Religious representatives and interest groups will offer their thoughts to politicians today.
THE OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE on Health and Children today held the final of three days of public hearings on the government’s proposed new legislation on abortion, following its decision to legislate to allow abortion within the terms of the X Case ruling.
The third day of hearings – split into three sessions – will include representations from the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Methodist Church of Ireland, Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and Atheist Ireland (9.30am – 11.30am); Caroline Simons and Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign, Dr Eoghan de Faoite and Dr Seán O’Domhnaill of Youth Defence, Patrick Carr and David Manley of Family & Life, Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute (11.45am – 1.45pm); and Sinéad Ahern of Choice Ireland, Orla O’Connor, National Women’s Council of Ireland and a director of Action on X (2.45pm – 4.45pm).
Good morning – and thanks for joining us on the final day of hearings for this week’s Oireachtas committee hearings on abortion. Having already been briefed on the thoughts of the medical and legal professions over Tuesday and Wednesday, today we will hear the views of religious and interest groups in Ireland.
Today’s hearings will be broken up into three sessions, the first of which will focus on the views of religious organisations – including the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Methodist Church of Ireland, Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and Atheist Ireland.
It’s Jennifer Wade here for the first two hours, by the way – please leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section below, or tweet us @thejournal_ie. We’ll try to address any queries you might have.
Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer opens the eight session and summarises the arguments heard so far. He also thanks all witnesses to date for their submissions, and for the Oireachtas members of their sensitive and tolerant approach to the issue.
We begin with Rev Christopher Jones of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, who welcomes the “calm and dignified” manner of discussions over the past two days. Jones speaks of the many women in parishes across the country who are “deeply concerned” about the issue of abortion. He said that women and girls who find themselves experiencing an unexpected pregnancy should be shown love, care and support to cope in order to deal with their situation in a “life-giving way”.
Jones says any suggestion that Ireland is not a safe place for pregnant women because we don’t have abortion is a ‘distortion of the truth’. He said that both mother and child have an equal right to life – and both are sacred.
The church draws a distinction between medical intervention to save the life of the mother and abortion. He said the X case ruling would remove the obligation to make every effort in all times to save life of mother and baby.
Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, of the Church of Ireland, says that the church opposes abortion but that there are exceptional cases in which a termination is permissible. Such cases included ‘real and substantial risk to the life of the mother’, he said.
Jackson says the current state of affairs is “unfair” to both women and medical professionals.
The Expert Group on Abortion’s report highlights the need for effective decision making procedures, he says.
Heidi Good of the Methodist Church of Ireland recognises that the issue is complex and difficult. She says the Methodist Church opposes ‘abortion on demand’ – but she outlines four cases in which the termination of pregnancy is acceptable: 1) the mother’s life is at risk, 2) the risk of grave risk of serious injury to physical or mental health ,3) gross abnormality of the foetus, 4) pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
Good said the Methodist Church “strongly urges” the Oireachtas to legislate and set minimum standards for the social good.
Trevor Morrow, of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, said all religious had upheld the ‘sanctity of human life’. He said the Government had a duty to care for the weak and vulnerable – including the unborn child, and that the embryo should be treated “as a person”.
“The strong should make sacrifices for the weak,” he said.
Presbyterian Church is “very opposed to any suggestion of abortion on demand”, he said.
Morrow recognises that in our “messy world” medical professionals are confronted with two things that are wrong – the death of a mother or the death of a child. He says the lesser of evil option must be chosen in these cases.
Maternal health care should strive to save life of both mother and baby, but if the continuation of pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, then the pregnancy should be terminated – Selim.
In cases where there is a risk to the life of a foetus and a woman, Selim says, “obviously the latter is of greater importance than the former”. However, he says that the threat of suicide not a ground for abortion.
In cases of rape – Selim says that children born in this “unfortunate situation” are still entitled to life. He says that society needs to support women who become pregnant in such circumstances.
Atheist Ireland is up now – and says that “our laws should not be based on other people’s religious beliefs”.
Government has the duty to legislate for the X case. “It took a raped teenage child to legislate, it has taken the death of a miscarrying woman to bring us here today,” he says. “Stop lawmaking by response to personal tragedies”, he added.
Questions from members now – and Deputy Billy Kelleher asks what the Irish Catholic Bishops are proposing regarding the X case ruling – and, to all churches, if legislation should be confined to the X case ruling, or if it should be broadened.
Ciara Conway talks of ‘nuanced’ theological approach to contraception and divorce – asking “If women and men are truly equal, why are women entitled to less medical care?” She asks why Irish women presumed to manipulative, or lying, about suicide intention?
Mattie McGrath asks if a referendum is actually being suggested by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference – and for them to expand on why.
Rev Christopher Jones of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference says that the Supreme Court judgement on the X case “reversed totally” the will of the Irish people as expressed in the 1983 constitutional amendment. He said a referendum would give people the chance to re-establish their voice.
Fr Timothy Bartlett of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference refers to the issue of the two previous referenda, saying that there was not a ‘clear pro-life pro-choice’ result. “There is a reason we hold the courts in high esteem – but here’s also a reason why they don’t frame legislation,” he said. “You, as legislators, are free to consider the wider issues.”
Michael Jackson: On the issue of referendum, our concern is more on legislation in order to provide for life of mother. There is a difference between crisis and emergency.
Dr Ali Selim says “We think it’s an issue that should be considered from a medical point of view. The treat of suicide could be bases on many other things.”
Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland women in this country “do not have an equal right to health”.
Legislation for X case will not open door for abortion on demand, says Heidi Good.
Rabbi Zalman Lent of the Irish Jewish Community, who was delayed in arriving, gives his opening speech. He says the Jewish faith only allows abortion in certain circumstances, including a danger or risk to mothers life, mental health complications to mother leading to her death, rape or incest, or foetal abnormalities which impact viability.
Eamon Maloney – some argue that recognition of the risk of suicide will open floodgates. It is an “insensitive and insulting” view. Do the churches and atheists share that view?
Imelda Henry – what would the Catholic Church say to an obstetrician fearing jail? What about parents whose teenage daughter has been raped and becomes pregnant?
Imelda Henry – what would the Catholic Church say to an obstetrician fearing jail? What about parents whose teenage daughter has been raped and becomes pregnant?
Denis Naughten – is legislation extending the grounds for termination? Should there be a referendum that 433 of constitution (Roche case) that provides for abortion in cases of foetal abnormality.
Robert Dowds – ask that the Catholic Church, in particular, goes back to look at the issue in detail. “Life is not as easy as we would like it to be,” he says.
Seamus Healy – addresses the concern over legislation leading to widespread availability of abortion. Is that not unfounded, on the basis of the fact that we operate under a constitution?
Regina Doherty – given that suicidal intent is recognised as a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother. How does the Catholic Church deal with cases such as this?
Peter Fitzpatrick – Would the Catholic Church elaborate on medical intervention.
Marc McSharry – Bases on physiatrists’ presentation, McSharry asks comment on numbers actually number of women at risk of dying by suicide.
John Crown – Given the fact that medicine is getting better and mothers are getting older, this legislation would apply to about 30 people per annum. Why do you think this would to an substantial increase in abortions?
Asks each church if a woman is “allowed to rise to a job” in the official organisation of their faith?
Trevor Morrow, of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland: There are messy situations, but moral laws are vital in the midst of the complexities. An argument exists that, if there a risk of even one woman taking her life, you have to respond to that as legislators… but if we believe in the right of life of the unborn, we should be equally concerned for the foetus.
We have a right not to be harmed by another… once you move away from this – which is what the X case judgement opens up – then you open up all pressures and the possibilities, he adds.
