Sunday 22 October 2017

Citizens' Assembly is leaning towards change of abortion laws

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy at the Citizens’ Assembly. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Ms Justice Mary Laffoy at the Citizens’ Assembly. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Dean Grey

The Citizens' Assembly is leaning towards a change of Ireland's abortion laws, given the views expressed at the end of a weekend discussion on the Eighth Amendment.

A sample of their views included references to protecting victims of rape, incest, and those mothers pregnant with embryos at risk of serious illness or death.

The chair of the Citizens' Assembly told how a "heavy burden" had been placed on the heads of the 99 volunteers as they discussed whether the law on abortion should be changed.

Assembly chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said 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, and will then be fed back to the Oireachtas for direction.

The viewpoints from the citizens were shared with guaranteed anonymity.

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

Another said her group was concerned about mental health issues, feeling the Eighth Amendment was "too restrictive, degrading, prohibitive and inhumane".

And one facilitator simply said members from his table felt the amendment "should be repealed".

The 99 members of the assembly were chosen at random from around Ireland and their views on abortion were not known in advance.

There were conflicting views as one said 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Others wanted to know more about the "consequences" if the Eighth Amendment was repealed. And some said they didn't want to see the amendment repealed in any way.

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

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.

But the overall tone of the viewpoints expressed will concern the Pro Life Campaign which said that the assembly members "were given an impossible task by the Government from the outset".

Its spokesperson Cora Sherlock said: "It is nonsensical to expect the Assembly to consider all 13,000 submissions over a weekend or two and then report back to the Oireachtas with well argued and carefully considered recommendations. It simply won't happen."

Ms Justice Laffoy later announced that assembly meetings would be extended. She spoke after a private discussion was held with members.

"We imposed a heavy burden on the members to get their heads round what we were putting before them... all we could do is a preliminary view of what the members responded to the questions," she said.

Among the questions put to the group were whether Ireland needed to regulate abortion, whether rules and standards would have to be adopted, and how would regulation be affected.

Ms Justice Laffoy said although the assembly meetings would be extended, "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," she said.

Irish Independent

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