Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

In praise of Leo Varadkar

He’s right to be wary of removing Ireland’s abortion safeguards

(Photo: Getty)

The number of abortions taking place in Ireland is more than 8,000 a year, up from the memorable figure of 6,666 abortions in the first year after the law legalising abortion came into force in January 2019. It’s all rather a far cry from the situation that abortion campaigners talked about during the referendum campaign, when it seemed that foetal abnormalities and pregnancies that threatened the life of the mother were the problem.

There are, however, a couple of factors that mean that abortion is not quite as readily available in Ireland as the abortion lobby would like. One is that doctors don’t seem to like it much. A review of the law by a barrister Marie O’Shea (very much a pro-choicer) suggested that most GPs are not providing ‘abortion care’ – a ubiquitous, loaded term which softens the crude realities of the word ‘abortion’. The reasons for doctors’ reticence are unclear. Although workload may be a factor, unquestionably some doctors don’t fancy terminating prenatal life. Many of them also object to the legal obligation to direct the woman concerned to a willing provider, given that they have moral problems with the whole business. 

Another factor is the mandatory three-day waiting period for women between asking for an abortion and receiving the abortifacients. Marie O’Shea’s report suggests that the waiting period be optional, which kind of misses the point. 

But there’s support for the period for reflection from an unexpected quarter – Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. In an interview for the Irish Times, he says that he’d like to see fewer abortions in Ireland: ‘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.’

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