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rté investigates

Almost 1,000 people in Ireland have contacted UK abortion charity since 2018 referendum

The Abortion Support Network, a UK charity, has spoken to RTÉ Investigates.

ALMOST 1,000 people in Ireland have contacted a UK abortion charity about accessing services abroad since the referendum passed in 2018, according to a new documentary. 

The Abortion Support Network is a UK charity which helps women who need to travel to access safe, legal abortion. 

The charity told RTÉ Investigates that since abortion laws were introduced in Ireland in 2019, almost 1,000 people here have contacted it about accessing termination services abroad. Most clients from Ireland are women affected by foetal anomaly diagnoses, the charity said.

Senior barrister Marie O’Shea was commissioned by the Department of Health to conduct a review on foot of the introduction of abortion legislation here in early 2019, following a majority rejection of the Eighth Amendment in a May 2018 referendum.

A review of the legislation was required after three years.

In Ireland, terminations are only permitted beyond 12 weeks of pregnancy in strict circumstances.

When a foetal anomaly is detected, an abortion can only be carried out if two doctors agree, having examined the pregnant woman, that the condition affecting the foetus is likely to cause its death before it’s born or within 28 days of birth.

According to the report by Barrister Marie O’Shea, this lacks clarity and is difficult to implement in practice, even in cases where the condition may be fatal and associated with severe morbidity and/or disability and there is not any definitive list of conditions where death occurs before birth or within 28 days of birth.

“What I have said to the Minister of Health is that this 28-day [rule] is an absolute and utter nonsense. It’s cruel and it’s too prescriptive. It’s not good law and it leads people to be in absolutely profoundly sad conditions,” O’Shea told RTÉ Investigates. 

unnamed Barrister Marie O'Shea RTÉ RTÉ

“If you have to send somebody abroad, culturally and socially you’re framing it as a criminal and abhorrent act and that’s in a person’s head and I don’t think the electorate would want somebody carrying around that stigma,” she said.

Review of laws

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said an independent review of the current laws needed to be treated with the “same sensitivity” that was given ahead of the Eighth Amendment referendum in 2018.

As part of her report, O’Shea recommended the removal of a mandatory three-day waiting period between a woman’s initial medical consultation and her being given access to abortion treatment or medication.

Harris said he wanted to “respect” the diversity of views and “bring forth consensus”.

“In relation to the review of abortion services, of course, I have personal views, but personally I’m here as Taoiseach of a country 5.3 million people and I want to await to the views of the Minister for Health and his departments when they come forward to Cabinet,” Harris said. 

“We’ve taken a number of very significant steps in Ireland, the Irish people have over the last number of years, a constitutional referendum, legislation, the rollout of services, and measures in relation to free contraception,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said that a “number of steps that were taken have been based on the cross-party committee on abortion”.

“I think we need to approach this issue with the same sensitivity now that we did then,” Harris said. 

“I do want to, with the the time available to me before the next general election, to make progress on a number of areas.”

He said that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is considering the review and will bring forward proposals.

“In my new role as Taoiseach, I don’t intend to wade straight in, I intend to wait and to engage with the minister and engage with Cabinet colleagues,” Harris added.

“Of course, we also put in a review clause for this very reason so that people will continue to check their services is working as planned and are things going as was intended,” he said. 

“I do think they need to be given consideration, but that is the balance. The Irish people were given assurances that they voted for this, and there’s obviously there’s a review alongside that.

“So I think this requires careful consideration.”

RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Abortion Services airs at 9.35pm tonight on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player. 

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