Christopher Jones of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference expresses sadness towards girls and women who have become pregnant through rape, but says the denial of a human life is not condonable even in such cases.
Samuel Harper, of the Church of Ireland, reiterates need for legislation – despite concerns over what it would “open up”.
The measure of the legislation will be on how it addresses the 3 per cent of women who are at risk of suicide – not how it might open it up to the 100 per cent, he adds.
Michael Jackson that – as it stands – we are not able to assess the trauma of women who have undergone abortion, or find ways to support them
Heidi Good says the care and protection of the mother and the unborn is primary. “We don’t not legislate just because it affects one person.” Even if this applies to just one woman in the next ten years, we should legislate, she adds.
Rabbi Zalman Lent says we must approach the issue of suicidal pregnant women with compassion. In relation to the low percentage of potential suicides, he says that – if there is a risk to the life of the woman – it must be addressed.
Trevor Morrow: abortion is being practised in Ireland today – otherwise members of the medical profession would not be seeking to protect people.
Derek Byrne: says this is a Catholic country – based on last census – so should we apply Roman Catholic teaching to medical practise?
Fidelma Healy-Eames:asks Atheist Ireland and Methodist about “compassion”? Asks, isn’t the X ruled “flawed”?
Terence Flanagan: What is the variety of opinion regarding exceptional cases within the Church of Ireland?
Bernard Durkan: In cases of rape – is it position of the Catholic Church that the victim of rape is to live with the consequences of that, ie pregnancy? What about minors and intellectually challeged people?
Jim Walsh: Asks for comment on ‘two person model’.
Michael Creed: Is the Church saying it is happy for a “carte blanche” situation relating to potential suicide – is their disdain for the legislator do great?
Marcella Corcoran: What is your definition of “life”?
Ivana Bacik: isn’t the opposition to X cased based on misogyny? Where is your compassion to victims of rape? Bacik also notes that most of those heads of churches are male and celibate – and questions how they can comment on women’s reproduction.
Timothy Barlett says medical intervention to save of mother is always acceptable, as long as every move has been made to also save life of child.
There are many women who I know in my life – and who I love dearly. No woman has ever called me a misogynist.
Jackson comments on the range of views on abortion within Church of Ireland – fluidity on issues like health and suicide exists.
Good says Methodist church has compassion for the unborn child as well as the mother – that it is a difficult situation and she “would not like to be in medical profession and be faced with that decision”.
Atheist Ireland says legislators are retrained – which is not ideal – but they must work within the constitution.
In relation to viability – if a foetus is viable, it will be delivered as a baby.
Jones: “We do not need to legislate for abortion in order to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights.”
That concludes this session – the Committee has now been suspended until 11.50 am.
Next up will be Caroline Simons and Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign, Dr Eoghan de Faoite and Dr Seán O’Domhnaill of Youth Defence, Patrick Carr and David Manley of Family & Life and Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute.
And so ends Jennifer Wade’s two-hour shift of liveblogging – it’s Gavan Reilly here with you for the next two-hour session as we hear from the pro-life groups offering their thoughts on the government’s proposals.
There’s seven pro-life campaigners due in for the second session: Caroline Simons and Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign, Dr Eoghan de Faoite and Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill of Youth Defence, Patrick Carr and David Manley of Family & Life, and Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute.
We open with Caroline Simons of the Pro-Life Campaign (and former European Parliament candidate for Libertas), who is again hamstrung by the same dodgy microphone which flummoxed Jennifer Schweppe’s testimony yesterday. She switches seats to get a better mic.
Caroline Simons says there is no evidence that abortion reduces the mental health risks of unwanted pregnancy, and questions why legislation is being compiled to address medical evidence that appears not to exist.
What would be the impact? Psychiatrists would be asked to administer a procedure for which there is no psychiatric justification, and all would be violating the most basic human right for unjustifiable reasons, Simons says. She speaks of an “irrational and entirely unjustifiable basis”. Legislating for abortion is a profound cultural change in society. “It is certain that ideas like these have real consequences,” she says.
Simons: Most of the doctors who have come to this committee want to know “that I will not go to jail” and that they were free to make appropriate clinical judgements anyway. No doctor has ever withheld treatment for fear of the law, she says – so why change the law, especially if no doctors have been prosecuted? Are their fears well-founded?
Simons refers (though not by word) to the legal principle of mens rea – that a person needs to have acted ‘with guilty mind’ to be prosecuted of a crime. A doctor acting in good faith has nothing to fear from the law, she says.
The ECHR did not direct Ireland on the form or action to take, but only to clarify the law so that people knew where they stood. Legislating would not be problematic for the X decision itself, where the court heard no medical or psychiatric evidence, Simons says.
After this week we know abortion will never address the suicidal woman’s actual needs, Simons says – so there is no need to legislate for it. A referendum is needed to address the ‘faulty’ X Case ruling, she says.
The government should commit to examine the difficulties established by X, she says. This issue is complex and sensitive, but this committee’s efforts over the last few days have clarified much of what is confused. “We may finally address the problems addressed by the X Case” because of its findings, she concludes.
We’re now joined by Dr Eoghan de Faoite, a medical doctor and member of Youth Defence. He begins on the ECtHR ruling. “The EHCR absolutely did not demand, or even require, that Ireland legislate for abortion,” he opens with, saying the court merely demanded clarity.
He says Ireland is a “world leader” in maternal health, and says Ireland already permits labour to be induced early if a mother’s life is at risk. Obstetricians have the absolute freedom to intervene to save the life of a woman, he says.
There is a distinction between the termination of pregnancy and the termination of the life of a child, he says – there’s a clear difference between terminating a pregnancy (by inducing labour early, to trigger a birth) and aborting an unborn child.
De Faoite refers to questions from Prof John Crown on Tuesday, who was told: “We never kill a foetus,” by the master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahoney. “That is not our aim.”
He also says his medical colleagues are often insulted by claims that people need to go to Britain for “so-called life-saving abortions”. There were zero abortions carried out in Ireland under Category F (where abortions are carried out to save the life of the mother) of British law, he says, citing British data released under Freedom of Information legislation. “Irish women are not travelling to the UK to undergo so-called lifesaving abortions because they are being denied treatment in Ireland,” he affirms.
Next up is Dr Sean Ó Domhnaill, a consultant in general adult psychiatry and a member of Youth Defence’s sister organisation, the Life Institute. He says he began working in Jersey in 1997, where his first weekend on call brought him into contact with an attempted suicide victim who had been previously pressured to undergo an abortion in Southampton against her will. (Abortion was not legal in Jersey at the time, but is now.)
At the time, he says, his patient asked him to tell her that she hadn’t killed her own baby or that she could ‘bring her baby back’. He evidently could not do so.
Ó Domhnaill regularly comes across women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies. In another case, he says, he was aware of a woman who went into deep depressive moods on the anniversary of her abortion. “These people have been left out of the hearings to a large extent,” he says.
He concludes with a quote from an academic psychiatric textbook. “Only 10 per cent of women suffer with severe or prolonged sequelae [pathological conditions] as a result of pregnancy,” he says.
Next is David Manley of Family & Life. The issue of abortion is divisive, but there’s a large area of agreement and common ground that women in Ireland should receive whatever medical care they require in pregnancy – and there’s a majority who want the protection of unborn life continued. All but a small number of people are content to see the protection of human life, he says.
In the A, B and C case, the ECtHR didn’t ask Ireland to legalise abortion – but rather introduce procedures that were accessible to women, without prescribing what these should be.
The 1992 ruling in the X Case will remain the source of legal difficulty and social controversy until the suicide provision is removed, Manley says, returning to testimony given by William Binchy yesterday.
