Nurses and midwives may provide terminations, says Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is open to allowing nurses and midwives take a lead in providing abortion services in the future.

The Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday began its examination of 180 amendments to a bill to allow for the provision of terminations, including a proposal to allow medically trained people other than doctors play a role in the service.

Members of the committee discussed a wide range of amendments from making the bill more inclusive of transgender people to including the word ‘abortion’ in the legislation and changing some of the language to make it more women-centric.

However, some of the most contentious amendments have yet to be discussed, including proposals that a woman be offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound the hear the heartbeat of the foetus, if one is present, before a termination is carried out.

Ten TDs have also submitted an amendment which would require that an anesthetic is administered to the foetus prior to carrying out a termination of pregnancy which is over 20 weeks.

The TDs, who favoured retaining the Eighth Amendment, have also put forward an amendment around the “dignified disposal of foetal remains”.

During the first day of committee stage yesterday, Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said many nurses and midwives had contacted her to say they want to be part of the delivery of service.

Mr Harris said he would be open to expanding those permitted to administer terminations but couldn’t agree to the amendment “at this time”.

We are starting a new service which hasn’t been provided in this country before,” he said.

Solidarity-PBP TD Brid Smith said she thought the minister and Department of Health would have “welcomed” the extension to include other healthcare workers given the crisis in recruiting and retaining GPs around the country.

However, Mattie McGrath claimed that the amendment would “reduce the level and standard of care” that people anticipated when they voted in May’s referendum to liberalise access to abortion.

Mr Harris said he hopes an amendment to allow for a review of the legislation in five years will pass and an examination of those who are permitted to provide termination of pregnancy could be examined at that point.

However, a number of committee members said five years would be too long for a review and the minister indicated that this could be shortened to three years at report stage.

The committee is to sit again today and tomorrow to continue examining and debating the amendments.

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