Plans would end in more liberal abortion regime than England; 'I cannot live with current laws' - Harris

Update 4.45pm: The proposals on abortion announced today by the Government are more extreme than England’s abortion laws where one in every five pregnancies now end in abortion, the legal consultant to the Pro Life Campaign has said.

Caroline Simons has suggested that if the Eighth Amendment were repealed, Ireland would go from being a country that protected and respected unborn human life to one of the most extreme and unjust abortion regimes anywhere in the world.

"This is not overstating the reality of what repeal would mean. It is a stark, sad fact."

Ms Simons was reacting after a five hour Dail debate with the vast majority of speakers calling for a repeal of the 8th amendment.

The government had earlier outlined what new laws they'd like to see, including abortion without restrictions for up to 12 weeks.

After that, they suggest, abortions would be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or when there's a risk to the life, health or mental health of the mother.

The pro life activist said, however, that voters who support abortion in so-called limited circumstances need to know that what they hope for with repeal and what they’d get are two entirely different things.

"It is clear beyond any doubt from today’s announcement from government that a vote for repeal is a vote for abortion on demand up to birth.

"The proposal provides for abortion for any reason in the first three months of pregnancy and up to birth on a ground of health (including mental health) that is undefined and that has led to wide-ranging abortion in countries where it has already been introduced.

"In Britain, there are time limits on the so-called health ground. So today’s government proposal is, objectively speaking, more extreme than the law in Britain."

Caroline Simons

Ms Simons went on to say that an unborn baby’s heart starts beating by three weeks and in the first three months of pregnancy an unborn baby can be easily seen kicking and jumping on ultrasound scans.

"The baby’s fingernails and hair have already started growing. All the baby’s vital organs are formed. At this stage in development, the baby can yawn and even suck her thumb.

"Not as much as a minute was spent at the Oireachtas committee on abortion discussing or exploring these incredible milestones at the beginning of a baby’s life.

"Those in government who are backing repeal and the proposed changes to the law have entirely abandoned the rights of unborn babies throughout the full nine months of pregnancy."

The pro-life campaigner said "it was chilling" listening to Minister Harris saying he was ‘really looking forward’ to bringing the referendum bill before the Dáil today.

"What his bill provides for is withdrawing the right to life from an entire vulnerable group of human beings, namely unborn babies. It is the first time in our history that a government has brought forward such a proposal.

"The bill Minister Harris has been really looking forward to introducing today provides for abortion procedures where the baby is first paralysed with an injection by the abortionist to stop him or her from moving. A second injection of poison is then administered by the abortionist to stop the baby’s heart from beating.

"That’s the truth of what repeal would provide. Dr Peter Thompson from England who carries out abortions under the Abortion Act in England explained this procedure in detail to the Oireachtas committee on abortion."

Ms Simons suggested that despite the mantra-like line about ‘trusting women’ if members of government truly trusted women, they would be honest with them about what happens to an unborn baby during an abortion.

"If these members of government really trusted women, they would stop engendering fear about women’s health as they push for abortion and instead reassure the public about the truth that Ireland without abortion is one of the safest countries in the world for pregnant women, safer indeed than England and the US, both of whom have wide-ranging abortion."

"At present doctors care deeply about the lives and health of their two patients, mother and baby. What the Government propose is to legalise the intentional taking of the life of the baby without the slightest concern for the right to life.

"The public, aware of these awesome implications will, we are confident, reject the Government’s proposals and work instead to strengthen supports for mothers and their unborn babies."

Update: 3.04pm: Health Minister Simon Harris says he cannot live with Ireland's current abortion laws

The Health Minister Simon Harris says he cannot live with Ireland's current abortion laws.

Mr Harris spoke in favour of repealing the 8th amendment as he launched a Dáil debate on the issue today.

The Health Minister said it is time for a change, saying: "I cannot live any longer with a law that sees any woman or girl who has been brutally raped, forced to continue her pregnancy or travel to another country if she cannot.