Further clarity is desirable, indeed, but it is important to note that whatever lack of clarity presently exists and existed, it clearly did not prevent doctors in Ireland from providing women in pregnancy with the high standard of care that they need.
Manley goes on: The course of action chosen by the government gives statutory effect to the provision of the X Case. Yet all the psychologists at the committee said abortion was not in itself a treatment for suicidality. The constitution recognises the fundamental equality of all human beings. Ireland, in 1983, made explicit that this equality extends to the most vulnerable of human beings, the unborn.
The government has no mandate to legislate for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children in Ireland. To do so would create a law that is fundamentally unjust, he concludes.
Last up is Breda O’Brien from the Iona Institute, who thanks members for the chance to interact with them. She’s spent three decades teaching young women, she says, and has witnessed something terrifying: the normalising of suicide as a response to extreme stress. When a girl comes to her with suicidal tendencies, she therefore takes it very very seriously.
She refers to claims that removing suicidal tendencies as a stigmatising effect, but says it’s actually the opposite: a perinatal psychologist has says ‘emergency terminations’ are ‘obsolete’ and a calmer response is needed.
The judges in X acted in good faith, but the tragic case of Miss C – a rape victim at 13 who was brought abroad by the State for an abortion – is the result: she has attempted suicide many times since her abortion, thankfully unsuccessfully, O’Brien says.
Journalists would be condemned to prescribe a simple cause to suicide, for risk to contagion, and yet this legislation proposes to legally enshrine that pregnancy can be so traumatic as to drive a woman to take her own life.
It isn’t the baby that ruins you life. It’s everybody else. It’s the family who won’t stand by you, the principal who won’t give you a place in his school. The partner who’ll pay for your abortion but not pay child support.
The Expert Group report referred to delivering children “on the brink of viability”, and says the legislation is asking an obstetric team to scrub up and deliberately induce labour and deliver an extremely premature baby – at risk of brain damage, blindness or death – on an ‘emergency’ basis that doesn’t exist.
All of this is in the absence of any benefit from the mother, O’Brien says, going on to quote Planned Parenthood – the body which carries out abortions in the US – who admit a woman is equally likely to have mental health issues after an abortion than after becoming pregnant in the first place.
Nobody told the committee that an abortion meets the criteria of being the only way to avert suicide. This is a shaky foundation to build legislation on, O’Brien claims. “You have a moral duty – responsibility – to disobey unjust laws,” she concludes, quoting Martin Luther King.
Speeches done; on to questions and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher who asks about the Pro-Life Campaign’s submission – and a quote that there were two maternal suicides in Dublin’s three main maternity hospitals over a two-decade period. He asks: Is it possible that this number could have been higher, but for the fact that many in crisis pregnancies were able to travel to Britain? He also asks if the Pro-Life campaign is asking for a referendum to change the wording upon which Article 40.3.3 is based?
Rónán Mullen has a point of order – asking if one person who attended was mistakenly overlooked. He says it would be “appropriate and generous” if an opportunity was given to pro-life barrister Maria Steen (who is present alongside the panellists, though not a panellist herself) to speak to the committee.
Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin (SF) has a question for psychiatrist Seán Ó Domhnaill, and recaps the current legal status in Ireland. The five consultant psychiatrists before us earlier this week confirmed that they never had to intervene in ways Ó Domhnaill outlined. Why would this change simply after a new law? He also asks Breda O’Brien to outline her calls for a new referendum, and what it is she would like the public to vote on. He adds that one in 19 Irish pregnancies ends in abortion – it’s just the case that most of those are aborted overseas.
Mattie McGrath (Independent) refers to the C Case, of a girl in state care who was allegedly suicidal while in state care and brought to Britain for an abortion, and asks what implications this had in Ireland.
Ciara Conway (Labour) asks De Faoite about his reference that no women had travelled to Ireland “for life-saving abortion”. She says the medics who spoke earlier said it was commonplace to refer women to Britain for abortions, and asks for a response to this. She adds that the committee is looking to give women choices about access to life-saving treatment, and asks Ó Domhnaill why he may fear women could falsify a threat of suicide simply to end a pregnancy.
Breda O’Brien responds first, to Conway. “Do you have such a certainty that you can legislate for suicide on the grounds of lifesaving, given the evidence that some women after an abortion continue to be suicidal and some tragically succeed?,” she asks. There’s no medical evidence to suggest that it’s in any way helpful.
She says a change in culture – like the one that would be brought about in this legislation – would be a greater educator than any other.
Maria Steen, a barrister with Iona, is invited to step in to comment that the 1861 legislation cannot apply to a doctor who acts in good faith because they require the aforementioned ‘mens rea’. The 1861 law does have an important effect in deterring backstreet abortions, she says, commenting that those laws are still in place in 1861 to underline the illegality of improperly obtained abortions.
Ultimately members are being asked to make political decisions and value judgements, she says. The current medical practice – where everything is done to save the life of the mother – is what people want retained. She says as a mother-to-be herself, she wants to be assured that a doctor will only act to save her life when her life is on the line (but no earlier).
David Manley summarises that yes, the Family & Life group would like a new referendum to amend the constitution and undo the effect of the X Case. He says the referendums in 1992 put two questions: asked people if they want termination banned, and if they wanted suicide removed as a grounds for it. Pro-life people were pulled in two directions and were forced to vote in ways they were uncomfortable.
In 2002 there was “a deep division among pro-lifers” on the question of suicide, with a large number again uneasily voting No. He says, as a result, it cannot be said that the majority of Irish people support the suicide provision that currently exists.
Finally we hear from Patrick Carr, another Family & Life member, who says it’s not unique to Ireland where the Supreme Court “would make a faulty decision” (he adds he means no disrespect to the court in this case). Other countries have recognised their other previous decisions as flawed, and takes the pro-slavery rulings of the US Supreme Court as simply one example. Flawed decisions have all introduced the notion that some lives and people are less valuable than others, a basis which is also present in the X ruling.
Sean Ó Domhnaill looks to respond, to Kelleher’s question about whether more Irish suicides could have occurred if Britain didn’t offer a solution for those women. O Domhnaill says the figures were obtained from the UK authorities, and says only between 1992-2011, two Irish women presented and claimed mental health grounds (though not on the basis of suicide risk). Abortion is not reported in any journal or textbook as a treatment for mental illness or disorder, he says.
The problem with the presentation of someone with a major suicide risk, is presenting as someone is usually acutely stressed. Anyone at risk of suicide should be thoroughly assessed on the basis of their own psychiatric history; this is still the case if two psychiatrists are needed to provide this opinion, he says. He cites medical advice to admit a depressed person to hospital and not ‘to make an intervention that is irrevocable’. Under Irish law, someone in an acute risk of suicide has to be admitted to a place of safety. Law, therefore, doesn’t allow a doctor simply to discharge someone who has a suicide risk.
Eoghan De Faoite follows up on a question about abortion statistics and again vouches for their legitimacy. They were obtained by him, himself, from the UK Department of Health. Under sections F and G – the categories which refer to abortion on the grounds of mental health – and was told there were 0 abortions done between 1992 and 2010. Further, there were 10 abortions carried out where an Irish woman presented with a grave health condition. Looking at those ten, only three were actual physical medical conditions, the remainder being psychological.
More remarks come from Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign – who says obstetricians told the committee that they did not feel handcuffed by the law as it currently stands, and clarifies that the current status only permits abortion where it was the sole way of addressing a suicide risk. Discussing risks beyond that are outside the ambit of the committee, she says.
