The Government will act “speedily” to implement legislation to provide limited access to abortion if that recommendation from the expert group report is accepted by Cabinet, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said.

The report says legislation for limited abortion consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in the X case is required after the European Court of Human Rights judgment on the ABC cases.

Mr Howlin insisted the Coalition would not be the seventh administration to fail to act on the 1992 Supreme Court judgment on the X case. The report will be discussed by Cabinet on Tuesday.

“We have an expert group now to tell us in very considered detail how that is to be done and I have no doubt that this Government will act very speedily in a measured, calm way to provide for that instruction from Supreme Court.”

He said he hoped a “calm, considered, comprehensive” debate would begin in the Dáil next week, “and very speedily thereafter the Government will come to its own decisions in terms of drafting legislation and presenting that to the Oireachtas”. He was speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme.

According to newspaper reports today, the expert group set up to deal with how the State deals with the issue of lawful abortions says legislation for the limited provision of abortion is required to make the State complaint with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the ABC case.

Reports say the expert group set up to deal with how the State deals with the issue of lawful abortions says legislation for the limited provision of abortion is required to make the State compliant with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the ABC case.

The report offers a number of options but legislation and regulations are the preferred choice. It says the Minister for Health should identify at which medical centres an abortion can take place.

The report also calls for the establishment of an appeals process for women who have been refused an abortion to seek a review of the decision.

It suggests terminations on the fringes of viability should take place in medical centres with neonatal care units and be conducted to maximise the changes of foetal survival.

The report restates that a woman is only lawfully entitled to an abortion in this State when there is a real and substantial risk to her life and when termination is the only way to avert this risk. Included among the risks is the risk of suicide.

The expert group report is due to be discussed at length by the Cabinet on Tuesday. The group, chaired by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, stressed in its report that abortion is legal in Ireland under the limited circumstances provided for by the Supreme Court ruling on the X case.

The report provides four options. The first is the introduction of guidelines which do not require primary legislation. The expert group has said it is unlikely to satisfy our obligations at the Council of Europe.

The second approach in allowing legal terminations of pregnancies where the life of the mother is at risk would be for the Minister for Health to administer regulations.

The report says “Ministers could not issue regulations without being given the power to do so by enabling legislation” and therefore “it is not likely to prove a speedier or superior solution than the other legislative options”.

The third option is for the introduction of legislation alone. The main advantage here is that it would allow the Oireachtas the “opportunity to discuss and vote on all the relevant details of the proposed legislation”.

A second advantage would be that “access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland would be put on a statutory and therefore a more secure footing”. The disadvantage is that this process is likely to take “a considerable period of time”, and legislation may prove “too rigid”.

The fourth option outlined is new legislation plus regulations. The advantages include that the role of the Minister for Health “would come under less scrutiny in relation to procedural matters as these would be in the legislation”.

Another advantage is that regulations could be amended relatively easily. This would allow for possible changes in clinical practice, scientific advances and any challenges arising from their implementation.

The disadvantage is the same as outlined in relation to legislation alone, and that “due to the nature of this legislation, the process of drafting and democratic scrutiny is likely to take a considerable period of time”.

The report is “very negative” about the option which does not require legislation.

The report says “Ministers could not issue regulations without being given the power to do so by enabling legislation” and therefore “it is not likely to prove a speedier or superior solution than the other legislative options”.

Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams called for the report to be published. He said it was not a surprise that “the expert group has a preference for primary legislation (over guidelines or regulations).”

“There does need to be a discussion in the Oireachtas on the report but this cannot be used as an excuse to further delay the introduction of legislation.”

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