Harris highlights 'new realities' of abortion as women get pills online
Health Minister Simon Harris has listed the number of women from every county in Ireland who travelled to the UK for an abortion in 2016.
Opening a two-day Dail debate on repealing the Eighth Amendment, Mr Harris said: "These are not faceless women. They are our friends and neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, wives."
The minister noted that, of the more than 3,000 women and girls who gave Irish addresses at UK abortion services, more than 1,200 were aged between 30 and 39 and 1,500 were aged between 20 and 29; 255 were 40 or over while 10 were under the age of 16 and 230 were teenagers.
More than half were married, in a civil partnership or in a relationship.
"I can't help but wonder what we would have done if we didn't have a neighbouring island to help us turn a blind eye," Mr Harris said.
He also spoke about "new realities" that mean some women are having abortions in Ireland by taking pills bought over the internet.
"Research shows a 62pc increase in the number of women from Ireland contacting one online provider over a five-year period, from 548 in 2010 to 1,438 in 2015 - and that's just one provider," he said.
"Can we just pause and picture what this is telling us? Is it acceptable to any of us that women are once again left in a lonely and scary place, sending off for a pill to be sent through the post instead of being able to access the medical advice and support they need?"
Mr Harris appealed for a calm debate on abortion over the coming months.
"Don't dismiss the idea that we can maturely recognise that each of us has deeply personal and genuinely held views, all of which deserve to be heard, to be understood and to be respected," he said.
"It is an issue that troubles most of us as individuals.
"My own views have changed and been formed by listening to women and to doctors and coming to recognise some hard realities.
"Some of us bear the scars of past debates and fear what's to come."
Mr Harris said his department is working to find a way of legislating for the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
"It is my intention that in the event of a referendum, as much information as possible would be available to people," he said.