Delays in implementing reforms to the State’s abortion laws will trigger the return of major pro-choice campaigning and rallies, a leading activist has warned.
Ailbhe Smyth, who was the co-director of the Together for Yes campaign in the 2018 referendum, called on the Government to show leadership and deliver the changes recommended by an independent review of the current legal framework.
The review undertaken by barrister Marie O’Shea recommended a series of operational and legislative changes to the system introduced after Ireland voted to liberalise its laws on terminations in the landmark referendum in 2018.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists gathered outside the Dáil on Wednesday to voice contrasting demands in respect of the review findings, with the latter grouping urging against further liberalisation.
The events came ahead of the fifth anniversary of the referendum that overturned the near blanket ban on abortions enshrined in the constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
Among the recommendations of the review was the removal of a mandatory three-day waiting period between a woman’s initial medical consultation and her being given access to abortion treatment or medication.
The framework introduced after the referendum provides for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks in term.
After that point terminations are allowed in certain circumstances, such as in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and when there is a risk to the wellbeing of the expectant mother.
The review has recommended several changes to the system for determining when abortions can be granted post 12 weeks and also recommends that threat of criminal sanction is removed for medics found to have acted outside the provisions of the abortion legislation.
The findings of the review have been referred to the Oireachtas health committee for consideration.
However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would be “reluctant and uncomfortable” to make any major changes to the legislation introduced in January 2019.
Pro-choice campaigners outside the Dáil on Wednesday called for urgent implementation of the recommendations as they voiced concern that the Government was delaying taking action.
They highlighted that almost 800 women have travelled to the UK to have an abortion since the laws were changed due to an inability to access a termination in the State.
Ms Smyth said more demonstrations would be organised if action was not taken, and stressed the importance of campaigners “putting our feet out there on the ground again”.
“It’s about saying that if you (the Government) do not deliver on these reforms, we will be outside the Dail on a regular basis, making a lot of noise,” she said.
“And they need not think that that’s over in this country, we will get out there and we will do it.”
She added: “We will pursue this government to do what is right and to give the leadership that women in this country actually need.”
Ms Smyth later attended a People Before Profit event where the party unveiled a proposed private members’ bill that seeks to deliver recommendations within the O’Shea review as well as further reforms.
The bill is set to be debated in the Dáil on Thursday.
Anti-abortion activists later assembled outside Leinster House to call on the Government to resist further liberalisation of the regime.
Luke Silke, Aontú’s spokesperson on children and equality, insisted the three-day wait period was an important measure.
“Statistics released to us following a parliamentary question showed that close to 4,000 women actually changed their minds,” he said.
“They went for the initial consultation appointments but did not return after three days to proceed with the abortion.
“I don’t think the voices of those women have been heard in this discussion.
“Presumably some of them are carrying babies in their arms now.
“It’s hard to see how any of them could regret their decision to continue with their pregnancy.
“And I think that really their voices should have been heard as part of this process.
“And from the reading of the report, it seems that that was not the case.”