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Hello, it’s Órla Ryan here. Welcome to today’s liveblog of the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee.

Today’s session is expected to be the committee’s last public meeting, where it will complete its examination of the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations.

Speaking ahead of today’s session, Committee Chairperson Senator Catherine Noone said: “At our meeting, the committee will complete its examination of the report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly through voting process and we will then prepare our draft report in accordance with the committee’s terms of reference.”

The Eighth Amendment – Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution – gives equal status to the unborn and the mother.

You can watch proceedings below:


iPhone/iPad users: click here. Streams provided by HEAnet.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath was in the news this morning after saying: “The fat lady hasn’t sang here yet, and I’m not talking about the chairperson” at a press conference about the committee outside Leinster House.

McGrath said he was simply referencing an old saying and later told Catherine Noone that he meant no offence. She said she would not be dignifying his comments with a public response.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One earlier, Noone said she’s happy the committee is nearing the end of its work.

However, she noted that the process is only about two-thirds completed – referencing the work of the Citizens’ Assembly and the committee.

She said the committee’s final report – which is to be presented to the government by 20 December – “will move swiftly” through the Oireachtas ahead of next year’s referendum.

“It’s up to the Irish people to decide if the Eighth Amendment should be repealed or replaced,” Noone said.

She also responded to criticism of her performance as chairperson:

Ahead of today’s session, independent Senator Rónán Mullen issued a press release that was critical of committee members who say they have been “moved” on abortion.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s all too convenient. A politician is entitled to say he or she has shifted his or her pro-life position as a result of being on this committee. I am entitled to say whether I believe them.

“I would want to know what that politician has said previously about abortion or about people who have promoted the protection of the mother and the unborn baby,” Mullen said.

Mullen and McGrath, who are both pro-life, have repeatedly accused the committee of having a pro-choice bias. Noone and other members have repeatedly denied this.

90531964 Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger holding abortion pills outside Leinster House today Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger brought abortion pills to a press conference outside Leinster House earlier today.

Both women are pro-choice and want the Eighth Amendment repealed, citing the negative impact it has on women’s health in Ireland.

priv Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee is currently meeting in private session but is due to meet in public soon.

After several very long sessions in previous weeks, today’s meeting *may* finish up a bit earlier.

noone tweet Source: Twitter

For now, the committee is still meeting in private session.

We will be sending out an email round-up of what happens at the committee later today.

To get this, just enter your email address in the box at the bottom of this article.

noone Catherine Noone Source: Oireachtas.ie

We’re now in public session. Noone has asked people to avoid repetition where possible, noting many of the issues being voting on today have already been discussed at length.

Mullen wants a letter sent to the committee by Liz McDermott, from pro-life group One Day More, to be read out. It relates to abortion rates regarding babies with Down syndrome in Denmark. Noone says these concerns were previously read into the record by McGrath and that the letter will be part of the committee’s report.

jan Jan O'Sullivan Source: Oireachtas/.ie

Labour TD Jan O’Sullvian proposes that ‘repeal simpliciter’ – a straight repeal of the Eighth Amendment – be placed before people in a referendum, saying it’s the clearest way of dealing with the issue.

Fianna Fail TD James Browne says he doesn’t support repeal simpliciter, but thinks abortion should be decriminalised and that it should be made available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest and when a woman’s life is at risk.

Fine Gael TD Hildegard Naughten says she is in favour of repealing the amendment, in tandem with legislation being published ahead of the referendum.

Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte says she agrees with Browne’s stance.

mullen Rónán Mullen Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell says that publishing legislation in tandem with repealing the amendment may be the way to go.

However, Mullen says we should retain the Eighth Amendment because it makes Ireland “a beacon of human rights”, he adds that Ireland is a very safe place to give birth.

cath Catherine Murphy Source: Oireachtas.ie

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly recommends a straight repeal, as does Independents4Change TD Clare Daly and Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy.

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers wants legislation to be published ahead of a referendum. Her colleague Billy Kelleher recommends repeal simpliciter, but disagrees that legislation should be published in tandem.

peter Peter Fitzpatrick Source: Oireachtas.ie

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith says insisting that legisaltion be published ahead of the referendum could delay the process, she wants a straight repeal instead.

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzgerald wants the Eighth Amendment to be retained, as does independent TD Mattie McGrath.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan says the people will ultimately decide what happens, with Noone agreeing with this.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan says the committee is here to vote, not speak. Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien agrees, leading to Noone calling them “two sensible men”.

The committee has voted for a straight repeal of the Eighth Amendment – 14 in favour, six against and one abstention (the chair Catherine Noone, who said “unfortunately” straight after stating “abstention”).

The vote is not legally binding, but is significant.