"I cannot live any longer with a law that forces families devastated by a fatal foetal diagnosis to travel to another country, and bring home the remains of their much-loved and much-wanted lost child in the boot of their car, or by courier service."

The Department of Health has also published a policy paper, outlining what new laws the Government will try to bring in if the 8th amendment is repealed. The policy paper is largely as expected.

It outlines access to abortion without restriction for up to 12 weeks, with terminations to be allowed after that in cases of fatal foetal abnormality - and when there is a risk to the life, health or mental health of the mother.

Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher challenged those who say the 12 weeks limit goes too far.

"The gestational limit is not out of step with the norms in Europe: Belgium 12 weeks, the Czech Republic 12 weeks, Denmark 12 weeks, Germany 12 weeks, Italy 90 days, Luxembourg 12 weeks, Norway 12 weeks, Portugal 10 weeks, Slovakia 12 weeks, Sweden 18 weeks, Switzerland 12 weeks".

The Government also wants conscientious objection for medical practitioners who do not want to carry out abortions.

And a cooling off period is also in the paper, where a woman will have to wait two or three days after seeking an abortion to get one.

Update: 2pm: TD Mattie McGrath said the Citizen's Assembly was a flawed process on abortion.

"It was a set-up, a stitch-up, a codology," he said.

He made his remarks as the Dáil continues to debate the abortion referendum Bill.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has said that any legislation allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest would only revictimise women.

Leo Varadkar said it is impossible in law to make rape a specific ground for a termination because women would have to be subjected to an entirely separate process to establish the facts of the case.

Update: 11am: Minister for Health Simon Harris has said Ireland needs to take a "quantum leap" forward on abortion.

The Minister compared the current laws to those in Saudi Arabia and said he hopes there can be a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment in May.

This morning, the Dáil began debating the Bill that will allow a referendum, with Mr Harris saying that "denying reality has become a national bad habit".

"Denying reality does not make something go away, instead, it has just led to hurt and to harm," he said.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sought to assuage the concerns of several Cabinet members, including the Tánáiste Simon Coveney, who indicated they are uneasy with unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks. Mr Varadkar reiterated that the proposals did not allow for abortion without any restrictions and that women wishing to get an abortion would have to go to their doctor, rather than picking up the pills from a pharmacy.

In his opening speech, Health Minister Simon Harris said Ireland needs to take a "quantum leap" forward on abortion.

He said hopes these laws would be a big change.

"They represent a quantum leap from our position on the spectrum today, where we have one of the most restrictive regimes in relation to termination - and I think are pegged somewhere in and around where Saudi Arabia is on the issue".

"If the purpose of the 8th amendment was to stop abortions in Ireland, and to stop Irish women access abortions, it did not achieve that.

"All it achieved was pain and suffering.

"In this country, whether we like to hear it, denying reality has at times become a national bad habit - denying realities does not make them go away.

"Instead it just led to hurt and to harm".

Earlier, two of his fellow Fine Gael party members, MEPs Deirdre Clune and Brian Hayes, announced they would be campaigning for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum.

7am: The Government will reveal a policy paper this morning outlining what legislation will be introduced on abortion if the 8th Amendment is repealed.

Yesterday, Cabinet approved a referendum bill and the Dáil will begin debating it today.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will begin the debate at 10.30am this morning and is expected to describe the regime he'd aim to bring in should a repeal vote be passed.

The question put to voters is expected to ask if there should be abortion without specific indication for up to 12 weeks.

If this legislation is passed, GPs and medical practitioners would lead the service, which will be done by administering abortion pills.

After the 12-week limit, abortions will be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or where there's a risk to the life, health or mental health of the mother.

In such cases, two doctors will have to examine the mother, and there would be an appeals process if she is not happy with the decision.

There would also be a cooling-off period, whereby if a woman goes to seek an abortion, she would have to wait two or three days to consider it before being given an abortion pill.

Medical practitioners will also have a contentious objection, so if they don't feel comfortable allowing abortions they won't have to.

- Digital desk

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