Cost will not be barrier to accessing abortion, ministers agree

New laws to permit abortions in Ireland will ensure cost is no barrier to accessing the procedure, the Government has agreed.

Cabinet ministers have also approved a proposal for exclusion zones around clinics carrying out terminations, to ensure women are free from potential harassment by anti-abortion activists.

Health Minister Simon Harris sought backing for the new policy areas on Tuesday as he presented to Cabinet the overall package of legislation that will give effect to May’s historic referendum, which repealed the state’s near blanket ban on abortion.

The new laws will allow for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, subject to a cooling off period and a requirement for medical consultation.

From 12 to 24 weeks abortions will be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

The general outline of the potential new legal framework had been made public ahead of the referendum, so citizens knew what would happen if they voted to lift the constitutional prohibition.

Ongoing court challenges to the referendum result, which recorded a two-to-one majority in favour of reform, mean the Government will be unable to table the legislation before parliament ahead of the summer recess.

It is likely that will now happen when the Oireachtas resumes business in the autumn.

Mr Harris said he was still on course to enact the new laws by January 2019.

After securing Cabinet approval, the minister said he had fulfilled a commitment to bring the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 to Government ahead of the recess.

“Although my intention was to also introduce this legislation into the Oireachtas before the summer recess that is not now possible due to ongoing court proceedings,” he said.

(PA Graphics)

Mr Harris said a general scheme of the proposed legislation would be published on his departmental website.

“I have received Government approval for two new policy areas to be included in legislation,” he added.

“The first is that services for the termination of pregnancy will be provided on a universal basis – so that cost is not a barrier for women to access these services.

“The second policy area is the provision of safe access zones – areas around premises where abortion services are provided where patients and staff can go without fear of intimidation or harassment, and without being subjected to posters or protests.

“Until the court proceedings have concluded and the referendum result is confirmed it will not be possible to introduce this legislation into the Oireachtas.

“However, work continues on preparations for the introduction of this health service – including the development of clinical guidelines.

“It is the Government’s intention to make this health service available in Ireland in January 2019.”

Responding to the announcement, he Pro-Life Campaign has accused Mr Harris of raising the issue of exclusion zones to depict pro-life people in a poor light.

Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign said:

“Anyone not familiar with the extreme nature of the Government's planned abortion legislation could be forgiven for thinking Minister Harris was merely introducing legislation for 'buffer zones' outside abortion clinics given the ridiculously disproportionate attention he has given to this particular issue.

"Of course it suits Simon Harris to deflect away from the true horror of his new abortion law.

"Depicting pro-lifers in as poor a light as possible and harping on about things like the need for buffer zones to stop anti-abortion protests certainly creates a very different image from having to explain to the public what will be happening behind closed doors in the rooms where totally innocent and defenceless unborn babies are having their lives ended.

"There’s nothing new about Simon Harris's public relations strategy. It is directly and faithfully taken from the international pro-abortion playbook, where abortion at all costs must be sanitised and its opponents demonised.

Meanwhile, the Abortion Rights Campaign welcomed the news.

"The Abortion Rights Campaign has long campaigned on the principle that abortion must be freely and fully accessible to everyone who wants or needs one, so we welcome the announcement that cost will not be a barrier for women to access abortion," said spokesperson Linda Kavanagh.

"If abortion services are only available through private health care providers or at a restrictive cost, women of lower socio-economic means will be unable to access them.

"It would also be prohibitive for people who do not have access to their own finances – for example those in abusive relationships or living in direct provision. Removing cost barriers also allows people to access abortions earlier. Abortion care should be provided as a government-funded public health service."

The ARC also welcomed the exclusion zones.

"Accessible abortion must include healthcare free from stigma, shame, and fear. The 10 people a day who travel to the UK currently are only too aware of the distress that anti-choice protestors can cause outside clinics.

"We all expect privacy, dignity, and safety in our healthcare and this must include abortion access."

- Press Association & Digital Desk

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