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Varadkar: Abortion review should have properly explored 3-day wait

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said that he would like to have seen the Abortion Review ‘properly explore’ why women did not return for an abortion after the 3-day waiting period – while adding that he would like to see fewer abortions happening in Ireland.

A push to have the 3-day wait scrapped has become hotly contested with some TDs saying they were concerned that voters would see changes to the 2018 law as a breach of promises made in the referendum.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Mr Varadkar said he would like to see a lower number of abortions taking place in Ireland, saying that while it is “sometimes necessary” it is “not a good thing”.

The report from the Abortion Review, which was chaired by barrister Marie O’Shea, was slammed by pro-life groups, including the Life Institute, who said that the process had “failed to recognise that thousands of women changed their mind during the 3-day wait.”

Mr Varadkar commended the Review but said:

 “[but one thing] that came out during the hearings was there wasn’t really a proper exploration of the decisions made by women who didn’t go ahead with the termination. So, it is those numbers who attended for the first appointment and didn’t go back. It’s not a small number. That wasn’t really properly explored.”

And he added:

“Is it the case that hundreds of abortions are being avoided as a result of it? Or, is it the case that women would have gone ahead with it anyway. It hasn’t been properly explored.”

More than 100 doctors, nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals, including consultants, obstetricians and senior medical staff in maternity services, have signed an open letter “strongly urging” the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to retain the 3-day period of reflection before undergoing an abortion.

“The 3-day wait helps women, it gives them time to think, and the figures strongly suggest it reduces the number of abortions,” Dr Ronan Cleary of Doctors for Life said.

“In 2021 for example, the state made 8,284 payments for initial consultations regarding abortion with GPs and clinics, but in that period there were a much lower number of completed abortions, recorded at 6,683. That means 1,601 women did not return for an abortion after the 3-day wait. A small number may have sadly miscarried but it certainly looks as if the 3-day wait is leading to fewer abortions – something most reasonable people would welcome.”

A 2019 report from the Irish Family Planning Association showed that some 12% of the women who initially approached them did not proceed through our abortion service. Their 2023 analysis claimed that a lower number did not proceed for that period.

Mr Varadkar also told the Irish Times: “I don’t think anyone thinks that abortion is a good thing. It’s sometimes necessary but it’s not a good thing. There are over 8,000 abortions happening in Ireland every year. I would like that number to be lower.

“[I] would like to see a greater exploration of that three-day issue,” he said, adding “but we did go to the people with a particular proposition. And so, soon after that referendum, making changes to what we said we would do … I’d have to think long and hard about that.”

This piece was first published on Gript

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