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A crash course in today's abortion legislation hearings

What’s it all about? TheJournal.ie takes you through the Health Committee proceedings.

Image: Photocall Ireland!

THE GOVERNMENT HAS already published the heads of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 but that marked only the first rung in a multi-step process towards legislating for abortion in Ireland.

The draft ‘heads of bill’ is not actually the final wording of the proposed new law. They are simply the starting structure for what the final Act will eventually look like.

This is where Jerry Buttimer’s Oireachtas Health Committee comes in.

The document was sent to the members of the committee and they have convened three days of hearings to gather feedback and opinion from experts in medical, legal and psychiatric fields.

Buttimer is expected to report back to the Minister (James Reilly) by the end of this month so he can consider any necessary adjustments before finalising the wording of the Bill. It will then be sent through the various stages of the Dáil and Seanad.

First, we have to gear up for three full-day sessions, featuring the masters of Ireland’s maternity hospitals, barristers at law, solicitors, and psychiatrists, as well as regulatory and representative bodies and policy makers.

Unlike the committee’s previous hearings, there will be few representatives from advocacy or religious groups giving evidence. However, there will be lawyers and doctors – seen as experts in their fields – who have already made their views (both anti-abortion and pro-choice) public.

Buttimer, who was widely praised for his role in the intensive hearings ahead of the drafting of the heads of bill, has described the proceedings as “pre-legislative scrutiny”.

“As a committee, we hope that the debate is conducted in a temperate and moderate fashion, and that the hearings make a considered contribution to the shaping of this significant legislation,” he said earlier this week.

All eyes will be on today’s afternoon session (from 2.30pm) when the masters of the Rotunda Hospital and National Maternity Hospital give evidence. Dr Peter Boylan, who provided key testimony in the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar earlier this year, will also take the stand. In previous remarks, Dr Rhona Mahoney has called for clarification of the law as she wants to know that she nor the women she treats will go to jail.

During the hearings, each witness will have the opportunity to make an opening presentation and then will be asked questions (taken in bulk) from members of the committee and then other members of the Oireachtas who are in attendance.

Proceedings can be watched live on UPC Channel 207 and online at the Oireachtas website. They will also be streamed live on TheJournal.ie, where our reporters will also be live-blogging the details.

Here’s the schedule for the three days:

Friday, 17 May

9.30am – 11am: Policy – Overview of Heads of Bill

  • Minister James Reilly
  • Dr Ambrose McLoughlin, Secretary General at the Department of Health
  • Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer

11.15am – 1.45pm: Regulatory and Representative Bodies

  • Institute of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists
  • Irish College of General Practitioners
  • Irish Medical Council
  • Irish Medical Organisation
  • Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

2.30pm – 5pm: Obstetric Care Facilities – Larger Hospitals

  • Dr Peter Boylan, National Maternity Hospital
  • Dr Sam Coulter-Smyth, Rotunda Hospital
  • Dr Rhona Mahony, Master, National Maternity Hospital

5.15pm – 7.45pm: Obstetric Care Facilities – Other Hospitals

  • Dr Gerard Burke, Mid-Western Regional Maternity Hospital, Limerick
  • Dr Mary McCaffrey, Kerry General Hospital, Tralee
  • Dr Máire Milner, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda
  • Dr John Monaghan, Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe

Monday, 20 May

9.30am – noon: Psychiatry and Perinatal Psychiatrists

  • Dr Anne Jeffers, Consultant Psychiatrist, College of Psychiatrists of Ireland
  • Dr Maeve Doyle, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, College of Psychiatrists of Ireland
  • Dr Joanne Fenton, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist
  • Dr Anthony McCarthy, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist
  • Dr John Sheehan, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist

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12.15pm – 2.45 pm: Psychiatry

  • Dr Yolande Ferguson, Consultant Psychiatrist, Tallaght Hospital
  • Dr Peadar O’Grady, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
  • Prof Veronica O’Keane, Consultant Psychiatrist, Tallaght Hospital & TCD
  • Dr Eamonn Moloney, Consultant Psychiatrist, Cork University Hospital

3.30pm – 6pm: Psychiatry

  • Prof Kevin Malone, Consultant Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s University Hospital & UCD
  • Dr Bernie McCabe, Consultant Psychiatrist, Navan Hospital
  • Dr Jacqueline Montwill, Consultant Psychiatrist, Mayo Mental Health Service
  • Dr Sean O’Domhnaill, Consultant Psychiatrist

6.15pm – 8.45 pm: Other Medical Specialties

  • Claire Mahon, President, Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation
  • John Saunders, Chair, Mental Health Commission
  • Dr Kevin Walsh, Consultant Cardiologist, Crumlin & Mater Misericordiae Hospital
  • Dr Janice Walshe, Consultant Medical Oncologist, St. Vincent’s University Hospital

Tuesday, 21 May

9.30am – noon: Medical Law

  • Paul Brady, Barrister at Law
  • Simon Mills, Barrister at Law
  • Tony O’Connor, SC
  • Caroline Simons, Solicitor

12.15pm – 2.45pm: Constitutional Law

  • Professor William Binchy, Barrister at Law, Trinity College Dublin
  • Dr Maria Cahill, University College Cork
  • Frank Callanan, SC
  • Justice Catherine McGuinness, retired Supreme Court Judge

3.30pm – 6pm: Medical Ethics

  • Ciaran Craven, Barrister at Law
  • Dr Ruth Fletcher, Keele University
  • Sunniva McDonagh, SC

6.15pm – 8.45pm: Members Times/Closing Statements

  • Minister of State, Alex White

Explainer: A crash course on how the abortion proposals will become law

Here is the list of witnesses to appear at abortion hearings

Explainer: How does a Bill become a law?

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