State risks further abortion compo after €30k payout

Ireland is at risk of having to pay compensation to thousands of women forced to travel abroad to receive an abortion unless the law is immediately changed to make the procedure legal and easily accessible.

The US-based Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) made the claim after the State paid out €30,000 over an abortion case, for only the second time in its history, in response to a UN ruling on the matter.

At the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment yesterday, two pro-life organisations cancelled meetings with the group and chairwoman Catherine Noone accused pro-life members Rónán Mullen and Mattie McGrath of trying to undermine her.

The committee also heard from the CRR, which said Ireland remains at risk of further abortion payouts.

On Tuesday, it emerged the Government has agreed to pay Wexford woman Siobhan Whelan €30,000 in compensation after she had to travel to Liverpool for an abortion in 2010. She had been told her unborn child had a congenital brain malformation classified as a fatal foetal abnormal.

The move followed a UN Human Rights Committee ruling a similar payout to Amanda Mellet last year.

Asked by Independents-4Change TD Clare Daly “where Ireland needs to get to” to protect the State from further cases as “presumably there are much more cases”, CRR regional director for Europe Leah Hoctor said Ireland “must make abortion services practically accessible now”.

Accepting she is not aware of any pending cases, Ms Hoctor said “it may happen Ireland will continue to come before the committee” unless changes are made.

Meanwhile, as revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, North Carolina paediatrics expert Prof Marty McCaffrey and the Both Lives Matter group wrote to the committee to say he will not take part in what has become a “kangaroo court”.

During private session before yesterday’s meeting, Ms Noone repeated her call for pro-life witnesses.

In public session, she and other committee members were accused of “bullying” by pro-life Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who later said he and Mr Mullen were “the result of a pregnancy” before responding to laughter by shouting that “this is why this committee is a total charade”.

The Pro-Life Campaign held a media briefing at the gates of Leinster House during yesterday’s committee hearing, with spokesperson Cora Sherlock saying there is little point in pro-life groups attending.

At a later meeting, consultant perinatal psychiatrist at Holles Street, Dr Anthony McCarthy, said “we cannot wish abortion away”, before telling Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell both abortion and full-term pregnancy can cause mental health issues.

As the committee ended, Ms Noone referred to Oireachtas chair rules by saying she does not have to read out letters from witnesses saying they will not attend. After being criticised by Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath, Ms Noone accused them of trying to “undermine” her.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said: “I’m losing my temper here.”

Mr McGrath claimed: “Are you threatening us, are we going to be knee-capped?”

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