Following a report regarding the effectiveness of the abortion law in Ireland, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to immediately address gaps in abortion care services across the country.
An independent review of current abortion services was administered by barrister Marie O’Shea, and published publically on Wednesday, April 26. It investigated how abortion services have been implemented since the Repeal referendum in January 2019, identified shortcomings and made recommendations for improving access to care.
Nearly 18,000 pregnant people have accessed abortion care since the law came into operation, but the report noted several concerning shortcomings in the current model of care. Fiona Crowley, Amnesty International Ireland’s Interim Director, Human Rights, said, “Today’s report shines an important spotlight on some serious gaps and barriers in the 2018 Act.
“We strongly welcome its recommendation that healthcare professionals no longer be criminalised under that Act. The review confirms our concerns expressed at the time that criminalisation would create a chilling effect on health providers’ ability to provide care, and lead to women availing of care being stigmatised.”
Today's publication of the three year review of Ireland’s 2018 abortion law has revealed serious gaps and barriers to abortion care that must be urgently addressed by the government.
Read our response https://t.co/nrIlUCve0b
— Amnesty Ireland (@AmnestyIreland) April 26, 2023
The report recommends legislative changes as well as operational recommendations to improve the accessibility of abortion services. One of these recommendations is to remove the current three-day mandatory waiting period before the procedure and replace it with a reflection period which patients can choose to opt in to.
Another recommendation is to address the limited availability of abortion care providers. While roughly 400 GP practices provide abortion services across the country, some geographical areas lack adequate coverage, particularly areas in the southeast, northwest, midlands and border counties.
In some counties, abortion services are only available from a limited number of providers across primary care and hospital settings. Some patients have been required to travel long distances to access abortion care if the service is not provided where they live.
?Marie O'Shea's review of the abortion system in Ireland is very welcome. It paves the way for change, so that women can access the healthcare they need, when they need it.#Repealedthe8th #OSheaReport #MyBodyMyChoice pic.twitter.com/RZWdkGwbrv
— Womenscouncilireland (@NWCI) April 26, 2023
Further, only 11 out of the 19 obstetric and gynaecological hospitals in Ireland currently offer surgical terminations. The report draws attention to the fact that many hospitals are choosing not to provide abortion care due to medical practitioners opting out of carrying out the service due to conscientious objections, which current legislation permits.
The report calls for an adequate number of healthcare staff who are willing and able to provide abortion care services in Ireland. It further advises the Department of Health to consider expanding the range of health professionals in Ireland who can provide abortion services to include midwives and junior doctors. It recommends increasing the number of GPs providing the service to 6,000 by 2028.
Although further information on the Government’s and Oireachtas health committee’s action plan is yet to be delivered, Mr Varadkar said, “A programme is being put in place to ensure that, by the end of this year, if not early next year, all 19 [obstetric and gynaecological hospitals] will provide the service.”
Mr Varadkar also said, “…with relation to the operational recommendations which show gaps in the service, we are going to act on that right away. That is being referred to the HSE for implementation.”
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