A Private Members' Bill providing for wider access to abortion has passed its second stage in the Dáil after Government TDs were given a free vote.

A Government amendment to pause the passage of the Bill for 12 months was defeated.

The proposed legislation was brought forward by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith. The result of the vote was 67 for and 64 against, with eight abstentions.

Afterwards, Ms Smith said: "This is a great day for the movement for choice and for women's healthcare, but it is only the start. Well done to all the people who campaigned for this amazing result.

"We have to keep the pressure on so that this bill can become law- so that we can remove the three day waiting period and decriminalise abortion in this country. Women cannot wait anymore for modern reproductive healthcare in Ireland," she added.

It comes after the Oireachtas Committee on Health heard that there is no medical or legal reason for the mandatory three-day wait period for an abortion, and that the measure is causing anxiety and distress to women.

TDs and Senators heard from the authors of the independent review into the operation of the State's abortion laws.

The report has recommended that the compulsory three-day wait is made optional for women accessing terminations.

The Independent Review of the Operation of the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Act was established in December 2021 to assess the extent to which the objectives of the legislation have and have not been achieved.

When the final report went to Cabinet last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the operational recommendations in the review of abortion services would be implemented immediately, while the proposed legislative changes would be referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health.

Barrister Dr Marie O'Shea, author of the report, told the committee she had confirmed with the Chief Medical Officer that there was no legal or medical reason for the inclusion of the mandatory reflection period.

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She said she understood that the three-day wait was included so that women would not make a mistake that they would later regret.

However, she said that her findings were that women universally said that they did not benefit from the reflection period.

Dr Catherine Conlon, an associate professor at Trinity College Dublin who researched key parts of the review, said there were no medical or legal underpinnings for the wait time, but she said it is causing anxiety and distress.

She also said that women felt they were competent and capable of making the decision and had already consulted their network before going to a doctor.

She added that the three-day wait period is exceptional in terms of seeking healthcare.

Dr O'Shea said some women are "timing out" of the 12-week cut off time for accessing a termination because of public holidays and Christmas periods, which can "exacerbate the problem".

Problems can arise when women present at week 11, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they need an ultrasound scan to date the pregnancy.

She said that sometimes a GP referral is not followed up quickly and women can also go past the 12-week period.

On fatal foetal anomalies, Dr Conlon said the numbers showed that those travelling abroad to access an abortion on that ground had not changed significantly with the implementation of the act in Ireland.

Dr O'Shea said there were issues for medical professionals around detecting fatal foetal anomalies given that it was not always clear cut that a condition was fatal.

She said it was not always possible to tell a patient if the foetus would die or at what point.

"There's a sense of practising defensive medicine. They're afraid of making a wrong call and then because of all the cases and the prospect of criminalisation, they are erring on the side of safety. And the attitudes of some is that this person can go abroad so ultimately they can get treatment," she told the committee.

Abortion services became available in Ireland in 2019 (file image)

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said people were finding it hard to understand how the review agreed what he said was a concrete recommendation to get rid of the three-day wait without "any real detail as to number of women who have gone through the three-day wait and decided to go ahead and raise their own child".

He said that several thousand women had changed their minds and he asked whether the researchers had spoken to any of them.

Dr Conlon said they had not because none of those women were among those who had come forward via the unplanned pregnancy or abortion care supports.

Review recommended increase in services

The review into the State's abortion law recommended an increase in the provision of termination services across the country.

It set out a range of legislative and operational recommendations in respect of the law. It also found an uneven geographic spread of hospitals providing termination services.

Operational changes include increasing the provision of termination services. The review found that there are 422 community providers and that 11 of the 19 maternity hospitals in the country are involved in service provision.

Plans are under way to increase the number of maternity hospitals providing abortion services to 17 by the end of June.

Increasing the number of GPs in Ireland to 6,000 by 2028 is also seen as important to improve access to termination services.

Legislative changes proposed in the review include removing medical practitioners from the scope of criminal sanction, removing the mandatory three-day waiting period and allowing abortion beyond 12 weeks in certain circumstances.

The review points out that termination services are not configured to run 365 days a year and finds that the three-day waiting period can therefore turn into a "four or five-day wait for treatment", if the first visit takes place close to the weekend.

Other legislative proposals include introducing a statutory obligation on healthcare workers to refrain from providing misleading information and enabling nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals to become more involved in the provision of termination services.

Operational changes, seen as less contentious, will be referred to an integration group to be established within the Health Service Executive.

Additional reporting Paul Cunningham