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Bill seeking removal of all restrictions on abortion passes first stage in Dáil 

A Bill to amend Ireland’s abortion law to decriminalise the provision of abortion in Ireland has passed its first stage in the Dáil.

The Bill, which would also abolish the 3-day waiting period for abortion and would permit the abortion of unborn babies prenatally diagnosed with a life-limiting condition without a set gestational time limit, now proceeds to the second stage of the legislative process. 

The Bill seeks to decriminalise abortion here in line with the World Health Organisation’s “reckless” and “extreme” abortion guidelines, updated last year, which seek to remove all gestational limits on abortion. The introduction of the Bill in the Dáil comes almost five years after abortion campaigners here welcomed the Repeal of Ireland’s eighth amendment prohibiting abortion – after firmly assuring wavering voters that abortions would only be performed up to 12 weeks’ gestation and not beyond.

During stage two, the general principles of the Bill will be debated. Members of the Dáil will be allocated a limited amount of time to make a statement on the law the Bill would create, and may also suggest other provisions they would like to be included in the Bill. Following this, the Bill has the potential to proceed to Committee Stage.

The Private Members’ Bill, put forward by Brid Smith, is sponsored by Smith, along with fellow TDs Paul Murphy, Gino Kenny, and Richard Boyd Barrett.

If the Bill proceeds through all five stages of the Dáil and the Senate and is signed into law, it would mean an amendment of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act) – the legislation introduced in 2018 following repeal – to “provide for abortion on request prior to foetal viability; to abolish the 3 day waiting period for abortion on request; to allow for abortion on grounds of fatal foetal abnormality that are likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within a year of birth; to allow for abortion where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman; and to decriminalise the provision of abortion”.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Bill in December 2022, People Before Profit TD and stringent abortion advocate Deputy Brid Smith said “unfinished business” remains over four years on from the majority of Irish voters backing the repeal of the eighth amendment.

“This is the unfinished business of the great repeal movement that in 2018 challenged the Government, through one historic referendum, to give women the right to choose what to do with their bodies and their reproductive health. 

“In moving this Bill, I remember those whose cases propelled many people in this country into action, and into campaigning and fighting, for that right to choose, namely, Savita Halappanavar and Miss X, who are just two in a litany of names and numbers that became synonymous with a cruel and punishing Ireland for women,” she said.

Smith said she wanted to see abortion totally decriminalised in line with recently updated guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Again, in line with the beliefs of the majority in this country, it aims to ensure that abortion is treated like other medical procedures and that it is never a matter for criminal law. It aims to achieve full decriminalisation of abortion in line with the World Health Organization guidelines,” she said.

In May of last year, the World Health Organisation’s updated abortion guidelines drew criticism, with US congressmen among those to decry the guidelines as “extreme” and “reckless”.

The WHO guidelines, issued in March 2022, call on countries to remove all legal and policy restrictions on abortion, in line with the demands of lobby groups within the abortion industry. The guidelines were drafted by a catalogue of pro-abortion groups from around the world.

The updated abortion guidelines say that abortion is a human right, while promoting it as an intervention which poses minimal risks to women, including what it describes as “self-care” abortions which can be performed at home without the oversight of medical professionals. The guidelines also call on countries to scrap conscience protections for health workers and medical professionals who object to referring women for abortions or performing abortions themselves.

Taking aim at the guidelines in May, US legislators said the guidance was sure to cause “severe” harm to women and children worldwide.

“This guidance will likely cause severe and irreversible harm not only to U.S. citizens, but also to women and children worldwide,” the letter addressed to WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, reads. It was signed by 55 U.S. Senate and House members, who blasted the international health body for “trampling” on sovereignty and promoting dangerous abortion regimes.

“These extreme new guidelines aim to remove all legal and policy safeguards on abortion , to impose restrictions on the conscience rights of health workers, and to ignore the right to life and the safety of mothers and children,” the letter stated. 

