Varadkar Admits Abortion Deadline Unrealistic
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that abortions may not be available in every maternity hospital from January but insisted that abortions willbe accessible in Ireland from the start of 2019. He said the service may not be available everywhere and will have to be “phased in”.
His remarks came after some GPs and maternity hospitals warned they will not be ready to start doing abortions in just three weeks and the gaps could put women who have abortions at risk.
The Taoiseach noted that the legislation still has to go through the Seanad, and may be returned to the Dáil if there are amendments. He also said that it’s within the President’s prerogative to refer the law to the Supreme Court. But he added: “assuming the legislation is enacted, signed into law by the President, then a service will be available in January.”
“It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in, but we’re confident it will be available in January. It may not be available in every single hospital and every single place, but the service will be available.”
The full extent of what availability of abortion is likely from January 1 will not emerge until the abortion bill is passed by the Seanad and signed into law. Once it is passed into law the HSE will start advertising its My Options 24/7 phone line, manned by counsellors and backed by nurses. This will direct women to the nearest participating GP or hospital. There will be no publicly available register of participating GPs and the names will only be disclosed to women after they ring the phone line. The phone line will be advertised on radio and online, as well as through posters and pharmacies.
A major concern among doctors remains access to ultrasounds to date pregnancies. Talks with hospitals and private providers are expected to conclude this week to allow for more information on the location of scans.
The Coombe Women and Infants Hospital has said that it will not be able to provide abortions from January 1st as planned by the Minster for Health, Simon Harris. No hospital in the overall Dublin Midlands Hospital Group will be providing abortions from next month, as Portlaoise Hospital, the other maternity unit in the group, has also indicated it is not in a position to provide abortions from January 1st. Although there is widespread concern among health professionals about the state of preparedness for the new service, this is the first time one of the major hospitals has explicitly stated it cannot meet the deadline.
The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, also said it believed the new service could not be fully introduced at once.
Under the new legislation, abortions after nine weeks will generally be carried out in a hospital setting, with most of the demand expected to arise in the three main Dublin maternity hospitals and in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH). However, CUMH is also understood to be concerned about its level of preparedness.
Informed sources said about 200 GPs (out of about 2,500) have provided expressions of interest to the HSE about providing abortions when new legislation comes into effect.
Irish Independent. December 10. Irish Independent. December 11. The Irish Times. December 11.