State could fund free contraception to cut unwanted pregnancies
The Government is examining funding free contraceptive pills and condoms as part of its package of measures to reduce crisis pregnancies.
Health Minister Simon Harris was outlining his policy statement on the type of abortion services that would be provided should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.
The minister kicked off the Dail debate on the abortion referendum yesterday, making the final steps before a vote on whether or not to keep the Eighth Amendment, to take place at the end of May.
He said he was considering the ancillary recommendations from the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment which called for free access to contraception as a way of reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies.
The committee made recommendations on free access to contraception, comprehensive sex education, and obstetric care and counselling.
"These recommendations are extremely important to me as Minister for Health and to my commitment to ensuring that all women accessing maternity services should receive the same standard of safe, high-quality care," he said.
"If our underlying principle is that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, then we must do all we can to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and to support women in every way," he added. Mr Harris announced that he has asked the Chief Medical Officer to look into the feasibility, and in particular the cost, of a State-run contraception service.
He said providing free access to contraception, which is currently limited to those with medical cards only, would require new legislation.
It is anticipated that, for the most part, terminations will be through the use of abortion tablets. The Government has yet to establish exactly how it will provide abortion services to women.
The policy paper, read to the Dail by the minister, concentrated mainly on the circumstances in which an abortion would be lawful, as opposed to detail of how it would be rolled out.
If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, women will be able to have an abortion up to 12 weeks into their pregnancy regulated through a GP-led service. GPs and other health practitioners will be licensed to prescribe the abortion pill.
A woman will be obliged to wait 48-72 hours before a termination can take place. This "consideration period" will begin from the first meeting with the woman's GP.
Mr Harris referred to the nine women a day who travel from Ireland for an abortion.
"No matter what her circumstances, she cannot access the care she needs in her own country," he said.
Responding to Mr Harris's speech, Caroline Simons, legal consultant to the Pro Life Campaign, said: "It was chilling listening to Minister Harris saying he was 'really looking forward' to bringing the Referendum Bill before the Dail today.
"What his Bill provides for is withdrawing the right to life from an entire vulnerable group of human beings, namely unborn babies."
She said the Government's proposals are "more extreme than England's abortion laws where one in every five pregnancies now end in abortion".
"Voters who support abortion in so-called limited circumstances need to know that what they hope for with repeal and what they'd get are two entirely different things. It is clear beyond any doubt from today's announcement from Government that a vote for repeal is a vote for abortion on demand up to birth," she added.
"The proposal provides for abortion for any reason in the first three months of pregnancy and up to birth on a ground of health (including mental health) that is undefined and that has led to wide-ranging abortion in countries where it has already been introduced.
"In Britain, there are time limits on the so-called health ground. So today's Government proposal is, objectively speaking, more extreme than the law in Britain."