- The Iona Institute - https://ionainstitute.ie -

The review of the operation of Ireland’s abortion law

The Minister for Health has invited members of the public and organisations to submit their opinions on how the current abortion law is operating. It is not a review of the law per se but how it is being implemented from day-to-day. Obviously, all pro-life groups would like the law to be reversed completely, but taking into account the limitations of the review, here are some areas we think the Government should examine as a matter of urgency.
  1. End ‘DIY’ abortions
In March 2020, Minister for Health, Simon Harris, introduced remote consultation [1] for the duration of the Covid-19 public health emergency. Women requesting abortions are examined on the phone or online and then they take the abortions pills at home.
As the emergency is now ended, this provisional measure should be discontinued.
The British government has announced that in-person consultations will resume soon because DIY at-home abortions are more difficult to monitor and more dangerous. An estimated 10,000 women [2] in England who used the pill by post ended up receiving hospital treatment due to complications between April 2020 and September 2021.
The HSE has admitted that it is not collecting data [3] on complications arising from at-home abortions and some women could even be subject to coercion [4]. At-home abortions and remote consultations should be ended.
  1. Collect proper abortion data
The official annual report of the Minister of Health about abortion gives almost no details about the socio-economic characteristics of who is having terminations.
In line with what is common practice in other countries, the HSE should record at least the same details collected by the UK Department of Health, i.e. age, marital status, ethnicity, number of previous births and abortions, complications, methods of terminations.
Those details are commonly gathered for policy planning and for international comparison. The review that the Minister is undertaking would be much more accurate if there was a proper mechanism in place to collect such data.
  1. End misleading information about prenatal tests
The tragic case of baby Christopher, who was aborted after his parents were incorrectly told that he suffered a fatal condition, highlighted the flaws in prenatal screening tests and false claims made about their accuracy.
A recent report [5] in the New York Times confirmed that tests for foetal abnormalities are often unreliable as they give too many false positives.
Irish parents are often still offered those prenatal tests without a proper explanation of their inaccuracy and limits. The current review should address this because accurate information in these cases can be literally life-saving.
  1. Investigate permitting abortion reversal pills
What is currently offered to women who change their minds after having taken the first abortion pill? There is evidence that it is possible to reverse the effects of the first pill, before taking the second one, and in the UK, Dr Dermot Kearney has successfully provided Abortion Pill Reversal treatment [6] to a number of women.
In 2020, some Irish doctors were attacked for using the Abortion Pill Reversal protocol here and a HSE spokewoman claimed that it is not a reliable medical practice [7]. But this month the UK General Medical Council dismissed complaints [6] against Dr Kearney and allowed him to continue offering reversal medication.
Ireland needs at a minimum to investigate allowing something similar to take place here.
  1. Investigate reports of babies born alive after abortion
Doctors performing late-term abortions have indicated that in some cases the babies are delivered alive [8] and left to die. This needs to be investigated as a matter of urgency.These incidents have caused conflicts between those doctors and neonatologists, according to a study [9]. The legislation and the HSE guidelines have not made sufficiently clear what qualifies as a fatal foetal abnormality. It allows broad interpretation and causes conflict between specialists.
  1. Require proper counselling during the three-day waiting period

In 2020, 20pc of women who had an initial consultation with a doctor about having an abortion changed their minds [10] and did not proceed with it. This indicates that the three-day reflection period could be saving lives. It allows women to have more time to decide what they really want to do. If proper counselling was required with the first consultation, even more lives would be possibly be saved.

How to make a submission
The closing date for responses is Friday 1st April.

More details about the consultation can be found here [11].



Our submission can be read here [12].