The legislators pointed out that the WHO guidelines are not legally binding on any country, while criticising the health agency for “falsely asserting that abortion is a human right” – adding that the WHO was “attempting to delegitimise the will of all sovereign nations” through the guidelines.

“Moreover, we are astonished that the WHO is attempting to dehumanise preborn children and assert that the rights of the preborn do not exist by categorising self-induced – and in some cases, illegal – abortions as “self-care” and demanding “the full decriminalisation of abortion” without any gestational age limits”.

“To categorise abortions as “self-care” not only strips away the humanity and dignity of the pre-born child, but also contradicts international standards recognising the pre-born child as a rights-holding person,” they said.

Highlighting the extremity of the guidelines, the letter continued: “Additionally, advocating for the termination of the life of a human being up to the point of birth is quite shocking and inhumane given that a day, an hour, or even moments later, similar action against a child that has been born would constitute murder”.

The guidance also recommends that women and girls seeking abortions should be given abortion-inducing drugs without medical supervision. 

With regard to conscientious objection, the WHO guidance recommends that “access to and continuity of comprehensive abortion care be protected against barriers created by conscientious objection”. It adds: [If] it proves impossible to regulate conscientious objection in a way that respects, protects and fulfils abortion seekers’ rights, conscientious objection in abortion provision may become indefensible”. 

Meanwhile, a national campaign has called for the retention of the 3-day waiting period for abortions in Ireland, after data released to TD Carol Nolan in November 2022 showed that the waiting period reduces abortions.

The data showed that more than a thousand women changed their mind during the 3-day period of reflection after a first abortion appointment.

The Life Institute, who ran the billboard campaign, said data suggests that scrapping the period for reflection, part of current legislation, may bring about another sharp rise in the abortion rate.

‘HORRIFYING’ 

Commenting on the Bill to amend the Abortion Act of 2018 to allow for decriminalisation, the Life Institute said that the proposals were “horrifying”.

“These proposals should horrify the people of Ireland,” the pro-life organisation said. “Such amendments, in line with WHO guidelines, would create the unthinkable situation where we have legal abortion up to birth in this country. The reality of what this Bill entails is horrifying and cruel, and it exposes the extremism of Irish abortion campaigners and our abortion-supporting politicians.

“Notably, this Private Member’s Bill comes less than five years after many well-meaning Irish voters were told that abortion would be carefully regulated. Voters were promised that abortion would only ever be permitted up to 12 weeks’ gestation; that it would be “safe and rare”.

The Vote No campaign warned voters not to give politicians the power to legislate on abortion, but unfortunately that is what happened – and we are now seeing the reality of what ‘yes’ voting politicians really wanted when they set and backed a limit of 12 weeks; abortion on demand, without any legal or policy limits,” the group said.

The Life Institute continued: “Voters were lied to. We were told time and time again that legalising abortion would not increase abortions. We were told that abortion doesn’t hurt women. Of course, though, we have seen the abortion rate skyrocket, with more women than ever requesting help for dealing with trauma post-abortion. 

The group said some of the “worst fears” of the electorate had come to pass since the legalisation of abortion in 2018, including the revelation that babies have been born alive in Ireland in failed legal abortions.

“Abortion has hurt many mothers and babies in Ireland in a very short time, and some of our worst fears came to pass. We’ve seen the nightmare scenario of babies being born alive after excruciating abortions, with doctors unable to treat these babies. And yet, politicians like Brid Smith, Paul Murphy, Gino Kenny, and Richard Boyd Barrett, want more abortions, performed later, because the thousands of abortions taking place every year here are not enough”.

The Life Institute urged people to get informed and take action, stating:

“We are urging people to look into this legislation, to examine the WHO guidelines in detail, and to understand what the passing of this Bill would mean. Such a Bill would cause severe and irreversible harm to women and children in this country, and for these reasons, we need people to stand up and contact their TDs to oppose this anti-life legislation”.

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