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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 23 July, 2014

What the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 contains

Government said that the bill would provide “legal clarity for the medical profession”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (file photo)
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (file photo)
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Updated 00.52

THE CABINET HAS reached agreement on abortion legislation following a two-part meeting today.

Publishing the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 tonight, Government said that it had agreed to refer the General Scheme of the Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and to request that it should review the Scheme and report on its deliberations to the Minister for Health, adding:

It will provide legal clarity for the medical profession of the circumstances where a medical termination is permissible where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of a woman as a result of a pregnancy.

Anyone who carries out an abortion outside of the terms permitted in the bill faces up to 14 years in jail. Sections of the 1861 act, which provided for life imprisonment for doctor who performs an “intentional miscarriage”, has been repealed.

The bill also provides a definition for the “unborn” as follows:

“unborn” as it relates to human life means following implantation until such time as it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of the woman.

The bill states that “it shall be an offence for a person to do any act with the intent to destroy unborn human life.”

Risk of loss of life from physical illness, not being a risk of self destruction

This section states that “it is not an offence to carry out a medical procedure…in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended”. There are caveats, however:

  • The procedure must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner (“in the form and manner prescribed by the Minister”) at an appropriate location
  • Two medical practitioners (one of which is an obstetrician/gynaecologist), have, in accordance with this head, jointly certified in good faith that – (i) there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life other than by way of self-destruction, and (ii) in their reasonable opinion this risk can be averted only by that medical procedure.

The bill also says at least one of the two medical practitioners should consult with the pregnant woman’s general practitioner where practicable.

Risk of loss of life from physical illness in a medical emergency

This section states that “it is not an offence to carry out a medical procedure…in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended”. There are caveats, however:

  • The procedure must be carried out by a medical practitioner
  • He or she in good faith believes that there is an immediate risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life other than by way of self-destruction, and
  • The medical procedure is, in his or her reasonable opinion, immediately necessary to save the life of the woman.

Risk of loss of life from self-destruction

This section states that “it is not an offence to carry out a medical procedure…in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended”. There are caveats, however:

  • The procedure must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner at an appropriate location
  • One obstetrician/gynaecologist, who must be employed at that location, and two psychiatrists, both of whom shall be employed at a centre which is registered by the Mental Health Commission, and one of whom shall be attached to an institution where such a procedure is carried out, have jointly certified in good faith that – (i) there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life by way of self-destruction, and (ii) in their reasonable opinion this risk can be averted only by that medical procedure.

This section also states that at least one of the three medical practitioners should consult with the woman’s GP where possible.

It also states that where the three medical practitioners jointly come to a decision, the certifying obstetrician/gynaecologist shall forward the certificate at the “appropriate location” and shall make arrangements for the carrying out of the procedure at that location.

It also says:

It will always be a matter for the patient to decide if she wishes to proceed with a termination following a decision that it is permissible under this Act.

Formal Medical Review Procedures

The bill states that “a pregnant woman or a person on her behalf with her consent” can appeal a decision by “writing to the HSE in the form and manner prescribed by the Minister to have her case reviewed if she has consulted a medical practitioner”.

The panel that will hear this appeal shall consist of medical practitioners and be of a “sufficient size and composition for the purposes”.

A qualified person should, within seven days of receiving the written application, “establish and convene a committee drawn from the panel established”.

No more than seven days after this, “the committee shall review the case and shall form an opinion in good faith as to whether or not there is a real and substantial risk of loss of life of the pregnant woman that can only be averted by a termination of her pregnancy.”

The person who made the application will then be notified of the decision.

Should a medical practitioner fail to appear before the committee, they may be found guilty “of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a class C fine (not exceeding €2,500).”

Review where risk arises from physical illness, not being a risk of self destruction

In this specific case, the appeal committee will consist of an obstetrician/gynaecologist who must be employed at an appropriate location and one medical practitioner who is registered on the Specialist Division.

The seven days for convening, as well as a further seven days for a decision, as well as the manner in which the decision is made known, remains the same as per the general appeal procedures outlined above.

Review in case of risk of loss of life through self-destruction

In this specific case, the appeal committee will consist of an obstetrician/gynaecologist who must be employed at an appropriate location and two medical practitioners who are registered on the Specialist Division.

The seven days for convening, as well as a further seven days for a decision, as well as the manner in which the decision is made known, remains the same as per the general appeal procedures outlined above.

Formal medical review reports to Minister

The bill states that the “Executive shall in each year, at such times and in such manner as the Minister may determine, provide the Minister with a general report on applications made during the previous year” indicating:

  • the total number of applications received
  • the number of reviews carried out
  • in the case of reviews carried out, the reason why the review was sought
  • the outcome of the review and
  • any other information specified by the Minister

Other

Under the heading of “Notifications”, the bill says that “The Freedom of Information Act 1997 shall not apply to any record under this head.”

The bill also states that it does “not operate to restrict any person from travelling to another state on the ground that his or her intended conduct there would, if occurred in the State, constitute an offence under head 19 of this Act.”

Oireachtas Health Committee

The Heads of Bill will now be examined by the Oireachtas Health Committee, which is likely to seek the input of more medical and legal experts.

Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer said this evening that the committee would meet on Thursday to discuss its timetable for this second round of hearings.

Reaction

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) tonight welcomed the publication of heads of Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. Its CEO, Niall Behan, said that its legal team would “now consider the heads of the bill and will consider the proposed legislation in detail when the full bill is published.”

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that the heads of the bill needed to be “considered very carefully”, adding that “we should now proceed calmly and reasonably, based on the wording as published.”

Column: Here’s a win for all sides in the abortion debate

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