World is watch­ing to see what hap­pens next on abor­tion is­sue

Irish Examiner - - Forum - DANIEL McCON­NELL

‘Le­galise all abor­tions, without restric­tion, for un­born ba­bies up to 12 weeks.

‘All.

‘Not a few, not some, not most. ‘All.

‘No mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances. ‘Rape, in­cest, fi­nan­cial grounds, foetal ab­nor­mal­ity (fa­tal or oth­er­wise), All will now be le­git­i­mate le­gal grounds for an abor­tion, should the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mit­tee on the Eighth Amend­ment be ac­cepted by the Gov­ern­ment.

“In ad­di­tion to rec­om­mend­ing a straight re­peal of the con­tro­ver­sial 1983 legally flawed Eighth Amend­ment, the com­mit­tee con­cluded that 12 weeks’ ges­ta­tion is the ap­pro­pri­ate point up to which abor­tion should be made le­gal.”

IT IS fair to say not ev­ery­one agrees. Even Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar ex­pressed his con­cern that the 12-week rec­om­men­da­tion was “a step too far”.

“I think it is fair to say, for a lot of peo­ple, not just in the Cabi­net but in the coun­try, the pro­posal to al­low for ter­mi­na­tion up to 12 weeks went fur­ther than many peo­ple would have an­tic­i­pated, it cer­tainly went fur­ther than I would have an­tic­i­pated,” he said in re­ply to my ques­tion.

At Cabi­net on Wed­nes­day, a range of views was ex­pressed with con­cern about the 12-week limit to the fore.

As the Ir­ish Ex­am­iner re­ported on Thurs­day, Finance Min­is­ter Paschal Dono­hoe and Ru­ral Af­fairs Min­is­ter Michael Ring, de­spite sup­port­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions them­selves, ex­pressed doubt that such an abor­tion regime would be ac­cepted.

Dono­hoe told the Cabi­net that min­is­ters had thus far been able to ex­am­ine the com­mit­tee’s re­port in a calm environment, which may not be the case dur­ing a ref­er­en­dum cam­paign.

Chief Whip, Joe McHugh, told the Cabi­net he could not sup­port a sys­tem that would al­low abor­tion up to 12 weeks.

Paul Ke­hoe, min­is­ter of state at the Depart­ment of Defence, is un­der­stood to have high­lighted his Catholic faith, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that the avail­abil­ity of abor­tion pills over the in­ter­net has be­come an is­sue.

It is worth tak­ing a look at just how the 22-per­son com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing some very strong pro-life ad­vo­cates such as Bernard Durkan and Anne Rab­bitte, came to rec­om­mend that abor­tion be per­mit­ted in all cases up to 12 weeks.

Well, firstly the com­mit­tee dis­agreed with the Cit­i­zens’ Assem­bly rec­om­men­da­tion on re­peal or not. The Assem­bly ar­gued to re­peal but re­place it with en­abling leg­is­la­tion to en­sure the Oireach­tas and only the Oireach­tas can de­cide on law.

The com­mit­tee was un­will­ing to rec­om­mend the re­moval of this im­por­tant su­per­vi­sory ju­ris­dic­tion of the courts in an area which, without such a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, would so clearly fall within their ju­ris­dic­tion. There­fore, the joint com­mit­tee rec­om­mended a straight re­moval of the Eighth.

So, if you re­peal the Eighth, what would re­place that?

The com­mit­tee heard that the 2013 Pro­tec­tion of Life Dur­ing Pregnancy Act al­lows for two law­ful grounds for abor­tions. Yet, ev­i­dence given to the com­mit­tee was that the op­er­a­tion of that act has cre­ated sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties.

As a re­sult, the Assem­bly fur­ther rec­om­mended that no ges­ta­tional limit should ap­ply. How­ever, a 22-week ges­ta­tional limit was rec­om­mended in re­la­tion to sui­cide and the risk to the life of the mother. Ul­ti­mately, the com­mit­tee con­cluded no dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion should be made be­tween the life and the health of the wo­man.

The com­mit­tee felt that the 2013 act has the po­ten­tial for such de­lay that women in a po­si­tion to do so are likely to by­pass the process and go abroad to have a ter­mi­na­tion.

In cases of rape, in­cest and other sex­ual as­saults, the Cit­i­zens’ Assem­bly rec­om­mended that the ter­mi­na­tion of pregnancy that is the re­sult of rape be law­ful up to a 22-week ges­ta­tional limit.

While the com­mit­tee ac­cepted that it should be law­ful to ter­mi­nate a pregnancy that is the re­sult of a rape or other sex­ual as­sault, it had con­cerns about how to ad­dress such sce­nar­ios in law. These con­cerns stemmed from the dif­fi­culty in ver­i­fy­ing a rape or sex­ual as­sault. The com­mit­tee felt that there is a need to avoid the fur­ther trau­ma­ti­sa­tion of a vic­tim of rape or sex­ual as­sault that would arise if some form of ver­i­fi­ca­tion was re­quired.

Also, a re­quire­ment for a ver­i­fi­ca­tion process is likely to be com­plex or even un­work­able in prac­tice, the com­mit­tee con­cluded.

