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Abortion Working Group calls on Stephen Donnelly to immediately appoint independent chair

Published: Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Following the discussion at the Oireachtas Health Committee, the Abortion Working Group, chaired by the National Women’s Council (NWC) calls on Minster for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to immediately announce an independent chair, supported by an expert advisory group, for the legally mandated abortion review.

We are very concerned that despite raising these issues with the Minister in March, we do not have an independent chair, which undermines the whole review process. This unprecedented move to have a public tender process for the expert chair will serve to delay this crucial process, and it means effectively there is no independent oversight for stage 1 of the review. There are comparable reviews and appointment process’ for independent chairs which were not subject to procurement process via tender. Minister Donnelly needs to clearly outline why this is required for the abortion review and we support the Oireachtas Health Committee’s role in scrutinising this given how exceptional a decision it is.

Furthermore, it is crucial that there is an advisory group to support the independent Chair, when appointed. Any review process is strengthened by having a broad range of experts in the form of an advisory panel. As outlined in March, we believe this should include services users, providers, reproductive rights experts, constitutional and human rights experts to ensure an inclusive and balanced approach to the review

We have serious concerns regarding the absence of a guarantee in the Terms of Reference that proposed changes to the legislation will be considered in cases where the evidence gathered suggests that barriers in care are arising due to the legal and policy framework. We cannot have a situation whereby through the public consultation, service-user and service-provider research strands, we ask people to share sensitive and distressing information on barriers that arise from the operation of the act, without any guarantee that this will lead to legislative and policy changes. The Terms of Reference must be amended for clarity on this point.

We must be clear that in 2018, the people voted to allow the Oireachtas to legislate on abortion so that women and pregnant people could access care at home. To meaningfully advance abortion care in Ireland, we need to be confident that this Review will allow us to ensure that where the evidence suggests that barriers to equitable, accessible, and legal abortion exist in law, policy or practice, these can and will be addressed.

This statement is endorsed by the following members of the Abortion Working Group:

Abortion Support Network

Alliance for Choice

Amnesty International

Irish Council for Civil Liberties

Doctors for Choice

Disabled Women Ireland

Lawyers for Choice

START Doctors (Southern Taskforce on Abortion & Reproductive Topics)

Termination for Medical Reasons

Together for Safety

Union of Students in Ireland

Ailbhe Smyth, Former Co-Director, Together for Yes

Dr Sinead Kennedy, Coalition to Repeal the Eight


For more information, please contact Sarah Clarkin, Communications and Social Media Coordinator, NWC, 0868619087, sarahc@nwci.ie or Vicky Masterson, Digital Campaigns & Communications Officer, vickyk@nwci.ie, (0)87 100 0385

About the Abortion Working Group
The Abortion Working Group, chaired by NWCI, is a collective of civil society organisations and healthcare providers which was established in 2019. The purpose of the group is to provide a space for information sharing and collective advocacy for groups working to ensure safe access to abortion in Ireland. The Group advocates for the provision of safe and effective access to a high-quality and comprehensive abortion care services.

The Group has come together to monitor the continued roll out and strengthening of abortion care services and will advocate where necessary for resources, changes and improvements and further service development. The group is working towards the 3-year review of Ireland’s abortion legislation and will advocate for a women and pregnant person-centred and human rights-focused review process.

The Abortion Working Group intends to ensure that women and pregnant people’s experiences of abortion care in Ireland are heard and taken into account, particularly those who are often marginalised or who face additional difficulties in accessing services as well as those who are still forced to travel to access abortion services. The Group also aims to ensure that abortion care providers receive the support, protections and resources that they need to provide a high quality abortion care service. The Group will challenge efforts to undermine abortion services or access to care.


About NWC

The National Women’s Council is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland, founded in 1973. We have over 190 member groups and a large and growing community of individual supporters.

The ambition of the National Women’s Council is an Ireland where every woman enjoys true equality and no woman is left behind. This ambition shapes and informs our work, and, with our living values, how we work. We are a movement-building organisation rooted in our membership, working on the whole island of Ireland. We are also part of the international movement to protect and advance women’s and girls’ rights. Our purpose is to lead action for the achievement of women’s and girls’ equality through mobilising, influencing, and building solidarity. Find out more on www.nwci.ie