Caroline Simons has one final response: The totality of the evidence heard over the last few days has completely demolished any argument that suicidality can only, and indeed ever, be treated by abortion. It would therefore be madness to legislate for it.
Here’s more questions, firstly from Senator Colm Burke (FG), who returns to the notion that the X Case didn’t hear psychiatric input. If that’s the case, he asks, isn’t the proposed legislation welcome because it requires psychiatric evaluation from two consultants?
He says medical professionals want clarity, and asks if the panellists believe any regulations can be brought in under existing legislation without the need to introduce a new Act in the Oireachtas.
Denis Naughten (Independent, formerly FG) says everyone is in agreement that the ECtHR must be heeded and followed. He also says the current medical ethics guidelines currently allow a single consultant to determine a circumstance where an abortion is permitted. Should current guidelines not be legislated for, he asks?
Prof John Crown (independent senator) says it appeared from the medical evidence that there were about 30 abortions carried out in Ireland each year as a direct result of an imminent threat to the life of the mother, but none as a result of suicide. Therefore, he asks, why are the panellists focussing so solely on abortions through suicide? If it’s not feigned suicidality, he wonders, what possible grounds could there be to fear a larger number?
Seamus Healy (ULA) visits a similar point – we’re dealing with about 30 abortions which are carried out per year. Does this fit with the statistics presented by the panellists? He also asks about the view of the witnesses in cases where there is a fatal foetal abnormality that means no prospect of survival.
Regina Doherty (FG) says she doesn’t think there’ll ever be a case, if this legislation was brought in, where a woman could be recommended for abortion on the basis of suicidality. Why such huge concern for such a relatively small amount of bona fide interventions?
Peter Fitzpatrick (FG) goes back to the evidence from the three maternity hospitals, where two women committed suicide after childbirth. Does abortion increase the risk of mental health difficulties and suicide, he asks, and does motherhood deter from suicide?
Finally, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor (FG) asks members to comment on Simon Mills’ draft legislation tabled yesterday. She’s “very concerned”, she says, about a comment that said there was no need for legislation and that the current rules were fine, as is. Why, she asks, would the Master of Holles St – herself a mother of four – then come to the committee and say they feel exposed and are unhappy with the system as they currently stand? Do we trust the medical profession?
To respond to that batch of questions, we begin with Caroline Simons. Legislation must include suicide because of the X Case, she says – so why do we concentrate on it? Medics say it’s never a treatment for suicidality, that’s why we need to look at it.
“To address Professor Crown’s question – if he’s finished looking at Twitter there…”
…to Crown’s question, she says suicide is both a medical and psychological question. She cites examples where people have openly discussed ‘coaching’ pregnant women to feign suicide.
She says Mills’ legislation also provided for the termination of fatal foetal abnormality, which is pretty bluntly deemed “entirely inappropriate”.
Dr Berry Kiely says an obstetrician can currently make the decision they think is best, but they won’t be allowed to do that under the current legislation because they’ll need a second opinion. “In order words, this legislation proposes to deal with something, more than what we’re currently doing,” she says. Asking for two or more medical opinions fundamentally changes the treatment currently offered, she says. “It will clearly be more than what is currently there, and more than what is currently needed.” This is the “chink”, she says, that “opens the door” to lessening the value of the life of the unborn.
Prof John Crown, it should be noted, has left his seat. Caroline Simons has apologised for making a joke about his use of a tablet computer.
Eoghan de Faoite says doctors know when they’re entitled to intervene, under the medical guidelines – this was clearly indicated by the medical evidence. De Faoite does not oppose clarification, and if doctors want a further legal basis to allow them to practice their discipline, nobody opposes that. The problem is when legislation doesn’t recognise the right to life of the unborn, and recognising the doctor’s duty of care to both a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
He also criticises what he sees as dishonest reporting by some – who claimed that 30 ‘abortions’ were taking place every year in Ireland – when it was not known whether this involved premature labour or any other circumstances.
Sean O Domhnaill says his colleagues in Britain have seen “the floodgates open”. Before 1966 most abortions in Britain were carried out on the basis of protecting maternal health; within 12 months of a new law in 1967, over 90% of applications for abortion were on the basis of suicide.
David Manley wants to address Crown’s question on the emphasis placed on suicide, over any other threat to maternal health. He says it’s because new legislation would allow the life of an unborn child “to be directly and exclusively taken”. “How can a law permit such an injustice? That is the problem.”
The 30 cases of ‘abortion’ raises the difficulty of using the right words, he says. The obstetricians who spoke on Tuesday discussed the interventions they had had to make, which was to do their utmost to maintain the mother’s life and then that of the unborn. This is different to an abortionist’s job which is simply to end the life of the unborn, he says.
He ends by saying he of course trusts medical professionals – just as he trusts local police and local Gardaí, county councillors, teachers, and politicians (which prompts a laugh). The kindness showed to him in the last few days has restored his trust in politicians, he says with a smile.
This might be an interesting time to bring you some breaking news from Paddy Power, who have commissioned a Red C poll on public attitude to abortion.
In the words of Hugh O’Connell…
SIXTY-FOUR PER cent of people in Ireland support legislating for the X Case on abortion at the very least, according to a poll conducted by Red C for Paddy Power bookmakers.
The poll, released this afternoon, has found that over a third of the electorate or 35 per cent support the government’s decision to legislate for the X Case allowing for abortion where the mother’s life is at risk, including by suicide.
A further 29 per cent support legalising abortion in Ireland to allow for abortion in any case where a woman requests it, a move that would require a constitutional amendment and therefore a referendum.
More on that over here.
Patrick Carr of Family & Life has reasserted that the campaign would like a referendum to change the wording of the Constitution which is the basis for X.
“That’s all very well in practice, but how will it work in theory?” asks Breda O’Brien, saying Garret FitzGerald’s words apply perfectly to the current situation. What we have in Ireland now is great medical practice which appears not to have a legal basis. If this legislation won’t ever be needed, she asks, why are we introducing it?
Suicide is a terrifying reality, she says, revealing that she has felt such feelings before. But, she says, legislating to allow abortion because of the risk of suicide, creates the absolute certainty that a viable and defenseless child could be killed.
Barrister Maria Steen says all barristers believe there to be no legal reality of the prospect of a prosecution brought under the 1861 rules, once a doctor acts in good faith. If it were thought necessary to allay the fears of the medical community, then it may be possible to amend the 1861 laws to explicitly include a ‘good faith’ defence for doctors.
If a law deals with taking an innocent life, that law needs to be justified. This can be done under current medical practice, but if we talk about enacting a law that intentionally takes an innocent life, we need an even stronger justification for doing so. How can one agree with taking the life of an innocent child, Steen says, when its only crime is to have existed at all?
Regina Doherty wants a clarification from Sean Ó Domhnaill’s figures from the UK. Does a pregnant woman, in the UK, need a psychiatric assessment to claim an abortion on mental health grounds?
Ó Domhnaill says one of his former colleagues in 1997 had a stack of ‘ready stamped’ forms which only need a patient’s name to be filled in in order for a mental health difficulty to be certified.
On to questions from non-members: Aodhan Ó Riordain (Labour) says anyone here who argues that the suicide risk doesn’t need to be legislated for is here under false pretences. The X Case includes the risk of suicide, and therefore the duty of the committee is only to figure out how best this can be done.
Ó Riordain wants to ask what degree of lobbying politicians is appropriate and inappropriate. (He has himself been the recipient of some pretty nasty letters.)
Terence Flanagan (FG) wants to address the well-being of fathers whose children are aborted, and asks if there is any evidence about suicide being ‘normalised’ as a result of a formal legal treatment.
