It is a serious criminal offence to have or to provide an abortion in Ireland.
The only exception to this is where a pregnant person’s life is at risk, where the foetus not yet viable, and where doctors certify that abortion is the only way to avert the risk of death (Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013).
The 8th Amendment imposes a near total ban on abortion in Ireland. It only allows for abortion where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant person.
The constitutional position is reflected in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
Providing or having an abortion is a serious criminal offence, carrying a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. (Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, s. 22)
The only exception to this criminalisation is where doctors determine:
- That a pregnant person’s life is at real and substantial risk, and
- That the foetus is not viable, and
- That bringing the pregnancy to an end is the only way to address the risk.
In an emergency, one doctor’s opinion is required. Where there is a risk to life from physical ill-health two doctors’ opinions are required. Where there is a risk to life from suicide three doctors’ opinions are required. (Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, s.s. 7, 8, 9).
Abortion is illegal even where the pregnancy places a woman’s health at serious risk, in cases of rape or incest, or where the foetus is likely to die before or shortly after birth (i.e. in situations of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’). (Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, s.s. 7, 8, 9).
Doctors may delay making a decision to terminate a pregnancy until the foetus has reached viability (i.e. can likely survive outside the womb). Once the pregnancy is viable, early delivery is the required course of action. (Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, s.s. 7, 8, 9).
Access to information about getting an abortion abroad is seriously restricted. Counsellors can never advocate abortion; all information must be non-directive. If doctors or counsellors provide a woman with information about terminating a pregnancy, they must also provide information about continuing with pregnancy and about adoption. State-funded information services may opt out of providing information about abortion unless a woman specifically asks for that information. (Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State For Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995, s. 5)
Doctors in Ireland commit a criminal offence if they directly refer their patients for abortion care in another country, no matter how complicated the medical circumstances are (e.g. in a case where a foetus has been diagnosed with a fatal anomaly). (Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State For Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995, s. 8).
Report on a Multidisciplinary Analysis of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2014 and the Guidance Document for Health Professionals on its Implementation (Schweppe and Lalor)
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