Thursday 22 February 2018

President calls in his advisers to decide on abortion bill

Breda Heffernan and Fionnan Sheahan

President Michael D Higgins will meet his special advisory group on Monday to help him decide whether to sign the abortion legislation or refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

He last night called a meeting of the Council of State to consider the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, 2013.

The Council of State is made up about 25 current and former senior office holders and appointees by the President himself.

The membership includes Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his predecessors, Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds and Liam Cosgrave, although Mr Reynolds is not expected to attend due to ill health.

Former Presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson are also members.

It is the first time Mr Higgins has called the Council of State to meet since taking office. He will chair the meeting but won't announce his decision there.

He is merely guided by the Council of State and not bound by their views.

Mr Higgins received the bill yesterday and now has between five and seven days to sign or refer the bill, under Article 26 of the Constitution.

If he refers it to the Supreme Court, it will either be upheld or struck down. If upheld, it can never be challenged again.

The development came as Justice Minister Alan Shatter reiterated his support for a referendum to allow abortion in cases of rape.

Mr Shatter said it was an "unacceptable cruelty" that a rape victim can only have her pregnancy terminated if she is suicidal.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has promised to hold a referendum if Labour gets back into power, to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or when pregnancy results from rape or incest. Mr Shatter has previously stated that abortions should be allowed for women who are the victims of rape or who have been told their baby has a fatal foetal abnormality.

New figures from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre showed that 19 clients last year were pregnant as a result of rape.

Of these, nine continued with the pregnancy and kept the child, seven had an abortion, two had the child fostered and one gave the child up for adoption.

Speaking at the launch of the DRCC annual report for 2012, Mr Shatter said he believed the public was a "great deal more advanced" on the issue of abortion in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities than the legislature.

DRCC chief executive Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop welcomed relatives of the late Jill Meagher, the young Irish woman raped and murdered in Melbourne, to the launch of the annual report and thanked them for their work in highlighting the issue of violence against women.

"I believe it's a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman carrying a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated," Mr Shatter said.

In its report, the DRCC said its national helpline saw a 23pc increase in first-time callers in the last two years.

It received more than 12,000 calls last year, 9,142 of which were genuine counselling calls.

Irish Independent

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