Wednesday 21 March 2018

Laffoy urges Citizens' Assembly not to be 'overwhelmed' by abortion issue

Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, Justice Mary Laffoy, speaks at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Dublin Photo: Tony Gavin
Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, Justice Mary Laffoy, speaks at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Dublin Photo: Tony Gavin

Grainne Loughran and Laura Lynott

Justice Mary Laffoy has said she has "no doubt" the Citizens' Assembly will be criticised for not covering certain topics in their discussions about the Eighth Amendment.

Speaking at the close of the first meeting of the Citizens' Assembly, Ms Justice Laffoy - the group's chair - said that the range of topics to be discussed was vast and could "overwhelm" the public forum. "The task we have before us over the next three weekends that the Assembly meets is enormous. It could overwhelm us, but we must remain steadfast in our commitment to fulfilling the task set for us by the Oireachtas," she said.

"The number of topics and the range of perspectives to be considered is vast. The scale of the challenge in even identifying the issues was clearly shown in the feedback from members in our brainstorming session. This is something I have been grappling with since taking up the position as chair."

The Assembly, which took place over two days in the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin, heard presentations from legal, medical and academics. It will reconvene on January 7 and 8.

During a feedback session, members requested to hear from those with personal experience of abortion in their upcoming sessions and for improved gender balance in the experts presenting information to the Assembly.

Professor Anthony McCarthy, consultant psychiatrist at the National Maternity Hospital, questioned why a depressed woman would have to endure psychiatric assessments by a series of "strangers" to get an abortion if she could travel abroad for a termination.

He said that the process set under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 was so burdensome it would not make sense for a woman to endure it.

"From my clinical experience and the clinical experience of any psychiatrist working in a maternity hospital, almost my first question in a situation like that is why has she not gone abroad? Why would she put herself through this?" he said.

Dr Brendan O'Shea, representing the Irish College of General Practitioners, told the Assembly that the Eighth Amendment is not "satisfactory or helpful" for women enduring unplanned or crisis pregnancies.

Oxford BRC Ethics Fellow Dr Mark Sheehan told the Assembly individual beliefs cannot always match a society's laws. In response to a question relating to how ethics and religious belief can come into conflict, he said this was a "difficult ethical situation" and the values that matter to individuals don't "always and straightforwardly apply" in this case.

Irish Independent

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