Fidelma Healy Eames (FG) says there’s been a missing voice in these hearings – and that’s the voice of the pregnant woman who has been in such a vulnerable place. She asks Ó Domhnaill, who spoke of having treated a suicidal woman post-abortion, how this should be addressed.
She also asks Simons if she believes Ireland needs to legislate for suicide as a result of the ECtHR, and Steen if she believes the current medical guidelines are sufficient to ensure the best medical care.
Jim Walsh (FF) says the medical evidence, thus far, is that the current legal framework has never inhibited someone from giving the best possible care to an expectant mother. The fear of legislation has been raised by a growing number of obstetricians, who fear any legislation could interfere with the best possible medical care.
Paul Bradford (FG) has a question for the female members, saying it has been alleged that questioning the suicide clause is “an insult to women”. Do the female members believe this? Are our current restrictions insulting to women? Are women in other countries with more liberal abortion regimes held in higher esteem or higher regard?
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (FG) wants to ask if the panellists believe the medical guidelines could be legally challenged, and wants to ask anyone who appeared in the EWTN video if they truly believe Ireland is looking to introduce a “culture of death”.
Bernard Durkan (FG) has a three-parter. If it is not “immeasurably better” to ensure consistent treatment of women in every circumstance? Is it accepted that while one may disagree with a court decision, the Supreme Court is the supreme court and the ultimate authority in the determination of what is constitutional? Are comparisons between Ireland and the UK worthwhile given Ireland’s written constitution which does not exist in Britain?
Ivana Bacik (Labour) wants clarification on the comparisons between Irish and British law, saying she’s checked the British law and it does not limit abortion to the threat of suicide but merely a threat to mental health. She also refers to doctors’ fears of being prosecution, and says the only reason doctors haven’t been prosecuted under the 1861 laws is because anyone who really needs an abortion can get one in Britain.
Susan O’Keeffe (Labour) believes the witnesses have dismissed the Supreme Court, the European Court, two referendums and the Master of the Rotunda. Do any of you call yourselves democrats, she angrily wonders?
Martin Conway (FG) asks if we’re going to see “appalling billboard campaigns” around Ireland from Youth Defence when the legislation is published and brought forward.
John Paul Phelan (FG) is last, and wants to ask the witnesses about the 1861 laws. If you accept the current medical practice that some terminations are medically needed, where do you stand on reconciling new legislation with the constitutional standing?
Dr Berry Kiely is first. Are Ireland’s laws an insult to women? She says she doesn’t believe emotive language helps and says doing what’s just or fair is not an insult to anybody.
She says there is “no disparity of views” about what an ill and pregnant woman needs. The difficulty is that legislators are being asked to legislate for more than that, she says. Abortion is not a remedy for suicide, and furthermore, abortion is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
The Supreme Court is the best we have, but it is not infallible, it says. It would have reached a very different conclusion if it had heard the same evidence in X that the committee has heard this week.
Caroline Simons says she doesn’t know about the EWTN video which some of her fellow witnesses have appeared in. She adds that Ireland doesn’t have to legislate for suicide as grounds for an abortion – merely to have a coherent and easily accessible legal system.
The UK’s medical bodies has recognised that sepsis in pregnancy is the single biggest killer of pregnant women, and issued guidelines on that. The Irish institute of obstetricians did likewise. It’s possible to let the medical profession self-regulate in matters like this, she suggests.
Breda O’Brien says there’s always an alternative course of action to something unjust, and that an unjust law which takes unborn lives is therefore unjust.
She also says she has a “growing bee in her bonnet” about ad hominem campaigning and hopes that any legislation does not bring about directed and targeted personal campaigning against figures on either side of the divide.
O’Brien also references the fact that fathers have a major role in creating pregnancy and that therefore they should have a role in managing it as it continues.
Maria Steen discusses how you might measure a “real and substantial risk” to the life of the mother. This can’t be distilled down into a legal formula, she says – it has to be left up to a clinician to make a call in the circumstances ahead of them.
This test. right now, “affords considerable flexibility” to doctors acting in good faith (and is demonstrated by the complete absence of any prosecutions under the 1861 laws criminalising abortion), and this flexibility can only be threatened by legislating.
The Supreme Court was constrained in X by the facts presented to it. There was no countervailing evidence put up by the State, and the Supreme Court couldn’t ask for more evidence in its own volition. The Oireachtas doesn’t have such limits, she says, and the statistics about the risk of suicide following an abortion, it is important that the Oireachtas doesn’t limit itself to X alone in ways the Supreme Court was.
David Manley wants to distinguish between a ‘necessary medical intervention’ for a pregnant woman facing a risk to her life, and where the child dies, and ‘what is commonly called an abortion’. The former refers to the 30 procedures discussed by the medical experts earlier this week, he says; the latter is simply where you set out to kill the child. The intention of an obstetrician in a maternity hospital is to save the life of the mother, and then that of the child.
Manley says an elective termination is an abortion, sought and painful, where the abortionist simply sets out to kill.
“An obstetrician will treat the ill mother for certain ailments… that is the very same type of treatment who is not pregnant. The abortionist in London will not give the same treatment to a pregnant woman and a non-pregnant woman.”
Patrick Carr of Family & Life addresses the authority of the Supreme Court. We do have a precedent in Ireland where a Supreme Court decision was considered so difficult that a referendum was held to reverse it – this was on adoption. It’s not unreasonable to think similarly, he says, adding that the authority of the people is superior to that of the Supreme Court itself.
“It’s extremely important that those who lobby their elected representatives do so in a courteous manner,” he adds. Some comments in recent times, particularly on social media, have been utterly appalling, he says – though many of these “are coming from the other sides of the argument,” he comments.
This prompts a rare intervention from chairman Jerry Buttimer, who says that as a social media user himself, the abusive comments come from both sides.
Eoghan de Faoite says a symposium held in Dublin last October, including world-leading experts, saw a declaration – the ‘Dublin Declaration’ – that outlined three things: Abortion is never medically necessary; there is a fundamental difference between abortion and emergency medical treatment needed to save a life; the prohibition of abortion does not impact on the provision of the best possible medical treatment.
One of its 400 signatories is a predecessor of Rhona Mahoney’s, and another is a leading consultant within her hospital, he says.
The young people who work in Youth Defence do everything they can “in a normal way – I don’t think their campaigns are in any way abhorrent or anything,” De Faoite says, saying Youth Defence volunteers are often the subject of undeserved abuse. He tries to cite an example of a tweet from a Labour campaigner in Cork, and is stopped by Buttimer who asks him not to make comments on outsiders who are not here to defend themselves.
Then comes a perhaps unexpected intervention. Buttimer tells de Faoite that Youth Defence’s manner of campaigning “needs to be reviewed”. De Faoite says he disagrees, which Buttimer completely accepts.
“The dignity of these hearings has just been impugned by both yourself and the deputy behind me,” intervenes Sean O Domhnaill. Buttimer disagrees, says he’s only looking to defend all members and all sides. “You turned this at the end into an adversarial encounter,” Ó Domhnaill says.
After World War 2, Ó Domhnaill says, pictures were shown of “corpses piled upon corpses piled upon corpses”, on the premise that such killing should never happen again. If someone disagrees with such killing, he simply says, “don’t legalise it”.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy tells Caroline Simons she can’t understand why Simons doesn’t know about the EWTN video, considering she appears in it.
Simons: “I wasn’t aware that I was on it. I don’t know any agents of the culture of death, I hope. Certainly they haven’t introduced themselves to me.”
Jim Walsh asks the group if protection of the unborn “is the real human rights issue of our day”.
De Faoite says he agrees with Walsh’s assertion; abortion is the real human rights issue of our day.
