Nearly four years since we repealed the eighth amendment, access to abortion has been frequently criticised for being difficult to access and having cumbersome, legally mandated “cooling-off” periods between consultation with a GP and the procedure. The government has announced that a “three-part approach” is being taken to review the current legislation and the services in place for procuring an abortion.
The legislation in question in this review is the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 which was introduced following the referendum. Section 7 of the 2018 act included a clause stating that “the Minister shall, not later than 3 years after the commencement of this section, carry out a review of the operation of this Act”, making health minister Stephen Donnelly legally bound to conduct a review to “facilitate monitoring of the operation of the legislation in practice, as well as of the delivery of services in the area”.
The review process is being led by barrister Marie O’Shea acting as the independent chair of the review. A research team is currently being assembled to study abortion service providers and the workers involved such as health care workers, doctors and the HSE at large. O’Shea will examine the results of this study and will analyse the findings in conjunction with reports from an ongoing public consultation programme. Trinity’s own Dr Catherine Conlon is currently working on a study to “generate an in-depth understanding of the experiences of women who have accessed abortion care services since the commencement of the act”.
Since announced, the abortion review programme has come under fire. For one, potential bidders for the independent research strand of the review were informed that “the maximum available budget is €60,000”. The Department of Health reported to have “a very limited budget available for this project”. For this project to be successful, it must be prioritised. In the wake of the pandemic, women’s rights and struggles surrounding abortions seems to have been cast aside and the lack of funding for this project is certainly indicative of that.
Currently, in 2022 in Ireland, if a person wishes to have an abortion and has had a consultation with a GP, they must wait three days before obtaining the required medication for carrying out the procedure. This was inserted into the 2018 Act and there does not appear to be any clear rationale behind this provision. Considering that women and pregnant people undergo unfathomable amounts of stress during this time period, it is even more trauma inducing to force them to wait three days before acquiring the medication they need, prolonging their pain and suffering.
In the wake of the pandemic, women’s rights and struggles surrounding abortions seems to have been cast aside and the lack of funding for this review is certainly indicative of that
The plan for review has also raised some severe privacy concerns for women who make submissions to “share their views on the operation of” the 2018 Act. The privacy notice on gov.ie outlines that the Department “may include a full list of those who make submissions in an appendix to any report”. At the end of the submissions box, women must “indicate in the comment box at the end of the submission if you are including personal, confidential or commercially sensitive information” and “wish this information to be redacted” in any release. If one does not include this in the comment box, “it will be presumed that the information contained in your submission is releasable under the Freedom of Information Act 2014″. The fact that women who participate in this section of the review have to opt out of the government including their personal and potentially sensitive information in any publication is extremely problematic. Should somebody forget to add a comment in this box or skim through the submissions process, they run the risk of releasing their personal information to the government and concomitantly to the public when the review is finalised. This review should be treated with utmost confidentiality and, to make it more arduous for those taking part in the review to maintain their anonymity will not only raise serious privacy concerns for the women involved but could also act as a deterrent for those who wish to get involved and will limit the success of the review as a whole.
Regarding submissions to the report, the plan outlines that “the department is specifically seeking submissions on the operation of the legislation”. This means that the review will have an overall narrow scope, focusing only on the legalistic issues of the legislation, rather than how it operates in practice. Darina Murray, the spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign, worries that the scope of the review is “so narrow in scope it is doomed to fail to address the real problems with access to abortion in this country”. She added that “real people with real needs do not care about the operation vs the policy of the legislation”.
The review will have an overall narrow scope, focusing only on the legalistic issues of the legislation, rather than how it operates in practice
Ultimately, it is clear that not only is the abortion review campaign severely underfunded but there are also serious privacy concerns for those who take part who risk losing their sensitive information to the public. The plans for the review seem to focus solely on legalistic issues rather than the actual struggles that Irish women have been facing and continue to face every day to access abortion services in our country.