The Council of Europe has criticised Ireland’s legal restrictions on abortion for having a chilling effect on doctors who, it says, "do not know what kind of information on abortion they are allowed to give" to patients.

However, the Irish State's reply to the Strasbourg-based body says medical professionals are not legally precluded from giving a pregnant woman all the information necessary to enable her to make an informed decision, provided a termination of pregnancy is not advocated or promoted.

The report follows a three-day visit here last November by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks and his team who held discussions with state authorities and non-governmental organisations on the rights of Travellers and Roma, women, today's children and past human rights abuses against women and children in institutions.

It calls for the decriminalisation of abortion within what they call "reasonable" gestational limits and says that, at the very minimum, terminations to preserve the physical and mental health of women or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest should be made lawful.

Without commenting on the future direction of policy, the State's response - which is also published today - challenges the Commissioner's claim. 

The State says the law enacted in 1995 to regulate the provision of information about foreign abortion services does not preclude medical professionals here from giving a pregnant woman all the information necessary to enable her to make an informed decision, provided a termination of pregnancy is not advocated or promoted.

The State's brief response also corrects the Commissioner's contention that the Education Act of 1998 requires school Boards of Management to uphold the religious ethos of schools.

The State counters that the Act requires boards "to uphold the characteristic spirit" of the school which "encompasses cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions".