.- Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has announced that he intends to make it possible for women in the Republic of Ireland to have abortions free of charge, following the recent legalization of abortion in the country.
Harris said he didn’t want “cost to be a barrier” to women wanting to obtain abortions, and that it would become part of Ireland’s public health system. Funds to pay for the procedures will be included in this year’s budget, according to local media reports.
Harris stated in a speech in January that an estimated 170,000 Irish women have traveled to other countries for abortions since 1980.
Irish president Michael Higgins signed the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which was voted on in a country-wide referendum in May, into law Sept. 18. The law had previously provided for equal protection of the lives of both the mother and the unborn child.
In terms of Irish law, the next phase will involve the Health Minister submitting a new law governing abortion, which is expected to reach the Irish legislature in October and could be in force by 2019, according to NPR. Draft legislation suggests that the new law could allow elective abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Prominent Irish doctors have expressed concerns about the government’s quick turnaround to begin performing free abortions, citing safety concerns for the women involved.
Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Dr John O Brien, chair of the Irish College of General Practitioners, both stated that talks with the Department of Health about how abortions will be delivered have been lagging.
Boylan also advised against a three-day waiting period for women seeking abortions, claiming the waiting period may “act as a barrier and [make] unwarranted assumptions about women’s ability to make their own decisions.”
Ireland is also facing a potential shortage of doctors willing to participate in abortions; surveys show that roughly seven out of 10 general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.
Dr Mary Favier, vice president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, told the Oireachtas Health Committee Sept. 18 that “there are concerns about capacity and resourcing issues such as staffing, facilities, training.”
“They are concerned about the potential lack of appropriate specialist support, the possibility of medical complications for their patients, what will be the public reaction to those who don’t provide and those who do,” the Irish News reported Favier stating.
“They have a fear of litigation, they wish to see an acknowledgement of conscientious objection and how to accommodate this in the clinical pathway but also an acknowledgement of conscientious commitment and how to support this.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadker has said that Catholic hospitals will not be permitted to opt out of performing abortions, though individual medical professionals may.
The removal of the Eighth Amendment follows the decisive result of the national referendum held in May. Only one county, Donegal, voted to keep the amendment.