Abortion law - Early vote undermines work to date

The all-party Oireachtas committee examining Ireland’s abortion law took many people by surprise when it voted overwhelmingly against retaining the Eighth Amendment
to the Constitution in its present form while still having five weeks of debate on the issue to run.

In doing so, the Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, as it was formally known, has made itself all but redundant.

The committee of 22 members, which was established last April to consider the Citizens’ Assembly report on the Eighth Amendment, was due to meet in public session for another five weeks to continue debate on the assembly’s recommendations as well as interrogate the broader health, social, human rights and other issues surrounding the provision of abortion services.

It is unclear what purpose the committee can now find for itself, apart from examining the options put to it by the group’s legal adviser, barrister Nuala Butler, as further
debate has been rendered pointless by this pre-emptive
decision.

Billy Kelleher was the only Fianna Fáil member to vote in favour of effectively repealing the Eighth which he did in spite of the fact that it was his personal preference that a vote on the amendment not be taken until November 22, the last day of the current weekly sessions.

His fellow party members, Anne Rabbitte and James Browne, abstained, while Ned O’Sullivan was absent when the vote was taken.

The decision to declare in favour of repeal midway through what was meant to be a series of serious debates damages the credibility of the committee and undermines its good work to date.

It also lends credence to the assertion by Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen that the committee’s work has become skewed in favour of abortion.

They said: “Over 20 groups and individuals pushing for abortion have been invited before the committee, while only a handful of pro-life people have been invited.”

In response, chairwoman Senator Catherine Noone insisted the committee has been run impartially at all times and pointed out that both McGrath and Mullen had been given extra time to speak at meetings on several occasions.

However, now that the committee has shown its hand before the issue was fully debated, all that is left for discussion is mostly logistical — whether there should be a straight full repeal with the Oireachtas having the final say, a partial repeal, or replacing the Eighth with a new amendment.

Whatever side one might take on whether we need a less restrictive abortion regime in Ireland or not, work by the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas committee has been useful in bringing discussion of this important moral issue into the open.

For some individuals, this public discourse has facilitated a journey of self-discovery, moving from an entrenched position on abortion to a more nuanced one.

Sadly, the latest move by the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth has done the opposite.


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