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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 29 November 2020

Citizens' Assembly chair says balance 'fundamental' following criticism from anti-abortion groups

Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy reaffirmed a commitment to balance.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.
Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.
Image: Citizens' Assembly via YouTube

THE CHAIR OF the Citizens’ Assembly has moved to reaffirm its commitment to balance while discussing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution following criticism from the anti-abortion side of the debate.

Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Mary Laffoy addressed the 99 members of the assembly this afternoon, saying that the pursuit of balance was “fundamental” to the work of the assembly to date.

Laffoy restated the reasoning behind the formation of the work programme and reaffirmed her commitment to having both sides of the debate represented as equally as possible.

“We have consistently tried to put the medical and the legal material before you in a factual, neutral and balanced manner,” she said.

“I have to say this balance can be difficult to achieve in such a highly contested and controversial area.”

While not directly mentioning any criticism, Ms Justice Laffoy appeared to be addressing complaints from the anti-abortion side of the debate that the programme of speakers wasn’t balanced enough.

Anti-abortion group the Life Institute said yesterday that the assembly had “lost all credibility” as it featured submissions from representatives of groups who carried out abortions.

This was in response to the assembly hearing yesterday from representatives connected with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) – the UK’s leading abortion care service – and the New York-based Guttmacher Institute.

Yesterday, the assembly heard from Dr Patricia A. Lohr, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who has also been medical director of BPAS since 2007.

Lohr’s expert submission focussed on Irish women who travelled to the UK for abortions.


Ms Justice Laffoy said today that the way in which the speakers were laid out was to ensure that the medical and legal perspectives of abortion were considered before any arguments for or against were put forward.

“I wanted you to know how things happen on the ground and I wanted you to know what the law is in practice,” she said.

“I decided to do this by selecting speakers who were highly experienced and experts in their respective fields but who had not expressed a viewpoint of opinion on the Eighth Amendment.

I also set out to ensure that speakers with connections to organisations which are regarded as promoting one side of the issue would be asked to present a factual narrative of the position on the ground.
They were asked in explicit terms not to adopt an advocacy approach.

This weekend marked the third meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly in dealing with the issues surrounding the Eighth Amendment. It will meet again next month on 3 and 4 of March.

Today, the 99 members of the assembly today heard arguments for and against abortion from an ethical perspective.

Look back over the stream from this weekend’s session here

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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