Referendum on abortion laws put back on agenda

THE prospect of a fresh referendum on changes to abortion laws increased sharply last night.

Pressure from the European Court of Human Rights saw the Government announce the setting up of an expert group to report back within six months on how to deal with a damning judgment against Ireland last December.

The court’s ruling called for it to be made clear in what circumstances abortion is legal in Ireland.

The European court found the rights of a Lithuanian woman, known only as “C”, with a rare form of cancer, who travelled from Ireland to Britain for an abortion, had been violated.

Health Minister James Reilly hopes to name the 14-member group by the end of next month, after the issue of abortion had caused some tension in the Coalition ahead of its deadline to respond with an action plan last June.

While Labour fought the general election on the platform of bringing in legislation to deal with the aftermath of the X Case, during talks on the Programme for Government the party and Fine Gael agreed to deal with abortion through an Oireachtas committee.

The expert group of medical and legal professionals with a chair appointed by the Cabinet, will be tasked with examining various ways Ireland could comply with the European ruling.

The prospect of a landmark referendum on abortion rights has emerged as a serious option, despite both coalition party leaderships fearing how divisive such a vote could be.

This will be the fourth committee set up in Ireland to make recommendations on abortion legislation.

The ruling against the state acknowledged that travelling abroad for an abortion was a significant psychological, physical and financial burden on women.

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based judges is legally binding and asks that the state bring in legislation outlined by the Irish Supreme Court in the X Case in 1992.

The court heard that while a woman whose life was at risk could legally have an abortion in Ireland, in reality no doctor would risk performing one as the legal situation was not clear.

The case was taken by three women who travelled abroad for abortions because they could not get a termination in Ireland.

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