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13th December 2018, 20:00:21 UTC

Today, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 passed through the Seanad, and having passed through both houses of the Oireachtas, can now go to the President to sign it into law. This is a significant step forward for the human rights of women and girls but barriers to access remain in the bill, says Amnesty International.

In May this year, the people of Ireland voted by a landslide for access to abortion care based on a woman’s right to make decisions about her pregnancy and her health. The Dáil’s passing of this new abortion Bill is a hugely significant milestone and will make access to abortion in certain circumstances legal in Ireland. However, more work needs to be done to make the law human rights compliant.

“We welcome the passage of this bill, and fully appreciate the importance of its enactment by year’s end so that abortion services can begin in January. Women have waited 35 years for this, the daily violations of their human rights must come to an end. However, we and the government want to avoid a situation where the law prevents pregnant people from accessing the healthcare they need, or delaying their care. We don’t want women continuing to travel or accessing illegal abortion pills online. That is not what people voted for on 25 May,” said Colm O Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“We know from exit polls following the vote in May that 62% of people voted yes because they agreed with a women’s right to choose and 55% voted because they viewed access to abortion as a women’s health issue.  The new abortion legislation will ensure that most women will be able to access services in Ireland and this is a major step forward.

“But as the law is currently drafted, we have some serious concerns that barriers to women accessing timely care remain. And there are some significant flaws. These include the potentially high and ambiguous threshold created by the language on ‘serious harm’ to a women’s health, the lack of provision of access in cases of pregnancies with severe rather than fatal foetal impairments, the mandatory waiting periods, and the continued criminalisation of health professionals.

“We sought and very much welcome the inclusion of a three-year review clause in the bill, and such a review would always have been critical to ensure that this law and its implementation becomes more human rights compliant. But there are more immediate gaps in the bill’s provisions that cannot wait three years to be corrected. We are calling for a commitment from the Minister for Health to make further adjustments to the Act next year if these provisions cause barriers to access or any other barriers to access emerge,” said Colm O’ Gorman.