Wednesday 28 June 2017

Citizens' Assembly: Extra weekend required due to 'complexity of the issue'

A SAMPLE of the Citizens' Assembly indicated they wanted to see abortion more readily available for Irish women - with references to protecting victims of rape, incest and mothers pregnant with embryos at risk of serious illness or death.

Facilitators feeding back responses from 13 tables at the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin, told how a number of the 99 members of the Assembly were concerned about the abortion law as it stands.

Dr Peter McParland -National Maternity Hospital addressing the room
Photo: Maxwells
Dr Peter McParland -National Maternity Hospital addressing the room Photo: Maxwells

And Assembly chair Ms Justice Laffoy announced the group would sit for an extra weekend due to the complexity of the issue.  The Assembly's work is now expected to be completed by mid April then fed back to the Oireachtas for direction.

The viewpoints from the citizens were shared with guaranteed anonymity.

 Statements showed a great deal of members had concerns for pregnant women in Ireland, a country with one of the most stringent abortion laws in the world.

One female facilitator said her table felt Ireland's abortion legislation "was not fit for purpose"

Picture shows speakers L-R Dr Noelle Higgins Maynooth University,Eileen Barrington S.C. and Dr.Adrienne Foran-Rotunda and Temple St.Children’s Hospital.
The Assembly is meeting in the Grand Hotel Malahide Photo: Maxwells
Picture shows speakers L-R Dr Noelle Higgins Maynooth University,Eileen Barrington S.C. and Dr.Adrienne Foran-Rotunda and Temple St.Children’s Hospital. The Assembly is meeting in the Grand Hotel Malahide Photo: Maxwells

While another facilitator from one of the tables, said her group were concerned about mental health issues, feeling the Eight Amendment was "too restrictive, degrading, prohibitive and inhumane, perhaps the 2013 act conflicts with equality.

"It should be available, it's happening anyway but is being exported."

Another facilitator simply said members from his table felt the amendment "should be repealed."

Other members felt that the Eighth Amendment should "be changed" and they needed to know "the circumstances where it (abortion) would be permissible for fatal foetal abnormalities and the rape of the mother..."

While another group stated:  "Rape was to be a category," that would have to be assessed.

Safety for the mother and unborn was also an issue raised, referring to the ordering of abortion pills online.

But other citizens stated that "there would have to be a burden of proof," over whether a woman was raped and regarding "father's rights."

Members were also concerned that women should "not be forced" to carry to full term foetus' with congenital diseases.

While others said victims of incest needed to be protected and that "abortion was happening anyway, so there was no point not having abortion clinics in Ireland."

Those opposing abortion being available in Ireland stated they were concerned about the prevalence in Iceland of the termination of foetus' with down syndrome.

Yesterday the Assembly heard that no baby had been born with the condition in Iceland for the past four years since DNA tests had been widely introduced for pregnant women which see blood samples taken from the foetus.

And others said that the constitution "should continue to represent the rights of the unborn," while others stated "clarity was needed" to direct GPs and other medical practitioners so their own personal beliefs did not take precedence.

Others wanted to know more about the "consequences" if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.

And some members said they didn't want to see the amendment repealed in any way.

Closing for the weekend, Ms Justice Laffoy said though the Assembly meetings would be extended to five, "It was important to note this does not affect my previous commitment to complete the work in respect of the Eighth Amendment within the first half of 2017.

"I am determined to deal swiftly and comprehensively with this matter and report and make recommendations to Government as soon as possible.

"In the coming weekends we will look at a wide range of issues including the complex and difficult area of rape, both from a medical and legal perspective."

Ms Laffoy also said the Assembly would look at the availability of legal terminations in other jurisdictions and the potential regulation of the medical system.

"We will also hear the personal stories of women in crisis pregnancy," she added.

"We will hear of their experiences, to allow the members to hear first-hand about how the matters we are discussing at these weekends effect women and their families.

"We will also consider how crisis pregnancy affects vulnerable groups in Irish society."

The final weekend will centre on making recommendations to the Oirechtas on Ireland's abortion law.

The Assembly has so far received in excess of 13,500 submissions and around 8,000 were made online and almost 5,000 by post.

These will be published online within four to six weeks.  The next meeting will take place on the weekend of 4 and 5 February.

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