Monday 22 April 2019

Committee expected to vote for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks

Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty
Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty

Shona Murray and Cormac McQuinn

Health Minister Simon Harris said he has prepared for various scenarios ahead of the final report from the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

The committee is expected to vote in favour of allowing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks as members believe that inserting clauses to allow for terminations in cases of rape and incest would be unworkable.

The committee will cast a series of votes relating to the repeal and replacement of the amendment, which gives equal status to the life of the mother and her unborn baby.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dail he would like for the referendum on abortion to be held in May.

He said for this to happen, the Government will require the full support of the house.

Minister Harris told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland that he has written up various scenarios so the government will be prepared to turn the report into legislation.

"I'm going to be careful what I say," the minister said.

"The committee is about to vote today. I will receive the report and try to turn the report into legislation.

"What I have been doing is I've been working with the Attorney General office to prepare various scenarios, so whatever the committee does recommend, we can turn it into legislation.

"If we are to have a referendum in June, I'd need to bring a bill into the Dáil in February.

"I am working on a scenario of allowing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 week, but not in a decision-making capacity.

"I've prepared all the various scenarios that the committee could come up with."


Several amendments proposed by members relating to the circumstances in which abortion should be made available - including gestation, viability and acceptable grounds for termination, such as rape or incest - will be considered.

However, TDs and Senators are expected to conclude that allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest only is unworkable due to the high burden of proof required to prove rape.

During previous hearings, Prof Tom O'Malley BL said that in cases where a woman has an abortion after being raped, it could in theory be used as evidence against the accused and so prejudice a trial.

It was also heard that cross-examining a woman who may have just been raped - in order to decide if she was eligible for an abortion - would be deeply traumatic.

The widespread and unregulated use of abortion pills is another reason why members will support unrestricted access.

Meanwhile, a New York-based foundation, backed by billionaire George Soros, has said it is "proud" of its support of groups seeking to repeal the Eighth Amendment - despite the controversy over its donation to Amnesty International.

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) stood over its financial support for the groups and did not rule out providing funding in the future. Amnesty International is refusing to return €137,000 that it received from OSF in 2016.

That is despite an order from the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) to do so over allegations that the donation breaches laws against foreign financing of political campaigns ahead of next year's planned referendum on abortion.

Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty's Irish CEO, claimed that the law was "flawed" and had been "weaponised" by opponents.

He said Sipo told Amnesty last year that it didn't have to register as a so-called 'third party' under political-donation rules on the back of a media report outlining how it had received funds from OSF.

But Sipo then told Amnesty last month that it must pay back the money immediately.

Mr O'Gorman said last night that Amnesty was taking legal advice about the options open to it, adding: "We'll do everything we can to challenge it."

Last night, the New York-based OSF told the Irish Independent: "In Ireland, we are proud to be just one of the sources of support for local advocacy efforts to bring Ireland's abortion law in line with its commitments under international human rights law."

OSF did not directly address a question on whether it would refrain from making such donations in future, given the current controversy.

Sipo has refused to comment on the case.

Irish Independent

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