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Irish parliament’s lower house passes law mandating free abortion


James Forde/Center for Reproductive Rights/AFP-Services

John Burger - published on 12/10/18

Conscientious physicians would not have to perform terminations but would have to refer to participating colleagues

With a resolve to implement legal abortion by the beginning of the new year, Ireland’s Dáil, the lower house of Parliament, passed legislation allowing the procedure. The vote, which is expected to be followed soon by a vote in the Seanad, or the upper house, follows the historic referendum in May to overturn the relevant constitutional protection for unborn life.

The December 5 vote was 90-15, with 12 abstentions. Among the many pro-life amendments which were introduced during debate but defeated was one that would have permitted health care providers with conscientious objections to refuse to refer women to others who would perform the procedure, the New York Times reported.

Conscientious objectors may avoid participating in abortions themselves, as the procedure will be performed by doctors who opt in.

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ who were meeting in Maynooth last week, issued a statement expressing their dismay that “the voices of those who voted against abortion in May’s referendum have been ignored.”

“Even what many people would have deemed to have been very reasonable legislative amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability, have been rejected,” the bishops’ conference stated. “As we stated after our Autumn Meeting, Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals and pharmacists. They cannot be forced either to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion.

“Every one of us has a right to life. It is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law. We have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick,” they continued. “The direct and intentional taking of human life at any stage is gravely wrong and can never be justified.”

The bishops said that “any law which suggests otherwise would have no moral force,” they said. “In good conscience it cannot be supported and would have to be resisted.”

Abortion will be available on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and most will be carried out through administration of the so-called “abortion pill,” a regime that consists of two medications: Mifepristone, which ends the pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone, and Misoprostol, which makes the womb contract and expel the deceased baby.

This will be permitted in primary care settings, such as in general practitioners’ offices, as well as in specialist clinics such as those run by the Irish Family Planning Association, up until nine weeks gestation. After nine weeks, abortions will take place in hospital maternity units.

Brendan Crowley, a pro-life doctor, told the Times that many of his colleagues share his view that a general practice was not the appropriate place to provide abortions. Many primary care doctors lack the necessary training and already operate with too few resources and too many patients, he said.

“We accept the democratic vote in May,” Crowley stated. “But the large proportion of G.P.s would prefer an external clinic setting for abortions.”

The main access to the service will be via a 24-hour “My Options” helpline, the Irish Times reported. “The woman will be able to choose from three options: access to non-directive counseling; information on how to access services; or clinical triage of complications. If she is seeking a termination, she will be directed to a provider who has opted in to the service,” the newspaper said.

After 12 weeks, abortion will be permitted when there is a risk to a woman’s life or a risk of serious harm to the health of the mother or in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, where  it considered likely the fetus will die within a month of birth.

The legislation provides for a three-day “cooling-off period” between the initial assessment and the abortion.

Abortions will be free, i.e., paid for by taxpayers.

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