Doctors who get the timeline wrong in cases of fatal foetal abnormality may be facing 14 years in jail, TDs were warned.
Proposed legislation will allow a pregnancy to be terminated in cases where a baby has a diagnosed fatal foetal abnormality and will die either “before or within 28 days of birth”.
The normal 12-week rule will not apply to pregnancies where a fatal foetal abnormality is diagnosed.
But the 28-day time limit for life expectancy may have a potentially chilling effect on doctors, according to pro-choice TDs.
They said if doctors get the timeline prediction wrong, they may be facing a 14-year prison sentence.
A number of TDs who proposed amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 said the 28-day time limit should be removed from the wording of the legislation and confined to guidelines instead.
They were before the Oireachtas Health Committee where 180 amendments to the proposed legislation widening the grounds for abortion were discussed. Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly said the 28-day clause should be deleted or changed to “shortly after birth”.
Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly said if 28 days were what medics wanted, then it should be put in guidelines rather than legislation.
Doctors would err on the side of caution because of fear of criminal sanction, he added.
In response, Health Minister Simon Harris said he would look at it again before report stage of the bill.
However, he said timeline clarity was sought by senior medics he had spoken to.
He said inserting “shortly after” could be open to legal challenge.
Meanwhile, the word “abortion” itself will not be inserted in the proposed legislation.
TDs Bríd Smith and Louise O’Reilly had proposed the word be inserted.
Mr Harris said the bill had been drafted to mirror the language put before people in the referendum. He said that “to change it would not be in line with the legal advice received”.
“The word ‘abortion’ is not in the Constitution either,” he said. The amendment was withdrawn.