Ireland’s abortion laws are currently under review. The new laws became operational in 2019 with legislation introduced on foot of a referendum to remove all constitutional protection for the unborn child. In the first three years of the country’s new abortion laws, we have seen 20,718 Irish abortions carried out, a dramatic 70% rise on previous figures relating to Irish women. Although the laws are already extreme, many pro-abortion activists have been chomping at the bit to remove even the most minor safeguards contained in the law, such as the mandatory three-day waiting period.
Prior to the 2018 referendum, the government introduced draft legislation which contained key proposals on what Ireland’s post-repeal laws could look like. This included a promise to have a three-day waiting period between the first appointment and the final abortion appointment.
Senior cabinet minister Simon Coveney at the time expressed reservations about repealing the Eighth Amendment but was persuaded to support the government’s Yes campaign by the inclusion of items like the three-day waiting period. This profoundly influenced what may be termed ‘soft’ Yes voters, who wanted to see some change in Irish abortion policy but were uncomfortable with unrestricted abortion. If the present government now moves to strip away even the simplest safeguards from Irish abortion law, it will represent a profound betrayal of voters at the time of the hotly contested 2018 referendum.
Unfortunately, the present government seems uninterested in even making the case for why the three-day period exists. It is incredible that the government does not even try to explain or defend the rationale for its own policy. Instead it implies it is some sort of awkward sticking point. Unfortunately, the media discourse on the three-day waiting period has been extremely one-sided.
We know that, across the first three years of Ireland’s abortion laws, 3,951 women who made an initial appointment for an abortion did not proceed to the final appointment. Not all of these cases will have been women who changed their minds, but on balance, this is solid evidence to suggest that thousands of women availed of the three-day period for reflection and ultimately decided to have their babies. This clearly illustrates the life-saving benefit of retaining the three-day waiting period, which provides women with vital time for reflection and to consider options aside from abortion. There are thousands of babies aged six months, one year and two years who are alive today because their mother was given that vital time.
Opponents of the three-day period have referred to it as creating an unnecessary burden. But we know from Irish Medical Council guidelines on many medical procedures that it is recommended a doctor should “give the patient enough time before the treatment to consider their options and reach a decision” to achieve informed consent. It continues, that a doctor “should not usually seek consent from a patient when they are stressed, sedated or in pain.”
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The recent Irish government-commissioned “UnPac” research study, led by an openly pro-abortion activist, had only negative things to say about the three-day waiting period. But the study was deeply flawed insofar as it failed to interview women who availed of the period to reflect on their options and ultimately decided to keep the baby. This glaring absence muddies the waters of the study’s objectivity.
Retaining the three-day waiting period has not been the principal focus of our campaign on the three-year review. We have focused on the urgent need to provide women with positive alternatives to abortion, to ensure freedom of conscience provisions are more robust, and addressing gross injustices which have arisen since the introduction of legal abortion. Nonetheless, it is necessary to mount a serious defence of the value of the life-saving three-day period to allow time and space for women to access positive supports, change their minds and give life to their unborn children.
LifeNews Note: Eilís Mulroy is a solicitor and campaign manager of the Pro Life Campaign in Ireland. See www.prolifecampaign.ie. Supporters of the Pro Life Campaign gathered outside Leinster House (the Irish Parliament) on Thursday evening to respond to a report which claimed the three-day waiting period for reflection may be removed from Irish abortion legislation as part of the forthcoming government review.