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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# Leaders' Questions
'This is a sensitive issue': Tánaiste defends Govt approach in dealing with abortion law review
The abortion law review will go to the Oireachtas Health Committee for further scrutiny.

LAST UPDATE | May 25th 2023, 7:48 PM

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the approach taken by government in dealing with abortion law reforms is correct and denied the assertion from the opposition that the issue is being “kicked to touch”.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the referendum vote to repeal the 8th Amendment, which paved the way for legalising abortion in Ireland.

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith raised the issue of the recent review of the abortion legislation, which was committed to be carried out by government.

The review recommends 10 changes to current legislation and 60 operational changes in relation to termination services and laws.

One of the review recommendations is that the required three-day waiting period to access a termination should no longer be mandatory and should instead be at the woman’s own discretion.

Smith’s party put down a motion in the Dáil, which was debated tonight, calling for the three-day wait period to be removed and for the reforms to be carried out.

Speaking at a rally organised by People Before Profit, Orla O’Connor, the director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said women from marginalised and vulnerable groups were the most adversely affected by restrictions on abortion services.

“This is mainly affecting marginalised women. It’s affecting migrant women, disabled women, Traveller women,” O’Connor said. “We want to see a situation where everyone who needs an abortion can have one in Ireland and right now that’s not the case.”

Smith told the rally that the government wanted to wait a year to consider the recommendations of the abortion review. “The lethargy that the government are displaying … means that we are going to have to get back out on the streets again,” she said.

She accused the government of using the issue as a “political football”.

Abortion Rights Campaign-6 Leah Farrell / Orla O'Connor speaking outside the Dáil Leah Farrell / /

Women still travelling abroad

In the Dáil today, Smith accused the government of parking the changes for a number of months, with the review now going to the Oireachtas Health Committee for further scrutiny.

“Dr. Mary O’Shea’s review is categoric and clear in the recommendations,” she said, highlighting one particular aspect of the review which found that pregnant women with fatal foetal abnormalities are still being forced to travel abroad due to the lack of legal clarification around the laws.

Screenshot - 2023-05-25T143242.905 Bríd Smith says the review carried out is clear on what changes need to be made to abortion service provision.

The People Before Profit TD said she was “baffled” by the delay in taking action, stating that it is clear “that this is veiled cover to the people on that side of the House not to touch this issue until we’re facing into another election”.

She said the government “does not have the courage to face up to the results” of its own review.

“You’re attempting to kick to touch and give cover to those in the Cabinet and those in the parties across the House who do not want to touch this issue, who never wanted to touch it, but were dragged kicking and screaming by a mass movement,” said Smith. 

Similar issues have been raised recently by other TDs, such as Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns. She told The Journal that politicians and their views should not be playing a role in the outcome of women’s health. 

The Tánaiste, in his response, said he did not agree with Smith’s assessment of the government’s position. He said the Irish people did take a fundamental decision in the referendum following a significant level of constructive engagement.

He questioned why she would be against the Oireachtas committee scrutinising and discussing the review, stating that it creates an informed process.

“We’re doing exactly the same as we did prior to the referendum. We are referring it to the Oireachtas Health Committee, not putting it on the long finger,” he said. 

Operational recommendations, that do not require legislation, are being rolled out, he said.

The immediate priority is expanding the availability of abortion services in hospitals and to deal with the uneven geographic spread of services, said Martin.

“There are sensitivities in the government, like the Taoiseach saying ‘I’m uncomfortable with this’. It is not about his discomfort or anybody else’s discomfort. It’s about the health and the delivery of proper health care in this country for women and girls,” said Smith. 

Martin said he genuinely believes the approach being taken is the correct one. 

“This is a sensitive issue. People have different views,” he said, adding:

“I do respect the fact that this is a legislative assembly with people who will be asked in due course, potentially, to vote on or have a view on legislation relating to this area. The very least that should happen is that the report should be examined by the Oireachtas committee.”

Additional reporting by Emer Moreau

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