All women who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality should be able to access abortion in Ireland, Commission says

There must be legal avenues for abortion in all cases where fatal foetal anomalies are diagnosed, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) said today in its submission to the Review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

The Act currently provides that an abortion in the case of foetal abnormality will only be legally permissible if two medical practitioners form a reasonable opinion that the foetus will likely die before or within 28 days of birth.

Official figures pertaining to abortion carried out raise concerns that this provision may be limiting access to termination for pregnant women who receive fatal foetal abnormality diagnoses but who are required to travel to access healthcare.

The impact of being denied care is disproportionately felt by women may not have the permission, clearance or means to travel such as migrant women, international protection applicants and disabled women.

We therefore recommend reform of the Act so that there are legal avenues for abortion in all cases where fatal foetal anomalies are diagnosed, so all women who receive this devastating diagnosis can receive healthcare in Ireland.

Alongside this, we recommend the mandatory three day waiting period be removed. Waiting periods can cause delays in accessing abortion services, and can impact access to care and completion of care, especially if the initial termination of pregnancy fails and the woman is close to the 12 weeks gestation limit.

Other recommendations include:


  • The Commission recommends that abortion be decriminalised in all circumstances as a matter of urgency.
  • The Commission recommends that the Act be equality proofed to guarantee the universality and equality of access to abortion services for all women and girls, especially for victims of domestic violence, rural women, women living in poverty, disabled women, asylum seekers, women from ethnic or religious minorities, migrants, undocumented individuals, and temporary residents such as international students or women from Northern Ireland.
  • The Commission recommends the implementation of necessary measures to address the reasons why women and girls continue to travel abroad to seek abortion services upon being denied or not being able to access abortion services.
  • The Commission recommends measures to ensure that Section 22 and the current provision for conscientious objection does not erect barriers to access to abortion care.
  • The Commission recommends the establishment of an official register of conscientious objectors.
  • The Commission recommends research to examine the presence and operation of ‘conscientious obstruction’ and any impacts that this has on the provision of care.
  • The Commission recommends statutory guidance to medical practitioners reminding them of their legal and ethical obligations to ensure the expeditious transfer of care of patients seeking termination of pregnancy services.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“This abortion review is an important opportunity to remove barriers to care, and ensure that women can access a termination when they need one. It is crucial that current gaps in abortion care are addressed, so that abortion is free to all at the point of contact, available locally across the island, and that all women who receive a devastating diagnosis of a fatal abnormality can access abortion healthcare if they so wish. It is also crucial that we decriminalise abortion in all circumstances as a matter of urgency.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

View the full written submission to the Review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. 

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.