Health Minister insists proposed abortion laws are 'vastly different' to UK laws

'No' campaigners have voiced concern about the proposed 12-week limit on unrestricted terminations

Health Minister insists proposed abortion laws are 'vastly different' to UK laws

Simon Harris. Image:

The Health Minister has repeated his reassurance that disability won't be grounds for abortion if the Eighth Amendment is repealed - and insisted the Government's proposals for abortion laws are 'vastly different' to the UK.

While the referendum itself focuses on repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for the termination of pregnancy, the Government has already laid out the proposed laws it hopes to introduce in the event of a 'Yes' vote.

With just three days left until the referendum, 'No' campaigners have voiced concern that the 12-week limit for unrestricted terminations allows enough time to find out if a disability has been detected.

Over the weekend, the Disability Voices for Life group - which is campaigning for a 'No' vote - claimed the proposed legislation would be 'discriminatory' against their community.

Simon Harris, who is supporting a 'Yes' vote, addressed the subject on Newstalk Breakfast this morning.

He observed: "People are grappling with this question, and they want to be sure they make the right decision. What I can tell the Irish people very clearly is we have specifically excluded disability as a grounds for termination.

"That is different to the UK... I see a lot of posters, and a lot of what I would consider misinformation comparing this referendum with the situation in the UK. What we're proposing is vastly different to the UK.

"Yes, it is true to say that you can screen for certain disabilities from about nine or ten weeks into pregnancy, and we've heard masters of our maternity hospital tell us that. We've also heard them tell us that is not the same as a diagnosis, and that you then have to wait a number of other weeks for a diagnosis."

'Serious risk'

Minister Harris also suggested that the laws in the UK regarding the health of the woman are 'much more vague' than the proposals being put forward here.

He explained: "Abortion will be illegal in all circumstances beyond early pregnancy in this country, except where there is a serious risk to the [health] or life of the woman.

"That serious risk [...] will have to be certified by two doctors - one of whom will have to be an obstetrician, one of whom will have to be a specialist in the area where the woman's medical condition is."

He also said there were no amendments brought forward in the Dáil or Seanad to propose a different approach to the current referendum.

He added: "The Eighth Amendment was put in I'm sure for good reasons - it's hard for me to comprehend because I wasn't born, let alone able to vote in 1983.

"Ireland is a vastly different place now - and if people were voting to stop abortion, it clearly hasn't worked. More than 170,000 women have travelled from every country in Ireland [to have an abortion]."

Campaigning continues ahead of Friday's referendum, with Minister Harris and consultant obstetrician Mary Higgins set to debate Love Both's Cora Sherlock and Sinn Féin's Peadar Tóibín on RTÉ's Prime Time programme tonight.