David Manley agrees, while Breda O’Brien says it’s up there with aid to the developing world, and there are a jigsaw of issues “all as a piece”. The protection of the unborn is part of that.
Sean Ó Domhnaill concludes by telling Fidelma Healy Eames how he was once told by the IFPA there was no such thing as a post-abortion mental health difficulty – only for the IFPA to then open a post-abortion counselling facility in Cathal Brugha St six years later.
And with that, a frantic two hours comes to an end.
The main argument put forward is one that could, in truth, have been predicted: the panellists put forward the belief that allowing an abortion on the grounds of a threat of suicide will ultimately mean that a perfectly viable foetus could be directly killed through no fault of its own.
There were also more concerns that legislation would offer the “chink of light” that could eventually lead to broader abortion in Ireland, and that any legislation could upset the status quo where pregnant women in Ireland are given the best possible medical treatment.
A busy couple of hours, then. We’ll be back at 2:45pm with the arguments of the pro-choice campaigners. Until then, we’ll again leave you with some lunchtime reading material – Paddy Power’s new Red C poll showing that a majority of the public supports proposals to legislate for X.
Thanks for joining us for round 2 – this is Gavan Reilly signing off for now.
Well, we’re into the home stretch. This afternoon’s session is the final one of a series of 10 hearings in the Seanad Chamber over the past three days. Earlier today, the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children heard from pro-life campaigners and various religious and atheist groups. Now, it is time for a number of pro-choice advocates to take the stand.
It is Sinéad O’Carroll here, by the way. I’ll be bringing you as much detail as I can from the questions-and-answers session with Jacinta Fay and Denise Ryan from Choice Ireland; Orla O’Connor, the Director of the National Womens Council of Ireland who will be joined by Jacqueline Healy; and Ailbhe Smyth and Therese Caherty of Action on X.
It’s been a gruelling three days for Jerry Buttimer and his committee, which has been tasked by the government to collect as much information as it can to aid it in its endeavour to bring forward legislation on abortion.
Buttimer begins the session and says that so far they have heard wise, constructive and informative deliberations from witnesses. He reiterates that the Government has stated that it wants to ensure clarity and legal certainty within the constructs of the Irish constitution.
Buttimer says there will be brief words from the party spokespeople at the end of the session.
Abigail Rooney from Choice Ireland is up first.
She explains the work of the volunteer group. She says they have been campaigning for X Case legislation, as well as the open and free access to all options for those with crisis pregnancies.
Rooney cites figures of the number of Irish women who travel to the UK and the Netherlands for abortion services. She also brings up the issue of seized medication, which she says indicates there are women in Ireland to try (or do) abort their pregnancies in a risky manner.
Choice Ireland welcomes the decision for legislation in this limited way but noted that it would not bring in the same legal system that works in the UK.
Up next is Jacinta Fay from Choice Ireland. She will go through the group’s recommendations for lawmakers.
Choice Ireland agrees with Dr Rhona Mahoney that a multi-disciplinary approach is favourable.
Where practical, the determination should be made by doctors already involved in the mother’s care, she continues.
The number of doctors’ signatures required should be only two – to reduce stress of process.
In the case of suicide, two signatures (and not three as previously recommended) should be sufficient. This could avoid the stigmatisation of mental health i.e. making it different to physical health risks.
With regard to conscientious objection, Choice Ireland believes it should not delay treatment for a woman.
Due to stigma around abortion in Ireland, Choice Ireland says that care should be taken to protect the privacy of the care and the practitioner.
On the 1861 Act, Fay recommends the repeal of the Offences Against the Persons Act. She says it brings a certain “chill factor”.
She added that everyone wants to see the number of abortions lowered. “But the criminalisation of women who look for abortions is not the answer.” She calls for better sex education and compassion.
Next up is the Director of the National Womens Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor.
She welcomes the announcement of the Government to bring in regulation and legislation to give effect to the Supreme Court judgement in the X Case.
She says the Council’s position on abortion has developed over time and believes it is well-positioned to add to the debate.
She says 16,000 men and women have written to TDs in the recent past in support of abortion legislation in certain cases. She says its pro-choice position is supported by opinion polls.
O’Connor says that due to the stigma that surrounds abortion, women are often voiceless in this debate.
Again, we hear for a repeal of the 1861 laws that criminalise abortion. She also cites the “chilling factor” for doctors, regardless whether prosecutions have not been made.
O’Connor says that women who have been at their counselling sessions are terrified of being sent to jail.
Abortion must be decriminalised if regulation/legislation is to be effective, continues O’Connor.
The Council says that regulations should allow for practical risk assessments and a review system for disagreements between women and their healthcare team.
O’Connor says suicide must be included as a grounds for a lawful termination.
Women must be trusted as making considered decisions about their own reproductive health.
She says it is insulting that some groups have come out to say that women would be likely to fabricate suicidal tendencies to access abortion services.
There have been cases where pregnancy triggers or heightens mental health problems, she adds.
Achieving access to safe and legal abortion is critical, continues O’Connor. Women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies without fear of incarceration or discrimination.
She also raises the issue that the limited legislation/regulation being discussed here will not help women who: travel to the UK for abortions for a myriad of valid reasons; who have been raped or become pregnant from incest; or who have been told the foetus has a fatal abnormality and will not live outside the womb.
Next up is Ailbhe Symth from Action on X.
She said today is an historic event – especially for those who have been looking for autonomy for women and their reproductive health since the 1970s.
To echo this afternoon’s other speakers, Smyth calls for the repeal of the 1861 laws on abortion, again quoting the European Court of Human Right’s phrase, “the chilling factor”.
“There is no good reason” for these sections of the 1861 to remain, she said.
In reply to those who said over the past three days that there is no need to remove the sections because there has not been any prosecutions, she said, “All the more reason then to delete these redundant but chilling clauses.”
Smyth says it is surprising that some people and groups have decided it is OK to ignore or dismiss the decisions of our highest court or International human rights law.
She brings up Clare Daly’s Bill of 2012 – says that much of the legislation needed is there and that there is no need to continue to beat about the bush.
Abortion is a factor of life in Ireland, continues Smyth, bringing up the number of women and girls who travel abroad for abortion services. She says that the difficult decision is made for a number of reasons, including fatal foetal abnormalities.
She says she regrets that TMFR was not invited to make a presentation this week.
The needs of the large majority of women who leave Ireland every year for abortions will not be met under the proposed reforms.
She said that there would not be an explosion as feared by some pro-life groups because abortion numbers would remain as they are now. We would just be more honest about it.
The change of culture brought up by other contributors here (Professor William Binchy’s phrase) has already happened, according to Smyth. Irish people’s opinion of abortion has already changed, she said.
Smyth says access to abortion should be a real, rather than a theoretical right.
Now it is question time.
Again, first up is Billy Kelleher from Fianna Fáil.
He says that 30 abortions are carried out in Irish hospitals every year as it is and those numbers won’t change much if legislation and regulation is brought forward. On the issue of suicide, he says there is a concern about the interpretation.
He asks is there any form of follow-up support (physical and psychological) for women who return to this jurisdiction after an abortion? He wants to know should there be policy on it. He explains that we are confined by what can be done.
He wants to know what sanctions could be brought in to ensure against ‘back-street abortions’ if the 1861 laws were repealed? That brings up Catherine McGuinness’s testimony from yesterday.
Caoimghín Ó Caoláin from Sinn Féin asks Choice Ireland to elaborate on it recommendations about non-registered practitioners signing off on lawful terminations.
He tells Orla O’Connor that she highlights an important point when she speaks of financially accessible services. He says that we live in an unequal society. How do the NWCI suggest that there will be equality of access for supports that women may require?, he asks.
