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Friday 23 March 2018

Expert group wants James Reilly to rule on grounds for abortions

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Health Minister James Reilly will decide the limited grounds for abortion, rather than the Dail, under controversial proposals going to the Government.

The setting up of a panel of medical experts to consider applications for abortions in extremely limited circumstances will be recommended by a group looking at the contentious issue.

But the plan would see the minister setting out the grounds in regulations, instead of being specified in laws voted on by TDs, the Irish Independent has learned.

The proposals are expected to get the Government over the hurdle of reporting back to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg about Ireland's response to its ruling on abortion.

However, there is no timeline envisaged and the recommendations would allow the Government to park the problem for some time.

The main stumbling block will still be getting even a basic piece of legislation referring to abortion.

Dr Reilly is expecting the report of the expert group this week. The Government set up the group in January to examine an abortion ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

Two years ago, the Strasbourg Court ruled that there was no automatic right for women to have an abortion in a case brought by three women -- known as A, B and C -- who had travelled to Britain to terminate their pregnancies.

The group is chaired by High Court judge Mr Justice Sean Ryan, who previously chaired the landmark Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, formerly the Laffoy Commission.

A failure to legislate for abortion would cause divisions within the coalition as the Labour Party promised to bring in laws to deal with the X case.

In the X case in 1992, the Supreme Court's decision appeared to determine, in line with the Constitution, that a woman has a right to access an abortion in Ireland if there is a 'real and substantial risk' to her life.


But six governments have failed to legislate for the X case.

At the very least, the Government will have to pass legislation to repeal a law dating back 150 years.

Abortion was made a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Fine Gael TDs have threatened to vote against any abortion legislation whatsoever -- in line with a pre-election promise by their party.

The Government is obliged to present an "action plan" to an EU body by late October, following the receipt of a report by the expert group.

Sources familiar with the group say it will lean heavily on regulations to be drawn up by the Health Minister.

"The general principle is to keep any legislation as generic as possible and leave the details to be sorted out in regulations subsequently," a source said.

The expert group will recommend the setting up of a panel of medical experts to assess applications for abortions in cases where there is a threat to the life of the mother.

If the panel accepts the application, the abortion would take place in a designated hospital.

If the panel rejects the applications, an appeals process would be in place.

The grounds on which abortions would be allowed would be drawn up by the Health Minister.

Irish Independent

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