Risk to life or health
4. (1) It shall be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy in accordance with this Head where 2 medical practitioners certify that, in their reasonable opinion formed in good faith –
(a) there is a risk to the life of, or of serious harm to the health of, the pregnant woman,
(b) the foetus has not reached viability, and
(c) it is appropriate to carry out the termination of pregnancy in order to avert that risk. (2) Of the 2 medical practitioners referred to in subhead (1)–(a) one shall be an obstetrician, and (b) the other shall be an appropriate medical practitioner.
(3) The termination of pregnancy to which the certification relates shall be carried out –
(a) by the obstetrician referred to in subhead (2) (a), or (b) by another obstetrician, where the medical practitioners referred to in subhead (1) have made such arrangements as may be necessary for the carrying out of the termination of pregnancy by that obstetrician. (4) Nothing in this Head shall affect the operation of Head 7.
DIVIDING LINES This section refers to the circumstances in which abortion will be lawful between the 12th and 24th week of pregnancy.
Beyond the first trimester of pregnancy, the legislation states that two medical practitioners must certify that there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman for a termination to be permitted. There is no distinction made between mental and physical health.
One of the two medical practitioners must be an obstetrician and the other a “relevant” medical practitioner.
Terminations would not be permitted beyond the point of viability, which is accepted by medical practitioners and by campaigners on both sides of the debate as the 24th week of pregnancy. Those opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment contest the grounds on which terminations would be accessible, in particular that of mental health. Most opponents of repeal are supportive of the law which permits abortion when a woman’s life is at risk, including by way of suicide.
Anti-abortion organisations claim the ground of mental health may be used by women to access terminations when Down Syndrome is diagnosed by claiming this constitutes a risk to a woman’s mental health.
Those who favour repeal point to similar claims being made when the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act was being debated and the grounds of suicide. Seventy-seven terminations have taken place in the first three years of its enactment; seven of those on the grounds of suicide.
Terminations on the grounds of a non-fatal foetal abnormality, such as Down Syndrome, are outside the law and are therefore prohibited.
There have also been concerns regarding the lack of clarity on what constitutes “serious harm to the health of the mother”. Those opposed to repeal state this may lead to terminations being accessible on wide grounds.
Those in favour of repeal insist complex medical decisions cannot be defined in legislation and that each case is different. They argue that defining “serious harm” to a woman’s health would tie the hands of doctors.
‘‘ Seventy-seven terminations have taken place in the first three years; seven on grounds of suicide