UN report on abortion deeply upsetting, says Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris described a critical UN report on Ireland’s abortion laws as “deeply upsetting” — but was firm on his party’s view that no referendum will take place before a citizens’ assembly on the issue.

He held this position despite opposition criticism yesterday that the findings of the independent report are a “damning indictment of Irish law”.

In a report released yesterday, the UN found that abortion legislation in this country subjects women carrying a foetus which has no chance of survival outside the womb to “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment”.

The report found that strict rules preventing abortion in Ireland should be reversed, and said this should potentially include reforming the right to life of the unborn in the Constitution if necessary — a move only allowed through a referendum.

In a statement last night, Mr Harris said he understands and accepts the serious difficulties faced by the woman at the centre of the UN report findings.

However, he said the Government’s view remains that a citizens’ assembly should be set up before the end of this year to examine how to address the matter — effectively sidelining any possibility of a referendum for now.

“I have read the report from the United Nations Human Rights Committee and find the experience this woman had deeply upsetting,” said Mr Harris.

“I have met with families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and I have been very moved by hearing of their experiences. I want to see this issue addressed. I believe that the Government’s commitment to develop a consensus approach with a citizen’s assembly is the way to move forward.”

Independent TD and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, who repeatedly stressed the need for abortion laws reforms as part of her deal to help Fine Gael hold onto power, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Under existing plans, a citizens’ assembly is due to be put in place by the Government within six months, and to meet for a number of months before delivering its views to the Oireachtas health committee, which will discuss any further action.

Opposition TDs criticised the Government in the Dáil for failing to give the issue the urgency they believe it warrants. The TDs included Independents4Change TD Clare Daly; Independent Catherine Connolly; Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly; and Labour children’s spokeswoman Jan O Sullivan.

Speaking in the Dáil, Ms Connolly said the UN report is a “damning indictment of Irish law”.

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