Belfast Telegraph

Reforms urged as figures show 25 abortions recorded

Twenty-five pregnancies were terminated in Ireland last year under strict laws, official figures have revealed.

One case involved a woman whose life was at risk from suicide, another eight procedures were carried out because of a risk of physical illness to the woman and 16 were as a result of emergencies arising out of physical illness.

The Department of Health said the number of terminations was broadly in line with what had been anticipated when the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was being drawn up.

That legislation came into force in 2014 and allows for a pregnancy to be terminated where there is a real and substantial or immediate risk to a woman's life from a physical illness or from suicide.

There were 26 terminations notified in 2015.

The Department of Health also said two applications for terminations last year were reviewed and both were found to meet the criteria.

The figures on terminations were released as the final report of the Citizens Assembly on abortion law reform was published.

The assembly called for the removal of article 40.3.3, the eighth amendment to the Constitution, which grants equal right to life to the unborn.

It said this should be replaced with a provision putting the onus on the Oireachtas to determine laws on the termination of pregnancy, rights of the unborn and the rights of pregnant women.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to hold a referendum on the issue next year.

The assembly voted for the legalisation of abortion without restriction as to the reasons, with just under half of those who voted preferring that the procedure be allowed up to 22 weeks' gestation.

Another five recommendations have been included in the report.

They include improved sex and relationship education for children and young people, including on contraception and consent; better access for women to family planning services, contraception, perinatal hospice care and termination of pregnancy if required.

It also said all women should have access to the same standard of obstetrical care, including early scanning and testing.

The assembly called for improved counselling and support facilities for women during pregnancy and, if necessary, following a termination.

And it urged further consideration on who will fund and carry out termination of pregnancy in Ireland.

Chair of the Assembly Judge Mary Laffoy said the assembly wanted to see the eighth amendment of the Constitution replaced "for the avoidance of doubt".

"In other words, it would be solely a matter for the Oireachtas to decide how to legislate on these issues," she said.

Judge Laffoy's report noted that assembly members also indicated they wanted to see t he decriminalisation of abortion, including the use of the abortion pill; and recognition of and protection of female reproductive rights and autonomy.

Amnesty International Ireland said the additional recommendations were important.

Director Colm O'Gorman called on politicians to address the issue of decriminalising abortion.

"Ireland's laws on access to and information about abortion are abusive and intolerable," he said.

"The Government has been instructed to reform these laws by five UN human rights treaty bodies.

"It has been found by the UN to have inflicted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on two women by making them travel abroad for abortions. This needs to stop. Today, we have a roadmap for reform. There can be no more excuses and no more delays."

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eight Amendment to the Constitution, which was set up to examine the assembly's recommendations, is expected to begin hearings on the issue in late September.

Committee chairman Senator Catherine Noone said: " While we have a limited amount of time to consider this issue, we can now use the work done by the Citizens' Assembly to consider this issue in a comprehensive, objective and mature manner."

The committee has three months from its first public hearing to issue recommendations.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "This is an issue that, as a nation, we now need to deal with definitively.

"This must be a respectful debate and I am determined that we will prove ourselves capable of addressing these issues in a respectful way. I want to be the minister who brings forward the legislation to enable this important referendum in 2018."

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