Ireland Took Another Huge Step Towards Making Abortion More Accessible

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The day after Ireland's longstanding abortion ban was officially lifted, the government announced that abortion services in Ireland will be completely free, The Irish Examiner reports. Health Minister Simon Harris told reporters in Dublin on Wednesday that the newly legal health services will be offered free of charge because it's essential that "cost is not a barrier."

Irish President Michael Higgins signed a referendum repealing the Eighth Amendment on Tuesday, following a historic vote to remove the complete ban on abortion that took place in May. Abortion had been effectively outlawed within Ireland's borders since 1983, leading more than 170,000 people to travel abroad in order to get an abortion since doing so became legal in 1992, according to The Guardian.

"I've said from the start that I don't want cost to be a barrier, because if cost is a barrier you get into a situation where one of two things happen — you get abortion clinics to develop, or you can see people having to continue to travel," Harris told reporters this week, per The Irish Examiner. "I want [abortion services] to be provided as part of our health care system, our public health care system, and part of our primary health care system."

Accessing abortion services in Ireland won't be without barriers, however. Abortion will be legal up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and women seeking an abortion after that point must prove either a fatal fetal abnormality or a serious risk of harm to the health of the mother, as The Guardian notes.

Harris also confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to introduce legislation next week that would require anyone seeking an abortion to take a three day "cooling off" period — essentially what Americans refer to as a waiting period.

"I do note the comments of some groups about the three days. But I would say to anybody regardless of whether you voted yes or no, we made a conscious decision to have a very detailed general scheme available before the referendum. That three day period was part of the discussion and was debated fully during the referendum, which was passed," Harris said, per The Irish Examiner.

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Waiting periods are common in the United States, as 27 states require women to wait a specific amount of time between mandatory counseling and having an abortion procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Most of these states mandate that women wait 24 hours, though Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Dakota require a 72-hour wait equivalent to Ireland's proposed "cooling off" period.

Guttmacher notes that these waiting periods "serve no medical purpose" and are simply "intended to make abortion less accessible," as they're rarely required for other medical procedures.

Despite legislating that women "cool off" before terminating a pregnancy, Ireland's move to include abortion services in the public health care system will make them more accessible for low-income women. "A person’s financial situation cannot be a barrier to the care they need," Ireland's Abortion Rights Campaign wrote in a blog post this week. "We must not continue our current ‘two-tier’ system where those with means access care and those without must break the law or be forced to remain pregnant."