Sunday 21 October 2018

AG reviewing 1995 ban on abortion referrals

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe
Attorney General Seamus Woulfe
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A decision is expected within a fortnight on whether a 1995 ban on doctors referring women seeking an abortion to the UK will be repealed.

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe has agreed to review the law, which pro-choice campaigners say is out of date after last week's referendum.

But it is understood the Government is concerned that moving on certain areas of the existing abortion laws without having new legislation in place could have "unintended consequences".

Sources say Health Minister Simon Harris asked the AG to bring forward recommendations for how to proceed.

"The AG is exploring it. There may be scope to have it repealed but that has yet to be decided and would need cooperation from Opposition parties," a source said.

Under the 1995 Abortion Information Act, doctors are not permitted to make medical referrals to clinics or hospitals in the UK. Campaigners have claimed this causes a wide variety of issues, particularly for women who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

President Michael D Higgins will formally sign an order repealing the Eighth Amendment next week, unless a last-minute High Court objection is submitted.

Once it is removed from the Constitution it will also clear the way for the Government to reduce the 14-year jail sentence that can apply to women who take abortion pills in Ireland.

However, Government sources said they may not act on this as it will require some legislative work from the same officials who will be drawing up laws to reflect the outcome of last Friday's vote.

"We are very conscious that nothing should be done that will ultimately delay the legislation," a source said.

In the Dáil yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the legislation will be brought forward "as quickly as possible".

"That legislation will be consistent with what the Government committed to before we asked the people to vote on this issue.

"We hope to have a draft Bill published before we break up for the summer. In fact, we hope to have Second Stage concluded before then, so that the Oireachtas committee can deal with the detail of committee stage during the summer months," he said.

He added that many people would now like to see legislative change in a number of areas in the North.

Irish Independent

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