Government deliberates on abortion recommendations

The Government is to consider an Oireachtas report recommending a referendum be held to liberalise Ireland’s abortion laws and allow for terminations for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Government deliberates on abortion recommendations

The committee has recommended a range of changes, including repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects the life of the unborn. TDs have urged their party colleagues to join them on a “journey” and prepare for a campaign ahead of a referendum which will likely be held next May or June.

Members of the Oireachtas committee examining the amendment launched the report calling for a respectful debate ahead of the vote.

Commenting on the report and the Citizen’s Assembly, committee chairwoman Catherine Noone said: “What is clear to me is that two inclusive processes — one made up of citizens, the other of politicians — have now concluded their deliberations and have both recommended a change in our Constitution, some access to terminations and a greater focus on women’s health and their experiences.”

The Government and all Oireachtas members will consider the report over the Christmas break before a decision is made on the referendum, the legislation that follows and what if anything would regulate terminations. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week that ministers would be free to oppose the Government on the referendum though the Cabinet would have a “collective position” on the issue.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said the Eighth had “punished” women for years and forced many to go full term with unwanted pregnancies.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith
Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith

Member and Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said the use of illegal abortion pills here was suspected as the main reason why there were less Irish women travelling abroad for terminations.

However, a number of committee members disagreed with the conclusions.

TDs Peter Fitzpatrick, Mattie McGrath and Senator Ronan Mullen said they were appalled by the failure of the committee to act in an unbiased fashion. They accused the committee of falling victim to a tragic “group think”.

The three called for the 1983 amendment to be retained, claiming it had saved thousands of lives.

Senator Ronan Mullen
Senator Ronan Mullen

“When you think of the proposal that any child can be killed up to 12 weeks in the womb and part of the reason was to avoid dealing with the complex cases people feel concerned about, it shows how Orwellian the committee and how reckless the committee majority came to be,” said Mr Mullen.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan, also on the committee, warned of the atmosphere ahead of the referendum. She said the 1983 campaign had been “horrific”.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the committee’s findings were an historic opportunity.

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