Abortion information - the law
On 25 May 2018, there was a constitutional referendum on the proposal to replace Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution with the text “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.” A majority of voters approved this proposal.
After the referendum, a provisional certificate stating the result was published in Iris Oifigiúil (the Irish State Gazette) on 29 May 2018. If no petition challenging the result is presented to the High Court within 7 days of its publication, the certificate becomes final. The President will then sign the Bill to change the Constitution and the Constitution will be amended.
The amendment will allow the Oireachtas to pass laws regulating the termination of pregnancy. The Government has published an outline of the legislation it intends to introduce (pdf).
Until new legislation is enacted, there is no change to the current legal situation. Abortion remains illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother. This includes a risk arising from a threat of suicide. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 regulates the limited circumstances in which a pregnancy can be legally terminated. The Department of Health has published guidance for health professionals on the operation of the Act.
Women may not be prevented from travelling abroad to get an abortion. It is not lawful to encourage or advocate an abortion in individual cases. It is lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions abroad, subject to strict conditions. This document explains the rules about providing such information.
Information about abortion services in other countries may be made available under certain conditions. The law on the subject was passed in 1995 and is usually known as the Abortion Information Act. Its full title is Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995. The Act sets out how information about legal abortion services outside Ireland may be given to individuals or groups in Ireland.
Information about abortion abroad may be made available by doctors, by specific agencies or by individual counsellors. The rules apply to all providers of information but a distinction is made between information that is provided for the general public and information that is made available directly to a pregnant woman by a doctor or an advisory service.
The Act does not oblige anyone to give information on abortion. It lays down rules for people and agencies who wish to give this information. People and agencies who engage in pregnancy counselling but do not give abortion information are not affected by the rules set out in this Act.
What sort of information is covered by the Abortion Information Act?
The act applies to information that is "likely to be required by a woman for the purpose of availing herself of services provided outside the state for the termination of pregnancies" – in non-legal terms, this basically means the names and addresses of abortion services.
General information about abortion services
General information about abortion services that is published or made available in journals, magazines, broadcasts, public meetings, etc., must comply with the following rules:
- The services must be lawfully available in the other country
- The information and the method and manner of its publication must be in compliance with the law of that country
- The information must be truthful and objective and must not advocate or promote abortion
This sort of information must not be made available by means of billboards, public notices or by unsolicited books and newspapers.
These rules apply regardless of who is giving the information – it could be a bookshop, an advice centre or a doctor.
One-to-one information counselling
Information and counselling that is provided to a pregnant woman by doctors, counselling agencies and related services is subject to stricter rules. (Information given by a private individual such as a relative or friend is not affected by these rules). If information on abortion is being given, the following rules apply:
- The information must comply with the rules set out above for information to the general public
- Information, advice and counselling must be given on all options available to the pregnant woman; this information must be truthful and objective and must fully inform the woman on all options and must not be accompanied by any advocacy or promotion of abortion
Doctors or agencies who do not give abortion information but who do provide pregnancy counselling are not subject to any of these rules about the information and counselling they give.
Crisis pregnancy counselling services
Crisis pregnancy counselling services are available free of charge to all women living in Ireland. Services are State-funded by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme and available at 50 locations nationwide. For a list of these services visit positiveoptions.ie.
Any person or agency giving abortion information may not have any financial interest in an abortion service in another country. Similarly, the Act prohibits the giving of information if a foreign abortion service has a financial interest in the Irish abortion information service or if a third party has an interest in both the abortion service and the abortion information service. The person or agency must not benefit in any way from the woman's decision to choose the abortion option; fees may be charged but they must be the same no matter what option is chosen. The person or agency may provide and charge for post-abortion treatment and counselling.
It is lawful to give the names and addresses of abortion services. It is not lawful to make an appointment with an abortion service on behalf of the pregnant woman. This does not prevent doctors or others from giving medical records to the woman.
Post-abortion counselling and medical check-ups are available free of charge in Ireland to women who have had an abortion abroad. These services are State-funded by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme. For a list of services visit abortionaftercare.ie.