Friday 6 December 2019

Suicide clause can only be removed by a referendum

Dearbhail McDonald and Fiach Kelly

RETIRED Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness has defended the Supreme Court's role in the divisive X case and said the threat of suicide as a ground for legal termination of pregnancy can only be changed by way of a referendum.

The former head of the Law Reform Commission, who said she was not representing the judiciary "in any way", said the Supreme Court decision in the 1992 X case remains an authoritative interpretation of the 1983 pro-life amendment.

"This interpretation stands," Judge McGuinness told TDs and senators on day two of the public hearings on abortion.

The electorate had twice rejected moves to remove the risk of suicide, said Judge McGuinness, adding that legislation is needed for more detail on the X case.

She defended her former Supreme Court colleagues who gave judgment in the X case. The judges had made a genuine effort to resolve the huge human dilemma and had made excellent arguments in regard to the way the Constitution should be interpreted, she said.

Judge McGuinness told the Joint Committee on Health and Children that abortion was a reality in Ireland. "To say we have no abortion in Ireland, is simply not true, we have it elsewhere," she said.

The committee was presented with a draft termination of pregnancy law by barrister and former GP Dr Simon Mills, who said that there was now a "sizeable middle ground" of people who held overlapping moderate views on both sides.

Dr Mills, whose draft law retains the criminal ban on abortion but allows exceptions for suicide, lethal fatal abnormalities and inevitable miscarriage, warned that there would have been many more X cases in Ireland were it not for the proximity of the UK and the abortion regime there.

Earlier, a leading pro-life lawyer told the committee that the Attorney General should be consulted on whether the X case needs to be followed as the result of the A,B,C case before the European Court of Human Rights.


Barrister William Binchy implored the committee to seek legal advice from the Attorney General on the terms of reference given to the Expert Group which made recommendations to the Government in the wake of the A,B,C ruling in Strasbourg.

The former Trinity College law lecturer claimed that Health Minister James Reilly restricted the terms of reference to options compatible with the "discredited" Supreme Court decision in the X case.

Prof Binchy warned against the possibility of a liberal abortion regime if the Government legislated for the X case.

"If the Oireachtas proceeds on the basis that it is permissible intentionally to terminate the lives of unborn human beings, what principled barrier is there to extending the circumstances in which these lives may be terminated?" he asked.

Irish Independent

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