23.2.24: Sarah Carey makes case for three-day waiting period in the Irish Independent

In the Saturday 17th February edition of the Irish Independent, columnist Sarah Carey made a strong case in favour of retaining the three-day waiting period between abortion appointments. This section of the 2018 abortion law was included in the pre-referendum draft legislation, which was published in spring 2018 and encouraged many ‘moderate’ Yes voters to vote for Repeal. Notably, in political circles, this included Minister Simon Coveney who was assured that such “safeguards” would keep abortion “rare” in Ireland and ensure informed consent. However, there are now efforts to remove it, on foot of the deeply flawed three-year review report, which Sarah Carey rightly described as “undermin[ing] trust in our democracy.” This point was echoed in the recent report of the Health Committee on the three-year review, which noted that individual members had expressed concerns that implementing the three-year review’s recommendations “entail a substantial departure from the proposals presented to the electorate before the May 2018 referendum.”

Sarah Carey wrote: “I’ve never heard of any elective procedure that didn’t involve a gap between a consultation with a doctor and the actual procedure. The abortion pill (there are actually two medications, taken a day or two apart) is not an antibiotic. Something serious happens to the body afterwards. According to the HSE website, there is cramping, bleeding, dizziness and diarrhoea. There can be nausea, vomiting, flushes and sweating.”

Ms Carey’s article is correct that the purpose of the three-day wait is to achieve informed consent, and waiting times are required in many other and less serious/life ending areas of life. In France, a country which has no mandatory waiting period for abortion, the Code de la santé publique (CSP) requires that patients seeking cosmetic surgery should wait for a period of 15 days.  The same logic which underpins this regulation is to achieve informed consent. There is no principled reason why a 15-day waiting period should exist for something non-fatal like cosmetic surgery, whilst an abortion should be granted immediately without providing the woman with information or time to consider her options. In 2016, France reduced its seven-day waiting period to a 48-hour waiting period for underage girls until it was eventually eliminated in March 2022.

The article concluded by once again highlighting the democratic deficit inherent in proposals to scrap the life-saving three-day waiting period: “Policy must evolve and reform, but wilfully breaking promises is why trust in politics collapses. This failure of trust is the disease destroying liberal democracy. If the safeguards go, so will my trust in referendum promises.” In 2018 the Pro Life Campaign and others warned that a Yes vote would remove the power from the people to decide on this issue ever again, and unfortunately this is proving accurate.