He also reiterates Kelleher’s question about what the 1861 laws would be replaced with to ensure there are criminal sanctions against illegal abortions.
Deputy Seamus Healy stands now.
He says many of his questions have already been asked.
He asks for clarification that the groups’ are supporting the Expert Group’s recommendations of legislation and regulation.
He also asks for a comment on the suggestions that women could “manipulate” their doctors on the issue of suicide.
Labour’s Ciara Conway also says her questions have already been asked. They’re making it easy for me!
However, she brings up the last session’s evidence where they were told that no Irish women underwent abortions in the UK.
She also asks how we could combat the practice of women taking “dangerous conconctions” to abort their pregnancies.
First to answer is Choice Ireland’s Abigail Rooney.
She says that as a woman and an equal citizen, it is insulting that people believe she could manipulate a doctor. She said such talk is ridiculous and should end.
On the issue of abortion aftercare, she said that there is evidence that women who undergo abortions abroad often present too late with infections or do not visit their GP as they should. She said it is something that could and should be addressed.
On the qualification of doctors, Rooney says that maybe Choice Ireland “got it wrong” or is “being naive” but she says that doctors (and not necessarily consultants) could sign off on lawful terminations if necessary.
Rooney says that if people believe they are saving lives by criminalising abortion, they are wrong.
She calls for a referendum on abortion to ask the people what they believe.
Orla O’Connor from the National Women’s Council next.
She says the required legislation is urgent but on other abortion issues we need to lift our heads from out of the sand.
She says the grounds for suicide has to be legislated for – that is what the X Case was about.
“Women need to be trusted and the medical profession need to be trusted,” she continued. Having an abortion is surrounded in difficulty and stigma – as is mental health, she added.
The notion that some women would do this is appalling and insulting
Post-abortion care has come up with women contacting NWCI, continues O’Connor. “So many women don’t want to say they’ve had an abortion – so accessing services is a difficulty. Part of that is removing the stigma, decriminalising it so women can go and seek help and post-abortion care.”
Answering Conway’s question about online abortifacients, she says that it highlights the fear that women have around the issue.
Smyth, from Action on X, next.
On the issue of sanctions and ‘back-street abortions’, she said the best way to deal with it is to legislate for safe access to legal abortions.
She said that Ireland has been saved from this issue by having an “escape route” to the UK for women who could afford it.
“We need to legislate for safe, legal abortion in this country,” she reiterates. “We certainly need to decriminalise it.”
On the issue of suicide, she said that ground is the crux of the X Case. Supreme Court rulings are not à la carte menus that legislators can choose bits from, she adds.
With regard to online medication, Smyth reiterates that safe, legal abortions enables women not to have recourse to “perilous” measures of self-medication.
So many of the questions that come up, she says, ask for ways to get around (or ways to dodge) what is actually needed – legislation.
She said there is now an opportunity to be direct, honest and grasp this nettle which will protect the lives, health, wellbeing of women of child-bearing age.
Sinéad Kennedy takes an opportunity to tell the committee that not only does Ireland have the Supreme Court, but it also has the 1992 and 2002 referenda which saw the public reject the roll-back of the suicide ground as was allowed for in the X Case.
She believes that this legislation is just a first step, bare minimum and temporary measure before we go on to provide real care for Irish women.
More question time.
Senator Colm Burke says his interpretation of the presentations this afternoon is that the proposed legislation would not change much. He asks whether Choice Ireland would like to see GPs sign off on terminations?
He says the number of teenage pregnancies in Ireland has reduced over the past 10 years, and asks what else can be done to keep this downward trend.
TD Catherine Byrne says her job is not to consider open abortion but to find balance in legislation. She says that this will help even a few women who will not have to leave Ireland. She says education in sexual practice begins at home and parents have a duty to guide their children.
Deputy Robert Dowds, of Labour, asks to what extent is there counselling for women considering abortion and what is the view of the witnesses on such services?
Up first to answer those questions is Jacinta Fay.
She says legislating for X will only see abortion in very narrow circumstances. Ireland will still have one of the most restrictive abortion regime in the world. Women will still travel abroad and she believes the numbers won’t change very much.
On the issue of doctor sign-offs, she said her recommendation was to make services as accessible of possible.
Responding to the question on teenage pregnancy, she said the solution is better and cheaper access to contraception and sex education.
On aftercare, she said there needs to be a change in attitude towards abortion so people do not feel the stigma if they go for after care.
She also welcomed the idea of any additional care or counselling for women making the tough decisions in a crisis pregnancy.
O’Connor said although the numbers are small, even if one person’s life is in danger, then this legislation is critical.
It is also important for the conversation is has brought up.
She says her group believe counselling is very important so a woman can make a decision that is right for her.
In relation to changes in practice, Smyth says this legislation is important because it gives clarity to doctors.
It also sends a signal that abortions can be and are carried out in this county. And that women do need abortions sometimes.
“It is true that the number of women and girls going to Britain have been decreasing and the number of teenage pregnancies are decreasing also. But we have to bear in mind that abortion is going to continue to be a need – women will need to avail of it and we need to make a provision for it.”
Kennedy says that one of the barriers to post-abortion counselling is that it is criminalised in this country.
She believes women are impacted by fear and the stigma.
She says regulation is very important when it comes to pre-abortion counselling services. She says Choice Ireland has done great work on uncovering some services that try to shame or bully women. Others do not give abortion options, just information on adoption or giving up a child.
There needs to be more regulation around these counselling services, she added.
Abortion is sometimes a positive decision, she concludes.
Now we move to question time for non-committee members.
First up, Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames says that it is vital that we look at the woman holistically. She asks does Choice Ireland agree?
She said she is disappointed with the claims made by the National Women’s Council of Ireland on its website about how it is the voice of the women of Ireland. She also brings up the death of a woman in Galway – is interrupted by Buttimer who asks her not to bring that up. But she continues and asks whether the Council has an agenda, and a dangerous one at that.
She also asks is it not more insulting to women to believe that abortion is a treatment for abortion.
Next up is Senator Ivana Bacik. She criticises Healy-Eames for calling out the Council. She says she is affiliated to it through Labour.
Buttimer pulls up the politicians for descending into a “Hill 16 episode”.
Senator Michael Mullins says it is deeply disturbing that a tragedy would be used by the National Women’s Council.
Buttimer asks him to avoid using language and words such as “dishonest”.
Mullins asks Choice Ireland why they use language on their website which links the anti-choice campaign to religion and homophobia.
Senator Paul Bradford asks whether the witnesses agree that no deaths have occurred in Ireland because of legal uncertainty.
He also raises the Miss C case, and that she regrets the abortion that she underwent.
He reiterates Mullins question and says he is not homophobic, anti-contraception or anti-sex education. He calls it juvenile and pathetic, asks for it to be taken down.
Rooney says she never brought up the issue of the anti-choice side. And says that it was juvenile to bring its website into the debate.
Buttimer calls for a tolerant and respectful conclusion.
Rooney says she is not a doctor and doesn’t have statistics on deaths in Ireland. She says that women who could have died went to England.
She says the X Case is too narrow but our constitution does not allow for anything further.
Dealing with Healy-Eames question, Rooney says that abortions should never be forced on anyone. That was not the case with the X Case, continued Rooney, and not what we are talking about today.
“Our country was going to force her to carry that foetus to term and that is why she was suicidal,” she continued.
Rooney says she would love a broader debate on abortion legislation. Women are going to go to the UK, she said, and politicians know this so can’t try to stop them.
Rooney says all cases are tragedies, the X Case in particular.
Next up is Orla O’Connor.
