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Thursday 23 November 2017

Oireachtas Committee on Abortion will not recommend retention of Eighth Amendment in full

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)

Shona Murray

A historic vote at the Oireachtas Committee on Abortion moved to recommend “not to retain the Eight Amendment in Full”.

The motion was proposed by Sinn Fein and seconded by Fianna Fail. The late-night sitting at Leinster House saw members vote by 15 votes in favour, two against, with two members, James Browne and Anne Rabbitte of Fianna Fáil abstaining.

Senator Ronan Mullen and Deputy Mattie McGrath voted against.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said it was “a great moment in Ireland” and the democratic nature of the process showed the people of Ireland the value of politics “it’s not just about the lad who fixed the road – this is human rights, women’s rights”, she told the committee.

Senator Ronan Mullen
Senator Ronan Mullen

Senator Ronan Mullen called the vote and the committee “a disgrace” with no regard for the human rights of the unborn.

Meanwhile the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) welcomed the outcome as a "move in the right direction".

The NWCI advocates for a complete removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. “Every pregnancy is different, every decision is personal. The complexity of healthcare decisions has no place in the Constitution”, said its CEO Orla O’Connor

The committee is responsible for recommending what question will go before the people in a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in May or June next year.

Its members are now considering 6 legal options as alternatives to the Eighth Amendment, ranging from deleting the article entirely, to deleting it and replacing it in the constitution with legislation although most members of the committee saying inserting complex law like this in to the constitution is “cumbersome” and inflexible.

Earlier the committee heard that the Eighth Amendment has caused “grave harm to women including death” according to former master of Holles Street hospital, Professor Peter Boylan.

He said Ireland’s abortion legislation has an effect on the decision-making abilities of clinicians, resulting in the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar who died of sepsis at Galway University Hospital. 

“She died as a consequence of the Eighth Amendment”, Professor Boylan told the committee following questions from Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Mr McGrath went on to argue that there are “lots of differing opinions” about the cause of death of Savita Halappanavar, to which Professor Boylan said he had “the advantage of reviewing her notes forensically”.

The fifth anniversary of Ms  Halappanavar’s death is next week.

Also present at the Committee was Dr Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran president-elect of International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology who also investigated the death of Savita Halappanavar.

He said the difficulty in the Irish legislation where a clear and present threat to a woman’s life must exist before an abortion can occur creates a serious ongoing risk, “some cases accelerate steeply and you miss the boat”, he said.  For example, there is up to 60pc chance of maternal mortality with sepsis fever but because the [foetal] heartbeat is there and you start dilly-dallying and that’s it.”

All witnesses at the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment today called on Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace with legislation along the lines of what was called for by the Citizens Assembly earlier in the year.

The Citizens’ Assembly members voted on their recommendations for access to abortion for certain medical and other conditions and voted overwhelmingly to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

64pc of the Members’ recommended that the termination of pregnancy without restriction should be lawful.

Professor Boylan  said Ireland could look at other EU countries to as possible legal models when shaping any new abortion legislation, not just the UK, where most Irish women have an abortion.

He said 99pc of women in the EU have access to termination in the first trimester.

He also pointed out the difficulties that will emerge when a burden of proof will lie with a woman to prove she has been raped in order to obtain an abortion.

There is no “test to confirm rape” and any woman who has "undergone the trauma of rape should not be forced to ‘prove’ rape if she chooses to terminate a resulting pregnancy", he said.

Women should be "taken at their word, hardly a revolutionary concept", he added.

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