Citizens' Assembly calls for Ireland to legalise abortion without restriction
A special committee set up to deliberate on Ireland's abortion regime has made a landmark call for the procedure to be allowed without restriction.
The Citizens' Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 members of the public and chaired by Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy, voted in favour of terminations in cases of rape, foetal abnormalities including non-fatal conditions, a risk to the mother's health and for socio-economic reasons.
The committee also called for no distinction to be drawn between the woman's health issue being physical or mental.
Judge Laffoy will include the results in a report being submitted to the Irish parliament in late June with an onus on politicians to introduce new laws.
"The recommendations you have made certainly have called for a change to the status quo," she said.
Judge Laffoy paid tribute to the work of the assembly members over the last few months and also offered a special note of thanks to women who came to the meetings to give personal evidence about how they were affected by abortion laws.
She also said her report would include the views of "dissenting voices".
At the heart of the Citizens Assembly's work was an examination of the eighth amendment to the Republic's Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and to the unborn child.
If politicians accept the recommendations a constitutional referendum will be needed to determine any reform.
The Assembly members initially voted to replace or amend Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and then called for it to be changed to a provision explicitly authorising the Irish parliament to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman.
In a series of subsequent ballots on Sunday the Assembly set out its support for fundamental liberalisation of Ireland's strict regime on abortion.
Some 78% were in favour of allowing abortion if a woman's health was at risk from the pregnancy, 89% in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality, 80% in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormality and 72% in favour of allowing the procedure if a woman wishes to express socio-economic reasons.
More than 3,400 women gave Irish addresses while attending abortion clinics in Britain in 2015.
Judge Laffoy said: "I will leave it for others to parse the immediate significance of these recommendations but it is important to acknowledge the work of the members since this process began.
"Over five weekends they have engaged with some of the most complex pieces of legislation, immersed themselves in medical and ethical discourse, and listened with respect to the voices and opinions of others.
"This has been to the benefit both to the process and to the wider conversation on this topic."
In Ireland, since 2014, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide.
The procedure can involve a medical or surgical termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section to deliver the baby.
But there are growing campaigns for women to be allowed access to abortion if their unborn child is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or in cases of rape and incest.
Figures from the Health Service Executive showed 26 terminations were carried out under the legislation in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.
In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.
As the Assembly results were announced Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, gave a homily at Knock Shrine reiterating total opposition to the constitutional change.
" 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," he said.
The Archbishop added: "To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person, whatever their state or stage of life, is always gravely morally wrong."