A con­cern was also raised about the un­der­re­port­ing of rape and sex­ual of­fences to An Garda Síochána and the au­thor­i­ties gen­er­ally in Ire­land. “The com­mit­tee un­der­stands why some women find it dif­fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble to re­port rape or sex­ual as­sault and is ac­cord­ingly of the opin­ion that it would be un­rea­son­able to in­sist on re­port­ing as a pre­con­di­tion for ex­er­cis­ing any right to ter­mi­nate a pregnancy that has re­sulted from rape or sex­ual as­sault.”

Given all these dif­fi­cul­ties, the com­mit­tee found it would be more ap­pro­pri­ate to deal with this is­sue by per­mit­ting ter­mi­na­tion of pregnancy with no restric­tion as to rea­son — pro­vided that it is availed of through a GP-led ser­vice de­liv­ered in a clin­i­cal con­text with a ges­ta­tional limit of 12 weeks. In re­la­tion to the very tragic cases where the un­born child has a foetal ab­nor­mal­ity that is likely to re­sult in death be­fore or shortly af­ter birth, the com­mit­tee con­cluded that it shall be “law­ful to ter­mi­nate a pregnancy without ges­ta­tional limit where the un­born child has a foetal ab­nor­mal­ity that is likely to re­sult in death be­fore or shortly af­ter birth”.

In cases of non-fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties, whereas the Cit­i­zens’ Assem­bly rec­om­mended that ter­mi­na­tion should be law­ful, up to 22 weeks’ ges­ta­tion, the com­mit­tee dis­agreed: “While not­ing the bur­den placed on the wo­man and the fam­ily in such sit­u­a­tions, it does not ac­cept that these are suf­fi­cient grounds for ter­mi­na­tion, the com­mit­tee there­fore does not ac­cept this rec­om­men­da­tion of the Cit­i­zens’ Assem­bly.” There­fore, it rec­om­mended that the law should not pro­vide for the ter­mi­na­tion of pregnancy on the ground that the un­born child has a sig­nif­i­cant foetal ab­nor­mal­ity where such ab­nor­mal­ity is not likely to re­sult in death be­fore or shortly af­ter birth.

The other ma­jor is­sue the com­mit­tee dealt with was women who seek to ter­mi­nate their ba­bies be­cause of so­cioe­co­nomic rea­sons. The Cit­i­zens Assem­bly’ rec­om­mended that ter­mi­na­tion should be law­ful, up to 22 weeks’ ges­ta­tion, on so­cio-eco­nomic grounds.

The com­mit­tee said it “can­not ig­nore the ex­tent to which Ire­land has an un­der­ly­ing rate of ter­mi­na­tions, the ma­jor­ity of which are car­ried out ei­ther in med­i­cal clin­ics in the UK, or in Ire­land through un­su­per­vised use of abor­tion pills pro­cured through the in­ter­net”. What be­came clear dur­ing ev­i­dence is that the ma­jor­ity of ter­mi­na­tions are for so­cio-eco­nomic rea­sons that are un­re­lated to foetal ab­nor­mal­ity or to rape, the com­mit­tee found.

In ad­di­tion, the com­mit­tee said it is mind­ful of that group of women who, for fi­nan­cial, do­mes­tic rea­sons or im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus can­not travel or pro­cure abor­tion pills over the in­ter­net.

Ul­ti­mately, given all those fac­tors and the dif­fi­culty as­so­ci­ated with try­ing to legally ad­dress them, the com­mit­tee con­cluded that al­low­ing abor­tions up to 12 weeks in all cases and without restric­tion in a small num­ber of cases was the only way to pro­ceed.

“The com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that the law should be amended to per­mit ter­mi­na­tion of pregnancy with no restric­tion as to rea­son pro­vided that it is availed of through a GP-led ser­vice de­liv­ered in a clin­i­cal con­text as de­ter­mined by law and li­cenc­ing prac­tice in Ire­land with a ges­ta­tional limit of 12 weeks,” the re­port con­cluded.

With a ma­jor­ity in Cabi­net in favour of the com­mit­tee’s re­port, it looks that the Gov­ern­ment will seek to im­ple­ment the re­port’s find­ings.

But, Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris to his credit, is acutely con­scious of al­low­ing space for peo­ple to find their way to the point of ac­cept­ing why the com­mit­tee landed on 12 weeks.

The coun­try — and the world — is watch­ing what hap­pens next.

“I think it is fair to say the pro­posal to al­low for ter­mi­na­tion up to 12 weeks went fur­ther than many peo­ple would have an­tic­i­pated — Leo Varad­kar

Pic­ture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar with stu­dents Sarah Hen­nessy and Eah O’Gor­man, from St Mary’s Sec­ondary School Tip­per­ary, and their ex­hibit dur­ing the BT Young Sci­en­tist & Technology Ex­hi­bi­tion at the RDS. The Taoiseach has ex­pressed his con­cern that the rec­om­men­da­tion by the Com­mit­tee on the Eighth Am­mend­ment to al­low for abor­tion up to 12 weeks was ‘a step too far’.

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