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Abortion legislation has passed the Dáil and it's now on to the Seanad, so what next?

The Seanad will now sit on Monday in order to get the legislation over the line by the Christmas deadline.

Health Minister Simon Harris says the Seanad should sit on Monday and Friday in order to ensure the passage of the legislation.
Health Minister Simon Harris says the Seanad should sit on Monday and Friday in order to ensure the passage of the legislation.
Image: Leah Farrell

LANDMARK LEGISLATION which will allow women to access an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with no restrictions was passed by the Dáil last night. 

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill was passed by 90 votes to 15 with 12 abstentions. 

So, what are the next steps?

The legislation has now move to the Seanad, and this afternoon senators had their first vote on the Bill. It will now proceed on to Committee Stage next week. 

Senators will then go through the legislation section by section, and it is expected some senators will table a number of amendments to the Bill. 

The Seanad Office has confirmed the debate will begin on Monday, a day in which the Seanad does not usually sit.

The Bill will reach the Seanad Committee Stage on Monday, where a debate will take place from 2pm-8pm. The debate will continue into Tuesday from 2.15pm to the end of the day. 

On Thursday, senators will discuss the legislation from 11am onwards, where it is hoped it can be wrapped up and passed. 

The whole procedure in the Seanad is pretty much identical to what has just happened in the Dáil, but if the Seanad makes changes or amendments that the Dáil had not, the Bill must go back to the original House so that it can approve the new changes. 

Once the Bill has been cleared by both Houses of the Oireachtas, it is off to Áras where the president will sign the Bill into law. 

A total of 65 amendments were put down in the Dáil with only a handful of government amendments accepted.

Tight deadline 

The debate on each amendment can take time, which is the obvious concern of Health Minister Simon Harris who has set down a tight deadline of rolling out abortion services in Ireland in January. 

While the schedule of business for the Seanad is out of his control, the minister said he hopes the House will consider sitting on Monday and Friday if necessary. 

When asked if there is a threat of the Seanad sitting right up to Christmas Eve, Harris said: “I certainly hope not”, adding that he trusts senators will do what is necessary and get the passage of legislation to Committee Stage next week. 

Speaking in the Seanad this morning, Independent Senator Michael McDowell said adequate time should be given to senators to discuss the Bill.

He said no one should feel rushed off the points they are making because they are unpopular or “delaying what other people want to happen”. 

Speaking this morning, the health minister urged senators to do their job and deliver the promise that was made to the Irish public – that services would begin in January. 

“I do think there is an obligation on members of the Seanad to do their job and scrutinise legislation, but there’s also I think an obligation on all of us as legislators to realise that we’re not doing this in a vacuum.”

He said that on any one day, nine women would travel abroad to access an abortion, and that three women would take an abortion pill.

He said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the legislation would be passed in the Seanad in the next week or two.

Harris said of all the issues, abortion has been debate extensively. The minister said he finds it offence to women when opponents of the Bill state that the process has been rushed. 

“The people have spoken, we really just need to get on with it,” he added. 

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