Regarding cases where there is a real and substantial physical risk to the life of the woman, Kate O’Connell is proposing:

That the committee recommend that termination of pregnancy be lawful, without gestational limit, where the life or health of the woman is at risk and that a distinction should not be drawn between the physical and mental health of the woman.

O’Connell asks the committee to imagine a case where a mother ends up having a stroke and becomes disabled, or where a blood clot becomes a pulmonary embolism. She also says term limits should be defined by best medical practice, which should be written in legislation.

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers wants the motion split in two before it’s voted on.

Catherine Murphy says regulation will be required as well as legislation. Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan supports the motion.

Speaking about risks to a woman’s health – and how quickly situations can deteriorate – Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan says: “In the interest of health and safety it is better that action can be taken sooner than later.”

Rónán Mullen says the ground of mental health risk has led to “widespread” abortion and that there is no evidence to suggest abortion helps a woman’s mental health.

He opposes the amendments.

Jan O’Sullivan disagrees with Mullen, saying she agrees with O’Connell and Murphy.

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer supports O’Connell’s motion, saying the Eighth Amendment has had a negative impact on medical practice here.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane says she supports O’Connell’s motion but is concerned it doesn’t include socio-economic grounds as a reason for abortion.

ber Bernard Durkan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Replying to a query by Mullen, Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan says he didn’t make his remarks about women being harmed by Irish law lightly, adding that he is aware of cases where this has happened.

vote Source: Oireachtas.ie

O’Connell’s motion has been passed – again the vote was 14 in favour, six against and one abstention (chairperson).

mattie Mattie McGrath Source: Oireachtas.ie

McGrath’s amendment to remove suicidality as a factor is not carried – three in favour, 17 against, one abstention (chair).

The committee backs the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) recommendation that terminations should be available in cases where the woman’s mental health is at risk: 16 in favour, four against, one abstention (chairperson).

Lynn Ruane’s below motion has not been passed – nine in favour, 10 against, two abstentions:

That the committee recommend the termination of pregnancy be lawful where there is a risk to the health of the woman and that socio-economic considerations be taken into consideration in this regard.

This vote relates to circumstances where the woman’s physical health is also at risk, a separate vote will later be taken on whether socio-economic grounds should themselves be grounds for an abortion.

vote3 Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee has voted to allow abortion in cases where there is risk to the woman’s health: 14 in favour, six against, one abstention (chairperson).

kate et al Fine Gael TDs Kate O'Connell, Hildegarde Naughton and Bernard Durkan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Committee members are now discussing allowing abortion in cases of rape. Three Fianna Fáil members – Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers and Ned O’Sullivan – have proposed the below amendment:

“That the committee recommend, in view of the complexities of legislating for the termination of pregnancy for reasons of rape and incest, that it be more appropriate to deal with this issue by making the termination of pregnancy lawful with no restriction as to reason up to a gestation limit of up to 12 weeks, through a GP-led service.”

Kate O’Connell asks that clinics and hospitals, as well as GP practices, be included in this regard.

Bríd Smith says putting a 12-week limit on cases such as these may lead to “excluding a whole cohort of women”, such as those “caught in that trap” of domestic abuse and incest, adding that this would do a great disservice to “some of the most marginalised women in society”.

lisa Lisa Chambers Source: Oireachtas.ie

Louise O’Reilly says Sinn Féin members will abstain on the proposal to allow abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction, as it is not in line with the party position decided at its Ard Fheis.

Catherine Murphy says she has also put forward an amendment about no restrictions up to 12 weeks and another about surgical abortion and decriminalisation, and that there’s a risk of conflating the issues.

Rónán Mullen says the Fianna Fáil amendment is tantamount to “abortion on demand”. Lisa Chambers interrupts to say this is his “personal interpretation” of the amendment.

Mullen says permitting abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks is ”reminiscent of the judgment of Solomon”, adding that it removes the rights of “little creatures” in the womb.

He says the proposal is “staggering” and “effectively means abortion on demand”. He also notes that the committee has never looked at images showing the size of a foetus at 12 weeks.

When Mullen says legalising something because it is already happening amounts to saying we should have no laws whatsoever, Bernard Durkan says the alternative is “we ignore it altogether and we pretend it’s not happening”, adding that abortion would still be criminalised.

Kate O’Connell corrects her Fine Gael colleague Peter Fitzpatrick, who said a foetus has a heartbeat after three weeks.

“There is no heartbeat at three weeks … from seven weeks there’s a pulsating tube,” she says of the evidence she has heard at the committee to date.

The committee votes to allow abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks – 12 in favour, five against, four abstentions (the chair and three Sinn Féin members). Members also support allowing abortion in cases of rape.

The committee is now discussing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Louise O’Reilly criticises pro-life members of the committee who didn’t attend the previous session with representatives from Terminations for Medical Reasons Ireland.

