Abortion Working Group Joint Submission to the Abortion Review

The Abortion Working Group – comprising over 20 civil society organisations and healthcare providers, led by the National Women’s Council (NWC) - has submitted a report to the review process highlighting significant ongoing issues impeding access to care and their recommendations to address these.

The Group’s recommendations are in step with the public mood, with new nationally representative research conducted by Opinions Market Research showing significant support for key asks around, decriminalisation, access to care at home and Safe Access Zones. 

- 80% agree no woman in Ireland should still have to travel abroad to access abortion care 
- 71% agree abortion should be treated like any other medical procedure and should not be a matter for criminal law
- 79% agree doctors should be trusted to provide abortion care based on professional judgement and clinical best practice 
- 85% agree all individuals accessing and providing abortion care should be protected from threats, harassment and abuse from anti-abortion protests 
- 67% agree any person on the island of Ireland should be able to access abortion free of charge 
- Support was consistently strongest amongst women across all five statements, and the over 55s were the age-group most in agreement that no woman should have to travel, doctors should be trusted and all individuals accessing and providing care should be protected

The Abortion Working Group’s (AWG) detailed submission highlights that significant legal changes and practice improvements are required if the Health (Termination of Pregnancy) Act is to guarantee equal and accessible abortion access. 

Recommendations include:

- Full decriminalisation of abortion in line with WHO guidance to remove the chilling effect on healthcare providers
- Remove the mandatory three days wait period to ensure timely access to abortion care
- Remove the 12-weeks gestational limit and enable abortion on request up to viability to ensure that no woman or pregnant person is forced to travel abroad for essential reproductive healthcare

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council and Chair of the Abortion Working Group said,  

“Our submission today highlights how too many women and pregnant people who need an abortion still can’t get one. The mandatory three-day wait period has no medical purpose or value and can act as a barrier to access. Access to healthcare at home was a clear call from the people of Ireland in 2018, yet sadly, we know many women are still travelling to access crucial healthcare. In the case of fatal foetal anomaly (FFA), we know that many women are being forced to travel under the existing legislation as it is too restrictive. The 12 week gestational limit is too rigid and doesn’t take account the complexities of women’s lives or relevant medical evidence. We need to see a widening of 12-week gestational limit and removal of the 28-day mortality clause for fatal foetal abnormalities, so abortion is accessible to all up to viability. Furthermore, in order to access an abortion, you need to have a PPS number, which is a significant barrier for immigrants and asylum seekers. This has to change.”

Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator, NWC said,

“It is so crucial that women’s voices and experiences are placed at the centre of the abortion review and that where clear changes are needed, they will be made. Critically today, our opinion polling data shows massive public support for all women to access free abortion care at home, without fear of harassment and intimidation, and for abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure and not a matter for criminal law. There is much that can and should be done to ensure that all women and pregnant people who require an abortion can avail of one. Coverage is poor across the country, with only half of our maternity hospitals providing full abortion services and only one in 10 GPs providing abortion care. This is the critical moment to make improvements for women and pregnant people in Ireland. We urgently need to see these changes made.”

Dr Mary Favier, founding member Doctors for Choice, representative of START doctors and AWG member, said:

“The ongoing criminalization of abortion in Ireland is a significant barrier to access and one which absolutely must be addressed in this three-year Review. As a doctor, I should be able to provide urgent care to my patients in line with the evidence-base and their preferences, yet the use of a criminal framework for abortion inhibits this, with real impacts on the most marginalized. The WHO recommends full decriminalization of abortion care in recognition of the ‘chilling effect’ criminalisation has on care provision – now is the moment to bring Ireland in line with international best practice.”

Karen Sugrue, Co-Convenor, Together for Safety and AWG member, said

“Safe access zones are core to the entire review process. GPs & Hospitals simply do not want protests outside upsetting people on their way to appointments and to work. Until we have Safe Access zones in place there will continue to be large areas of the country with no access to abortion care.”


Read the full submission here