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Abortion bill must be amended to remove criminal sanctions

By 27 November 2018News

As the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 enters Report Stage, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has said the Bill needs significant amendment if it is to fulfil the promise of the Yes vote in the May referendum. Parliamentarians must take the criminal law out of medical consulting rooms and replace it with a provision guaranteeing access to abortion care.

IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan said: “This legislation needs to facilitate access to quality abortion care. But instead of supporting doctors to provide best practice care, the Bill criminalises abortion and leaves healthcare providers vulnerable to vexatious allegations by those who oppose abortion. These criminal sanctions are already having a chilling effect on doctors.”

Mr Behan continued: “Continued criminalisation means the threat of sanctions – including a possible 14-year prison sentence – will be hanging over doctors, affecting the care they provide to women and girls. And some may decide not to provide abortion care at all.”

The IFPA says there are multiple provisions in the Bill which serve only to act as barriers to abortion access.

IFPA Medical Director Dr Caitriona Henchion said: “There are several barriers to care embedded in the legislation, which are not based on medical evidence – like the mandatory three day waiting period. We are particularly concerned that the Bill does not even allow the waiting period to be waived in certain situations, such as for women experiencing domestic violence or women travelling from remote areas. They may face significant challenges when trying to attend for a second appointment after the three days have elapsed.”

The IFPA is also calling for amendments to the notification process, which requires medical practitioners to notify the Minister for Health and provide their Medical Council number every time they carry out an abortion.

Dr Henchion said: “This is a pointless and stigmatising level of bureaucracy, with no public health rationale. No other medical procedure requires the healthcare provider to notify the Minister of its occurrence.”

This section of the proposed legislation needs to be replaced by a provision ensuring that good quality data on abortion is collected and analysed in order to inform policy development and service delivery in the years ahead.