On May 25, 2018, the Irish population voted to repeal the 8th Amendment. This initiated the process of legalising abortion in the Republic of Ireland, but five years on, significant gaps in the legislation still exist. While the government reviews the existing law, many are calling for urgent action to remove the barriers that pregnant people face while trying to access abortion services.
In April 2023, an independent report assessed the effectiveness of the abortion law in Ireland. It determined that while roughly 400 GP practices provide abortion services across the country, many geographical areas lack adequate coverage, particularly in the southeast, northwest, midlands and border counties.
The report showed that many hospitals do not provide abortions because medical practitioners opt out of the service due to conscientious objections, which current legislation permits. Only 11 out of the 19 obstetric and gynaecological hospitals in Ireland currently offer surgical terminations. Additionally, due to a lack of clarification under the current law, pregnant people carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities must travel abroad for abortion care.
The report made recommendations to address inadequate and unequal access to abortion in Ireland which include 10 changes to current legislation and 60 operational changes. Suggestions for improving access to care include ending the three-day mandatory wait period and expanding the availability of abortion care providers.
This week marks 5 years since the #Repealthe8th vote. Here at ASN we still hear from someone every THREE DAYS who’s in Ireland and needs help getting an abortion.
— Abortion Support Network (@AbortionSupport) May 22, 2023
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised to immediately address the gaps and shortcomings in abortion care services across the country, but many people are critical of the amount of time it is taking to make changes.
People Before Profit TD, Bríd Smith, expressed her disappointment in the delayed action in the Dáil yesterday. She accused the government of delaying addressing the issue until the next election cycle, stating: “…this is veiled cover to the people on that side of the House not to touch this issue until we’re facing into another election”.
Smith, who advocated for the recent review of the abortion legislation, separately added: “The lethargy that the government are displaying…means that we are going to have to get back out on the streets again.”
Many activist groups, including the Union of Students in Ireland and National Women’s Council, are calling for action as well.
Students played a key role in the campaign to #RepealThe8th & USI is extremely disappointed that there is still inadequate & unequal access to abortion in Ireland
We need urgent action to remove the barriers many still face!
— Union of Students in Ireland (@TheUSI) May 25, 2023
?Five years on from Repeal, women are still denied access to abortion in Ireland.
— Womenscouncilireland (@NWCI) May 24, 2023
Tánaiste Michael Martin acknowledged that the immediate priority is expanding the availability of abortion services to reach more hospitals in geographic areas, but he has defended the government’s approach and review process.
The amendments to abortion legislation in Ireland are now going to the Oireachtas Health Committee for further review.
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