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Government accused of taking ‘political decision’ not to review abortion law

Labour leader Alan Kelly has accused the Coalition of avoiding a review of the policy because Fianna Fail TDs opposed its introduction.

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Labour Party leader Alan Kelly speaking on the plinth of Leinster House, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly speaking on the plinth of Leinster House, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly speaking on the plinth of Leinster House, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government has been accused of taking a “political decision” not to review the legislation underpinning Ireland’s abortion services.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced on Wednesday that a scheduled review of the law would look at its operation, but was not intended to examine policy on terminations.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said the approach in effect ruled out any changes to the law, and suggested it was being taken because many Fianna Fail TDs were opposed to it in the first place.

Mr Kelly told the Dail: “This review won’t consider any policy changes to the act. It amounts to a predetermined process and is at odds with previous statutory reviews.

“How can he (Minister Donnelly) realistically just look at how it is currently operating, without in any way considering the constraints on policy caused by the law?”

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions on Thursday, Mr Kelly asked Tanaiste Leo Varadkar if the Government was “taking this course because so many members of your partners in Government in Fianna Fail opposed and voted against this legislation in the first place and this is the most politically expedient thing to do?”

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Mr Kelly said there were “a range of problems” with the law as it stands.

“We know only 10 maternity units offer full termination services and very few GPs,” he said.

“There are geographical issues across the board.

“Three years on, legislation for safer access zones around maternity hospitals hasn’t been published.

“But the reality is, for women, is that the three-day waiting period and 12-week limit creates serious access problems.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, imagine, 375 women travelled to the UK last year. I know some of them.

“There are real problems with this legislation, and it should be reviewed.”

Mr Kelly pointed out that in recent years three similar reviews had all examined policy – the Lobbying Act, the Gender Recognition Act and the Protected Disclosures Act.

“What is the point of review of the operation of law and terminations in Ireland if it doesn’t take on board the concerns of those impacted by the constraints of the legislation in the first place?” he asked.

“Are you and why are you categorically ruling out any changes to the law? And if so, what is the point of such a review?

“Why are you treating this review differently?”

Mr Varadkar said he did not recall seeing the terms of reference for the review.

He said he believed that issues arising from the legislation should be examined.

He said that when the law was introduced in 2018 by then Health Minister Simon Harris, he believed there would be a “comprehensive review, and not just the operation of it”.

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I do agree with your basic point that we should, at least at some point, examine some of the issues around the legislation,” he said.

“You mentioned the issue of safe access zones, that’s certainly one.

“You mentioned an issue of the waiting period. A lot of people feel the waiting periods is a good idea. I appreciate some people don’t.

“We also need to look at the issue that does come up quite a lot now around non-fatal foetal abnormalities, which is a difficult one and is one of the reasons why people travel to the UK.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the review could inform future policy.

“That engagement with service providers, with the public at large, with women in particular, we will get a better insight then as to how the act is operating across the entire country.

“That then could inform policy change.”

He added: “The first step is to initiate the review, have the review concluded, and again it is always a matter for Government to review policy and indeed the Oireachtas at large.

“We would like to be informed by the review of the act so far, because that could give us insights into other aspects as well and the degree to which it is working properly.

“People can have confidence in both the objectivity and independence of the review and that review can lead to policy change.”


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