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Abortion information - the law

Information

Abortion is 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 Irish Medical Council ethical guidelines to doctors state that 'it is not unethical if a child in utero should suffer or lost its life as a side effect of standard medical treatment of the mother'.

Women may not be prevented from travelling abroad to get an abortion. It is lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions abroad, subject to strict conditions. It is not lawful to encourage or advocate an abortion in individual cases.

Rules

Information about abortion 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 the conditions under which information may be given, by individuals or agencies, on legal abortion services available outside Ireland to individuals or groups in Ireland. View the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State For Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995.

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 those 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 provided by doctors, counselling agencies and related services to a pregnant woman 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:

  • Such information and counselling may not involve advocating or promoting abortion (but it may involve anti-abortion advocacy)
  • 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.

Financial interests

Any person or agency giving abortion information may not have any financial interest in an actual 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.

Making appointments

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.

Decision by the European Court of Human Rights

On 6 September 2005 the European Court of Human Rights began hearing a case involving an Irish national (living in Ireland) who took a case about the lack of abortion services in Ireland in the case of lethal foetal abnormality. This applicant claimed her rights under several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated. The European Court of Human Rights made a decision on the case of D v Ireland on the 28 June 2006.

The Court found it is an established principle in a legal system providing constitutional protection for fundamental rights, for an aggrieved individual to test the extent of that protection. In the case of D v Ireland, the applicant had not brought an action before the Irish courts and thus had failed to exhaust domestic remedies. The case was dismissed.

Post-abortion services

Post-abortion counseling 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/
Page updated: 9 September 2010

Language

Gaeilge

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Contact Us

If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.