The National Women’s Council (NWC) in Ireland, along with civil society groups, frontline services, advocacy organizations, academics, and doctors, have written an open letter to the Irish Government to demand improvements to abortion provision, stating that urgent action is needed to ensure the current law meets the needs of women and pregnant people.

The open letter, issued on Monday, April 15, calls for the full and effective implementation of the Independent Abortion Review recommendations.

The letter was addressed to the new Taoiseach Simon Harris, who was Ireland's Minister for Health during Ireland's historic 2018 referendum on abortion. He publicly supported the repeal vote.

The letter says that changes needed include decriminalization, removal of the mandatory three-day wait, review of the 12-week gestational limit, and action on legislation regarding Safe Access Zones.

As per Ireland's Health Service Executive, abortions are available up until 12 weeks of pregnancy, or 84 days from the first day of the person's last period.

A GP or doctor needs to provide a 'certification' at least three days before an abortion is performed. 

After 12 weeks, abortions can only be performed in "exceptional circumstances."

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council said on Monday: “In 2018, Ireland voted to provide compassionate care for women at home.

"The O’Shea review [published in May 2023] clearly shows that serious gaps remain in abortion care, resulting in significant barriers and distress for many women, with some still being forced to travel.

"We are calling on the Government to implement the recommendations of the review, without further delay, as well as all necessary legislative changes, to ensure safe, timely and equitable access to abortion.”

The signatories of the letter acknowledged efforts to improve operational aspects of abortion services in Ireland in the past year – including 17 of the 19 maternity hospitals now providing care – but significant progress is still needed on many of the Review’s recommendations.

Dr. Mary Favier, Doctors for Choice and START abortion providers group, said: “The three-day wait is a significant impediment to timely care and criminalization continues to stigmatize both providers and women.

"Community provision must be supported by a primary care lead focusing on evaluation of the service and targeted interventions to improve access.

"What needs to change has been well documented in the Review. It is time for political action and that time is now.”

The signatories of the letter feel the recommendations in the Review have a robust evidence base, rooted in the lived experiences of women who have accessed abortion services in Ireland.

They further feel that the onus is now on Government, who commissioned this Review, to act on these recommendations and ensure Ireland’s reproductive healthcare system is aligned with international best practice and can properly meet the needs of all women and pregnant people.

The open letter was issued the same day that RTÉ premiered its new investigative programme into Ireland's abortion services.

The UK charity Abortion Support Network (ASN) told RTÉ Investigates since abortion laws were introduced in Ireland, almost 1,000 people here have contacted it about accessing termination services abroad.

In that time, ASN has spent just short of €314,000 supporting people from the Republic of Ireland to travel for an abortion. Most clients from Ireland are, ASN said, women affected by foetal anomaly diagnoses.

The programme also features Marie O'Shea, the author of last year's review of Ireland's abortion services, in her only media interview since delivering her report.

"If you have to send somebody abroad, culturally and socially you’re framing it as a criminal and abhorrent act and that is in a person’s head," O’Shea said.

"I don’t think the electorate would want somebody carrying around that stigma."

O'Shea also said that she told Ireland's Minister for Health that the "28 day [rule] is an absolute and utter nonsense.

"It’s cruel, and it’s too prescriptive.

"It’s not good law and it leads people to be in absolutely profoundly sad conditions."

According to The Irish Times, the Taoiseach told reporters on Monday ahead of the RTÉ Investigates debut: “In relation to the review of abortion services, of course I have personal views, but I’m not here personally, I’m here as the Taoiseach of a country of 5.3 million people.

“I want to await the views of the Minister for Health and his department when they come forward to Cabinet and I also want to try to approach this issue in terms of trying to respect the diversity of views and bring forward consensus insofar as possible.”

He added: “We had a very significant debate in this country, unlike other referenda, we published legislation. We told the Irish people if you vote yes, this is what it will mean.

“Of course we also put in, and I was the minister who put this in the legislation, a review clause for this very reason so that people will continue to check their services [are] working as planned, you know, are things going as was intended.

“I do think they need to be given consideration but that is the balance. The Irish people were given the assurance that if they vote for this, this is legislation you will get and then obviously there’s a review alongside that so I think this requires careful consideration.”