24th May 2021
On the third anniversary of the repeal of the 8th Amendment, the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) highlights the promises broken by the Minister of Health on abortion, including commissioning an independent review of the law and ensuring accessible care at home.
“During the parliamentary debates on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, then-Minister of Health Simon Harris promised that the review would be “external and independent [and] not be an in-house job”, said Ms JoAnne Neary, spokesperson for ARC. “He also committed to listening to patients, doctors and women’s advocacy groups, to looking at the operation of the Act in full and making decisions based on research. He specifically put it on record in the Dáil that the Oireachtas Health Committee should approve the terms of reference for the review, so that any successor would have to explain why they are changing their mind on that if they tried to depart from what the government promised.”
“The purpose of the review should be to evaluate the operation of the Act, with a view to improving access to abortion and ensuring that services are available to all who need or want them; and those services must meet the needs of all patients. Advances such as the use of telemedicine, which is working well, should be retained. ARC believe that Ireland’s abortion law should reflect international human rights and health standards, just as former Minister Harris promised it would,” said Ms Neary.
Current Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly supported these commitments in 2018, yet he is now failing to uphold his own promises as well as those of his government colleagues. Ms. Neary added, “The government has indicated that the review will not be external or independent, and to date, there is no sign of any meaningful engagement with the Oireachtas Health Committee or with patients, patient advocates, providers and relevant professionals. We cannot stand over a toothless, “tick-box” exercise conducted internally by the Department of Health, which will miss the opportunity to address the real failures in the current system.”
These failures are many. “When campaigning to repeal the 8th, politicians promised Repeal would mean an end to people needing to travel for abortion. Yet, almost 400 residents of Ireland had to travel to England or Wales for abortion care in 2019 because of barriers in the law and in provision in Ireland,” said Ms Neary. “While statistics are not yet available for 2020, testimony from the Abortion Support Network indicates that many people have had to scale colossal hurdles to access abortion during the pandemic — people who were forced to travel overseas at the very time when the Government was telling us to stay within 5km of our homes.”
“We were promised abortion care would be widely available; in reality half of the maternity hospitals in the State still do not provide abortion care and many rural regions lack community provision. We were promised legislation to establish Safe Access Zones to prevent harassment and intimidation around hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, yet this has not even been introduced. We were promised regulation of deceptive rogue agencies that misinform in order to dissuade individuals from getting an abortion. At what point does a series of broken promises become a string of lies? The review is an opportunity to create the gold-standard of free, safe, legal and local abortion access. In 2018, 66.4% of voters chose care and compassion over shame and stigma. It is time for the government to stop lying, to deliver on its promises, and to make abortion care available for everyone who needs it.” said Neary.