Abortion services available from January 1, but will be limited, Harris admits

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Abortion services available from January 1, but will be limited, Harris admits
Abortion services available from January 1, but will be limited, Harris admits

Termination of pregnancy services will be available in Ireland from January 1 – but it will be a limited service, Health Minister Simon Harris has admitted.

The minister said it would “take time” for termination services to “fully embed” and be available in every hospital in the country.

“But it is an awful lot better than the reality today with women getting the boat or the plane,” he said on RTÉ radio.

The Health (Regulation of termination of Pregnancy) Bill completed its passage in the Senate last night. It is likely that the bill will be presented to President Michael D Higgins to be signed into law in the coming days.

Once the bill passes into law Mr Harris will authorise the HSE to start a public information campaign.

A 24/7 helpline operated by counsellors and nurses will go live on January 1 and that will be able to provide women with information on all their options.

Mr Harris said hundreds of doctors have already signed up to provide a termination service from January 1. He also stressed that doctors would not need access to an ultrasound for every women requesting a termination.

Mr Harris said any doctor deciding “in his or her reasonable opinion, formed in good faith”, that a pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks would not be breaking the law.

He said the HSE had ensured that ultrasounds would be available through a private contractor and funding had been provided for additional sessions in maternity hospitals.

“So our GPs will have direct access to ultrasounds for the women that need them but I do expect that to be a small minority and not the norm.”

He also understood that draft clinical guidelines will be circulated over the next couple of days.

“Even tomorrow doctors are gathering in Dublin to receive more training and education in relation to this.”

Executive director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman said they had “serious concerns” that barriers to women accessing timely care remained.

Mr O’Gorman said a potentially high and ambiguous threshold was created by permitting terminations where there was the risk of “serious harm” to the health of a woman.

There was no provision for terminations where there were severe rather than fatal foetal impairments. Other barriers included mandatory waiting periods and the continued criminalisation of health professionals.

Mr O’Gorman wants the minister to commit to making further legislative adjustments if barriers to access emerge.

Meanwhile, Tony McLoughlin, a Fine Gael TD who voted No in the abortion referendum last May, said he was “sad and disappointed” that his office was defaced overnight with anti-abortion slogans.

Written on the front of the office were the words “Fine Gael Baby Killer”, “Herod’s Killer” and “scumbags”. In the Christian gospel, King Herod ordered all male infants two years old and under in Bethlehem to be killed when Jesus was born.

“I was so disappointed to see this morning (Friday) that my busy constituency office in Sligo has been vandalised and defaced overnight,” said Mr McLoughlin. “We live in a proud democracy and despite anyone’s opinion on any referendum, this behaviour can never be condoned.”

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