Counties without services, rogue counselling agencies, fatal foetal abnormalities and U.S. anti-abortion groups have all been issues since the enactment of the country’s new abortion laws.

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It’s been almost nine months since Ireland voted yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment to give people access to legal abortion services for the first time in the history of the State.

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill was signed into law in December and services became available in January.

But a lot of confusion remains over the legislation, with reports of some counties without services and couples being refused terminations for fatal foetal abnormalities.

More recently and worryingly, there’s been stories about bogus websites and US anti-abortion groups training people to intercept women in hospital car parks.

Louise from The Hub spoke to Mairead Enright, Senior Lecturer in Law at Birmingham Law School and member of Lawyers For Choice, to find out more about the legislation.

When are terminations permitted?

“Up to 12 weeks, you’re entitled to access a termination and you don’t have to fulfill any particular criteria, except under the 12 weeks. So, there’s no investigation into your reasons for terminating the pregnancy. 

“And then after 12 weeks, the criteria is much more strict, So, you’re talking about a risk to life, a risk of serious harm to health, or a fatal foetal abnormality, which is defined very tightly under the legislation.  

“A fatal foetal abnormality means that the foetus is likely to die before birth or within 28 days of birth. So, after 12 weeks you have to meet those strict criteria.”

Has abortion been fully decriminalised?

“Women are no longer at risk of prosecution.

“But it’s not fair to say it’s been totally decriminalised because if a doctor performs a termination outside the scope of the legislation, then they are liable up to 14 years imprisonment. So the law in that respect hasn’t changed.”

What do you do if you think your GP is anti-abortion?

“The advice is, in order to avoid rogue counsellors and doctors with conscientious objection, that women should ring the My Options helpline, which is run and staffed by the HSE.

“If you go to that as your first port of call, then the person on the other end of the line will direct you to your nearest available provider.

“The difficulty is that if you ring the My Options helpline, not every doctor who is providing has agreed to be on their list, because some doctors are still cautious about the possibility of the kind of protests and pickets that we’ve seen. 

“Your local GP might be well offering but they might not be on that list.

“And if you need a termination after 9 weeks, GPs are providing up to 9 weeks; if you need to be directed to your local hospital for a later termination, it’s your GP who has the responsibility to ensure your care pathway there.”

Will rogue abortion counselling agencies be regulated?

“There isn’t any specific legislation out there that restricts what rogue counselling agencies can do.

“The Minister has passed legislation to regulate counselling as a profession, and so what that would mean is that if you describe yourself as counsellor, but you’re not registered with the new body that’s going to be created under this legislation, then you’re committing a kind of fraud effectively. But that doesn’t stop them from doing what they’re doing. 

“We would say that there should have been regulation of rogue counselling agencies from the beginning, and we would say that there should have been exclusion zones outside hospitals and doctors’ practices to prevent the kind of protester interference that we’ve seen; for example at Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, and we think that the Minister could have learned from the experience of other jurisdictions and maybe dropped the ball on this.”

You can listen to the full interview below.