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Oireachtas told: 'Ireland already allows abortion of unviable pregnancies'

Supreme Court rulings mean a foetus which cannot survive outside the womb does not possess ‘life’ under the constitution.

Jennifer Schweppe, Ciara Staunton and Simon Mills (right) attending the Oireachtas this morning.
Jennifer Schweppe, Ciara Staunton and Simon Mills (right) attending the Oireachtas this morning.
Image: Oireachtas

LEGAL EXPERTS have said that the Irish constitution already permits abortions to be carried out in Ireland in cases where a foetus has no prospect of any life outside the womb.

Experts from the University of Limerick, NUI Galway and the Law Library said a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 means that a foetus which cannot survive beyond pregnancy does not enjoy the protection granted in the Constitution to the “life of the unborn”.

The three experts, who said they had prepared their evidence to the committee independent of each other, all said a ruling in the Roche v Roche case in 2009 – delivered by Susan Denham, who has since become the Chief Justice – had determined this.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that a separated woman did not have the right to use embryos which had been frozen after being fertilised with sperm from her estranged husband.

The experts – Dr Jennifer Schweppe from the University of Limerick, Ciara Staunton from NUI Galway, and Dr Simon Mills of the Law Library – all said Justice Denham’s ruling meant that an entity which itself was not capable of life outside the womb was not covered by the constitution’s protection of the “unborn”.

The three also argued that the legislation being prepared by the government should also take account of cases that have not yet arisen – with Staunton arguing that the legislation should try to avoid circumstances with another case similar to X came before the courts because of a legal uncertainty.

Mills, a former GP with a master’s degree in medical ethics, has submitted a draft version of legislation which he said would satisfy the needs outlined.

The only reason more cases similar to X had not become before the Irish courts was “simply because of our proximity to the United Kingdom.”

LIVE: Legal experts address Oireachtas on proposed new abortion laws

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Gavan Reilly

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