“I come from the NWC which represents thousands of women,” she starts, in response to Healy-Eames. “Abortion has been discussed for over 30 years and there has been motions brought to reflect the different perspectives.”
She says she has a strong mandate from women, which is backed up by opinion polls.
On suicide, O’Connor reiterates the X Case. “In what other policy areas do we ditch Supreme Court rulings because we don’t like them?”
Standing now is Ailbhe Smyth.
She comes back to opinion polls that show Irish people want more progressive abortion legislation. She says the direct question has not been asked through a referendum.
She says the issue of abortion over 30 years has brought bad feeling, controversy and it is now about time that a sensible, practical question is put to the people of the country so we get a clear answer (at least for the next decade).
Deputy Terence Flanagan asks the NWCI if they believe in the rights of the unborn? He also asks do they represent women who do not believe in abortion.
He also brings up the father and grandparents. He asks whether the witnesses believe they have a right to oppose a woman’s decision to have an abortion. He also asks whether they believe it is right to abort a baby on the ground of the gender of that baby.
Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy of Fine Gael asks if we know the reasons or demographics of the women travelling to the UK? She also wants to know what a safe and legal abortion is?
Labour TD Aodán Ó Riordáin asks the witnesses about Simon Mills draft bill, specifically about fatal foetal abnormalities and conscientious objection.
He also asks what they believe is appropriate or inappropriate lobbying?
Senator Jim Walsh asks the witnesses if they believe Ireland can’t deal with crisis pregnancies without abortion? He also asks whether the witnesses would like to see a scenario as in the UK where up to 20 per cent of pregnancies end in abortion.
Senator Ronan Mullen starts off by saying he doesn’t agree with the witnesses. He says that suicide has been central to the debate but it doesn’t appear to be a medical phenomenon. What is your honest opinion if there is legislation on the X ground, which many of us fear will open the gates, – what will it lead to?
Senator Martin Conway says that for balance, he would like to raise the “unfair and inappropriate” language being used on some of the websites of the people taking the stand this afternoon. He raised the same issue during the pro-life witnesses.
He said he is concerned about children who have disabilities – where is the protection for the person who will be disabled, he asks.
TD Bernard Durkan of Kildare North, says it is important that women can be reassured of consistent and equal treatment, regardless of the opinion of those treating them.
Buttimer says he is of the opinion that all campaigning groups should review their behaviours. He notes that he said it during earlier sessions also.
Fay is up first.
She says her group campaigns for sex education, free contraception and safe and legal abortion.
On the demographics of women travelling to England, she said she knows it is a broad spectrum of women with a variety of valid reasons.
In terms of late-term abortions, she said the Master of the Rotunda dealt with that in an earlier session but that it would be an extreme circumstance. She says 87 per cent of UK abortions occur in the first trimester.
She reiterates her group’s stance that abortion is a woman’s choice.
Unfortunately, I lost my stream there for a few moments so I missed O’Connor’s answers.
Up now is Smyth. There is a bit of argy-bargy with Senator Mullen but he is rebuked by Buttimer.
And Dr James Reilly is in the room.
Terence Flanagan gets another shot at his question. O’Connor reiterates that the life of the woman is paramount.
Minister James Reilly begins his presentation.
He says he is happy to be in the Seanad this afternoon. He commends the balanced and dignified approach that has been seen in the past three days.
He adds to the praise being heaped on TD Jerry Buttimer for his work chairing the hearings. He said they will help greatly as he goes about his job to draft legislation and regulation.
Reilly said the proposed Bill aims to regulate access to lawful abortion within the parameters of the X Case.
He said parallel regulations can be amended in light of medical and scientific developments.
Reilly said much work remains to be done on the issue of lawful terminations in Ireland.
Locations for terminations, the number of doctors involved, the issue of conscientious objection will all need to be reviewed, he said.
He reiterated to the committee that the only legislation that he will bring forward is to offer clarity to what is already lawful.
He says he looks forward to getting the Oireachtas Committee report but adds its work is not done. Once the Heads of Bill are complete, the committee will be asked for its assistance once more.
Next up with his party’s statement is Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson Billy Kelleher.
He says there are passionate views on this subject. He says we should be conscious of the “middle ground” out there who probably want clarity on the issue.
A lot of work must be done before legislation is brought, he said.
“We speak about language, and it is critically important in this debate…there is up to 130,000 Irish women who have gone outside this jurisdiction for abortions. We should be very mindful that strong language can be very offensive to many people.”
“Equally, we should be able to put forward our point of view without fear or favour.”
He concludes with his compliments to Buttimer and his administration staff.
Next up is Caoimghín Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on health.
He says he would have to put on record his appreciation to Buttimer and the committee’s members for their approach and tone-setting to this very emotive issue.
He congratulated all parties for adhering to the approach. “I hope that will not be lost on the public,” he said, and go towards tempering the future engagements.
He thanked the media for the interest and reporting they have shown. He said public information would be lost without it.
Deputy Seamus Healy is next to give his closing statement.
He thanks all witnesses from the past three days.
“It is an emotive subject, it is a difficult area…it obviously must be dealt with sensitively,” he said. “It is not an option to continue heretofore.”
“I would want to say as well, that I believe the area of fatal foetal abnormality could and should be dealt with in the legislation,” he continues, bringing up Simon Mills sample bill, calling it a good template for future legislation.
“It should be looked at very clearly by the Minister and his department.”
Next, Deputy Ciara Conway of Labour.
“Sometimes politics does work,” she says. “We now need timelines on how to proceed…”
“As we approach March – the 21st anniversary of the X Case decision – we owe it to the women and children of Ireland not to have to revisit this.”
Dublin TD Catherine Byrne says the past three days have been a learning curve for her.
She says it shows how committees should be run in Leinster House – even to the small things of making sure the politicians are on time.
“It is a very important issue…it is a sad reflection on society that it has taken so long to get to today.
“It is an opportunity – the last few days have been the beginning to change,” she concluded.
Senator Jim Walsh also thanks the committee for the opportunity for both ‘sides’ to have their voices heard.
Lots of pats on the back – he said the quality of questions was also great, despite the rushed nature of the hearings.
He says the past three days have shown him that Ireland’s maternal care is excellent.
Finally, he asked the Minister to listen carefully and reflect on what was said.
Senator Ivana Bacik also gets an opportunity to make a final statement.
She says it is important to move to legislate swiftly.
She also tells the politicians present that they are welcome back to the Seanad any time they wish to visit.
Jerry Buttimer stands now for the final words.
He said over the past three days, the meetings have enabled the committee to learn about current medical practices.
“Across our communities, there are a wide range of views and in the past debates have become heating…”
But he says the engagement here has been positive and constructive.
He says it is a pity that the committee could not hear from all groups who would have liked to make a presentation. He said the committee tried to ensure that it heard from medical and legal experts, as well as advocacy groups.
Speaking to the members, Buttimer said that partisan politics was put aside for the hearings. He singles out Ó Caoláin and Kelleher for their contribution over the past month.
Now that the hearings are over, the committee will reconvene next week and the report for government will have to be put together. Buttimer said it will be used when drafting the Heads of Bill.
He also welcomed the Minister’s decision that the committee’s expertise will be called upon in the future.
And that brings us to the conclusion of the 10th hearing.
The Oireachtas Committee has heard from medical practitioners, legal experts, religious groups, pro-life campaigners and choice advocacy groups over the past three days. They will now work on a report to summarise all the witness presentations for the Government, which will use it as it drafts legislation (and parallel regulation) on Ireland’s abortion laws.
Legislation will only offer legal clarity to what is already lawful, something that was noted as insufficient by the last three witness groups today.
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