Sunday 24 September 2017

Campaigners push for referendum as Assembly backs legal abortion

Anti-abortion protesters at the Citizens’ Assembly in Dublin at the weekend. Photo: John McElroy
Anti-abortion protesters at the Citizens’ Assembly in Dublin at the weekend. Photo: John McElroy

Laura Lynott

Campaigners are pushing for a referendum after the Citizens' Assembly voted for Irish women to be given the right to legal abortion with "no restrictions".

A majority of 64pc voted that there should be no restriction on women having a termination - opening the door to full abortion rights for Irish women for the first time in history.

Of the members who backed the proposal, 48pc said it should only be available up to 12 weeks' gestation, while fewer said 22 weeks' should be the cut-off.

Another vote showed 72pc of the Assembly felt socio-economic reasons should allow a woman to have an abortion.

During the course of the day, the Assembly approved 13 grounds for legal terminations.

If the Oireachtas accepts the advice, a referendum would be needed to bring in the reform, given the current constraints on abortion enshrined in the Constitution.

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Some 89pc voted for Irish women to be legally permitted abortions in cases of a foetal abnormality likely to result in death before or after birth, while 69pc voted there should be no restriction on the gestational age of the foetus in this regard. Some 80pc voted there should be no restriction on termination regarding a significant foetal abnormality not likely to result in death shortly before or after birth.

Meanwhile, 72pc voted there should be no distinction made between mental and physical health when it comes to abortion rights - signalling a societal transition on mental health issues.

Assembly Chair Justice Mary Laffoy thanked the members of the Assembly for their determination and resolve which would cause "a change to the status quo".

Ms Laffoy stated a constitutional referendum would now be sparked and there was no reason this should be delayed.

Campaigners are now set to push for a referendum date they believe could come by spring next year.

Deirdre Duffy, from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, welcomed the "historic" result.

"The Assembly did us proud, we are at a turning point," she said. "The responsibility passes to our elected representatives to take up the mantle now and push forward with haste with the calling of a referendum."

Orla O'Connor, from the Women's Council, said it was "a day for women's rights and equality".

Ailbhe Smyth, convenor of the Coalition to repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: "It's very clear from the outcome that there is a huge appetite for progressive change."

But speaking in a homily in Knock, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said: "Demands to quash and abolish this amendment go against the 'good news' that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life - from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death."

Cora Sherlock, of the Pro-Life Campaign, said: "There is nothing liberal or progressive about the Assembly recommending a referendum to strip unborn babies of their right to life in law and also ignoring the negative consequences of abortion for women."

Referring to a possible referendum in the future that takes away protections from the unborn child, Ms Sherlock said: "It's far from certain that it would pass.

"According to polls, support for dismantling the Eighth Amendment is extremely soft."

Q&A: Inside the Assembly

What has the Citizens' Assembly recommended happen to the abortion law in Ireland?

Overwhelmingly, the 87 representatives of the public voted for abortion rights for Irish women as recommendations to the Oireachtas.

The Assembly first voted to change the abortion law - which currently lies under article 40.3.3 of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. It voted not to scrap this article by repealing it but to reform it under law via the Houses of the Oireachtas.

This means that the recommendations the Assembly have made will now be passed on to the Oireachtas to decide on a referendum.

What were the key votes during the Assembly?

A staggering 89pc voted for women to be legally permitted abortions if there is likely to be a foetal abnormality likely to result in death before or after birth.

Does the Government have to pass a law to approve abortion if a referendum is passed?

In practical terms, it's difficult to see a referendum not followed by legislation.

When will the recommendations of the Assembly be sent to the Oireachtas?

Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said she would supply the Oireachtas with the information by the end of June.

When is a referendum on abortion likely?

There is nothing to stop a referendum taking place as soon as possible.

Irish Independent

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