It is important to note that the Department of Health are seeking submissions only on the operation of the abortion Act. This precludes submissions which focus on the inherent issue of abortion. The Department openly states that such submissions which do not focus on the operation of the abortion law will not be considered.
As part of the submission process, you will be required to fill in the ‘Public Consultation’ form provided by the Department of Health. The first section of this form asks you for personal information and details. It is important to note that your name may be published publicly unless you explicitly state in the comment box at the end that you do not consent to the publication of your name or submission. You can also indicate in this box if you wish to have confidential or personal information redacted from a published version of your submission.
Part 1 asks you details about yourself and if you are making a submission on behalf of an organisation. Most of you will be making submissions as individuals, so check this box if it applies and fill in the rest of Part 1 with your details accordingly.
Part 2 seeks to assess your views. This is the most important part of the submission as it allows you to provide your views on how abortion is being operated in Ireland. In the boxes where you have the opportunity to write your views, it is asked that you keep within a word limit of 500. This does not require you to write 500 words or close to it, but is simply setting a barrier on excessive word-counts.
Q3(a) will ask you to what extent the Abortion Act has achieved what it set out to do. This is not a question about the rightness or wrongness of the law, but simply asking if it has achieved its objectives. This is difficult to answer from a pro-life perspective. On one hand, abortion has become widely available so the law has achieved what it set out to acheive, namely legalised abortion. On the other hand, part of the rhetorical objectives of the law was that abortion would be both “safe” and “rare”, neither of these promises have been fulfilled, therefore one could reasonably argue that it has not achieved its goals. Bearing this in mind, from a pro-life perspective you might consider ticking ‘Neutral’ or skipping this question entirely.
Q3(b) Depending on how you answered the above question, you can detail here briefly why you think your above statement is accurate. If answering from a “Neutral” perspective, the Act was introduced to bring in legal abortion in Ireland and this has undeniably happened. Legal abortion is now widely available, as witnessed in the huge number of abortions since its introduction. However, several rhetorical objectives of the Act have not been followed through. For example, the objective of preventing unsafe abortion pills being taken without medical consultation have failed due to the present telemedicine provisions. Meanwhile, the objectives of seeking “safe” and “rare” abortion have failed. Ticking neutral is a way of saying “yes and no”, and recusing yourself from implicitly agreeing with the premise that the stated objective of legalised abortion is something that should be aspired for.
Q4(a) asks if there are parts of the Act which have not operated well. Checking Yes would allow you to comment on deficiencies such as the obligation for a doctor who objects to abortion from making referrals.
In Q4(b), it should be noted that Section 22(3) of the Act requires doctors to make referrals which would facilitate abortion. No doctor or healthcare worker should ever be forced to go against their conscience, to ignore their professional and clinical judgement or to mislead or lie to their patients by pretending that abortion is a medical treatment when they realise it is not. Legislative change is urgently needed on this issue and must include:
- Protection from having to facilitate or be involved in abortions (e.g. by way of referral for abortion)
- Protection for pharmacists and others in the healthcare sector, not just doctors, nurses and midwives.
- Protection from discrimination in employment and hiring decisions.
- Protection from being pressured not to invoke their freedom of conscience.
- Students who go into the healthcare field to heal and to protect and preserve life must not be forced to undergo abortion training. Abortion training must therefore be on an opt-in basis.
Q5(a) asks if there are parts of the Act which have operated well. Checking the Yes box will allow you to answer below in defence of the three-day waiting period and the provisions to protect consciences objection for medical practitioners.
In Q5(b), Section 12(3) of the Act provides for a period of 3 days which must elapse between a first consultation and the performance of an abortion. In 2020, a total of 8,057 women took part in the initial consultation with 6,577 of them proceeding to have an abortion. This indicates that the 3 day waiting period played a role in providing valuable time for reflection which led many to choose to continue with their pregnancies. As such in 2020, 1,480 women chose to continue with their pregnancies and the 3 day waiting period certainly played a role in many of these cases. It is an important provision which should be protected.
It is also worth noting in Q5(b) that Section 22 of the Act provides for conscientious objection. This principle must be protected but in line with the problems identified in Q4(b), it must be genuine freedom of conscience and not oblige medical practitioners to play an unwanted part in the ending of human life through abortion.
Q6 asks if you have further comments on how the legislation operates. This is an opportunity to detail its lack of safeguards to care for babies who survive late-term abortions but have been left to die, as pointed to in a 2020 UCC report in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The Act is also inefficient in its collection of data, a proposed alternative model which should be studied and incorporated is the statistical notifications required for abortions under legislation in England and Wales.
Q7 asks if you have any comments about the services provided under the Act. This is a more open-ended question and allows you to detail several issues about deficiencies in the law. This could include the lack of legislative provision of alternatives to abortion, as seen in the recent HSE MyOptions report by Students For Life [https://studentsforlife.ie/myoptions-project/]. The lack of a legislative requirement for the provision of precautionary pain relief medicine for unborn children in late-term abortions could also be mentioned here, as could the lack of oversight and public accountability for adverse events, such as the Baby Christopher case.
Qs 8 & 9 relate to your level of knowledge pre-review of the Abortion Act, and if you consent to having your submission publicised or not.
The form should now be completed.
If you decide to post it, it should be addressed to Bioethics 2 Unit Public Consultation, Department of Health, Block 1, Miesian Plaza, 50-58 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2, D02 XW14. If emailing, it should be sent to Bioethics2Unit@health.gov.ie with the subject line “Review of the operation of the Act”. If you are filling the form via the department’s website then you can click the submit button.
Submissions are encouraged from any interested members of the public and stakeholder groups. The deadline for submission is 17:00 on Friday, 1st April 2022.