

Currently, the proposals are too "nebulous" to give any firm picture, he added.

Questioned by reporters, he said: "Our role is to implement the law of the land as safely as possible."

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