Mullen says he was present at this meeting and adds that it’s not fair to “second guess” why some members attend certain sessions or not. He says he couldn’t stay for the question and answer session that day because he had to go to Belfast.

He criticises Noone for not standing up for him when O’Reilly made her comment, to which the chairperson says she should have corrected O’Reilly but adds that she has defended Mullen on a number of occasions in the past.

When Mullen says he hasn’t finished his substantive points, Noone says “you should have”. He says Noone interrupted him, to which she says: “I don’t interrupt, I chair.”

Mattie McGrath says “fatal foetal abnormality” is a “crude” term, adding that he knows one 11-year-old girl who received this diagnosis, as well as other children who survived against the odds.

The committee carries the below amendment – 18 in favour, three against:

That the committee accept that a medical diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality requires a compassionate approach to the family affected and that termination of pregnancy services should be available in such circumstances.

– Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers, Ned O’Sullivan

Noone says: “I feel so strongly about this one I have to say ‘Tá’.”

The committee also recommends to permit abortions where “the unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth”.

brif Bríd Smith Source: Oireachtas.ie

Noting that Ireland has failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Bríd Smith says: “I only wish those who care about the unborn, care even a fraction as much about those who are born.”

Lynn Ruane adds that people with disabilities also require reproductive rights.

Mullen says he cares about all people, and people with disabilities in particular. “The test of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members,” Mullen says, adding that it’d be a “tragedy” to strip such people of their rights.

vote3 Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee has failed to pass the Citizens’ Assembly finding on permitting abortion in cases where foetal abnormality is not fatal – 15 against, five in favour, one abstention (chair).

lynn3 Lynn Ruane Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee is now discussing permitting abortion due to socio-economic reasons.

Lynn Ruane says women who can afford to will and do travel to the UK for abortions. She says some women don’t know they’re pregnant until months into their pregnancy, while others need time to save money to travel.

Clare Daly notes that the vast majority of abortions take place before 12 weeks, but that extended time limits are needed in some cases.

kate new Kate O'Connell Source: Oireachtas.ie

Kate O’Connell and Catherine Murphy say they’d prefer a time limit to be included in this amendment (on socio-economic grounds). It’s suggested that the wording be amended to include “in accordance with medical best practice”.

The amendment is not passed: three in favour, 11 against, seven abstentions.

The committee rejects the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation to permit abortion for socio-economic reasons: five in favour, 11 against, five abstentions.

Members also reject the CA recommendation that terminations be lawful with no restriction as to reason up to 22 weeks: four in favour, 17 against.

Earlier, the committee voted to allow abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks – 12 in favour, five against, four abstentions (the chair and three Sinn Féin members).

The committee has now started discussing the CA’s ancillary recommendations.

Clare Daly says most members, regardless of being pro-choice or pro-life, agree that women and their doctors should not be criminalised regarding abortion.

Rónán Mullen says there’s a difference between being criminalised and being prosecuted, being prosecuted and being convicted, being convicted and being punished.

He says he doesn’t support the “agenda” to decriminalise abortion. ”It would be very, very bad public policy to decriminalise abortion,” Mullen states.

After debating the wording, the committee passes a vote on decriminalising abortion pills and abortion where it is carried out in a medical setting by a licensed practitioner: 18 in favour, three against.

Rónán Mullen accuses the “entire” committee of “shutting down debate”, Noone and other members say today is about voting and the issues were “discussed at length” previously.

When Noone suggests adjourning the meeting until 5pm tomorrow at, there’s a loud ‘Noooo’ from members. Most people want the votes completed this evening.

anne Anne Rabbitte Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte takes issue with comments made by Senator Mullen. She says that, as a woman and mother of three children, “I implore that we put all of these recommendations in the report.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan says Mullen seems to be on some “invisible moral high ground”, adding that all members are “acting in good faith”.

“How dare you imply that I or any of the members here have a less valid point to argue.”

He says if Mullen “wants to roll back the clock on contraception, let him say it”.

Mullen takes issue with these comments. “It’s the first time he’s interrupted in three months,” Jonathan O’Brien says of Mullen, tongue in cheek.

Both Rabbitte and O’Sullivan referred to him as “Senator Mullens” when speaking.

After much debate, committee members agree to approve all other ancillary recommendations in one oral vote.

These recommendations include universal free contraception, “a thorough review” of the sexual health and relationship education curriculum and that perinatal hospice services “be made available to women who require them”.

The committee will meet again at 5pm tomorrow to discuss its report.

We will be sending out an email round-up of what happens at the committee later today.

To get this, just enter your email address in the box at the bottom of this article.

The committee is expected to submit its report next week. The committee’s recommendations are not binding but will help the government set the wording for next year’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment – which is likely to be held in May or June.

We’re going to wrap things up now, but thanks for staying with us today and over the past few weeks.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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