Unborn protected if Eighth repealed

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe.

Unborn children will still be protected in Irish law even if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Cabinet has been told.

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe confirmed the situation at yesterday’s meeting in response to concerns from ministers opposed to plans to allow abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy and claims the that unborn will have no rights under the new rules.

In a briefing to ministers as Cabinet signed off on the referendum bill and the official “repeal and enable legislation” referendum question wording, he said the “common good” protection still applied.

While confirming the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday that the right to life for the unborn does not extend to other rights, the attorney general said section 10.63 of the court’s judgment said the unborn child is neither constitutionally nor “legally invisible”.

The State is entitled to take account of the respect which is due to human life as a factor which may be taken into account as an aspect of the common good in legislating, Mr Woulfe is understood to have said.

Ministers who spoke to the Irish Examiner said Mr Woulfe’s view is significant, as the lack of any protection for the unborn if the Eighth Amendment is removed has, until now, been among the strongest arguments by pro-life campaigners against the constitutional change.

The attorney general’s legal opinion was given to ministers during a special cabinet meeting at which the Government officially signed off on the referendum bill and proposed referendum question wording.

Under plans previously reported by the Irish Examiner, the Cabinet signed off on the bill governing the referendum, which includes the official referendum question that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed and that “provision may be made in law for the regulation of termination of a pregnancy”.

While the bill does not specify the exact referendum date, Government has strongly hinted at a May 25 polling day.

Cabinet also gave Health Minister Simon Harris permission to publish a health policy paper today on the main details of the 12 week law the Government wants to introduce should the referendum pass.

This five-page document — which Mr Harris confirmed yesterday is unlikely to be introduced until the autumn due to the Dáil summer break and the work needed in the aftermath of a referendum — contains 21 policy points, including:

  • A likely two- to three-day abortion request cooling off period;
  • Abortion being allowed up to the 12th week as part of a GP-led service;
  • A GP conscientious objection clause;
  • Guarantees that an abortion will only be allowed after sign-off by two doctors;
  • Decriminalising abortion for women seeking abortions, although doctors who perform abortions outside of the legal stipulations can still be prosecuted;
  • Guarantees the Government must report to the Dáil once a year as to the workability of the new abortion regime.

Mr Harris said the proposed law changes should be enacted and that his own thoughts are with “women like Amanda Mellet and Siobhan Whelan who had to go to the UN to explain how they have been treated”.

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