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THE OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE on Health and Children sat today for of the last three days of public hearings on the government’s proposed new legislation on abortion, following its publication of the heads of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

Today’s proceedings – split into four sessions – heard from a number of legal experts, including barristers and solicitors, as well as the Minister of State, Alex White.

Here’s our liveblog of  today’s events.

Good morning. Aoife Barry here for the start of today’s final hearings. TheJournal.ie staff will be here throughout the day bringing you updates.

My colleague Sinead O’Carroll has put together a who’s who of today’s proceedings, which you can read by clicking here.

During the hearing today, each witness will make an opening presentation. Following this, they will be asked questions (which will be taken in bulk) by members of the committee, and then other members of the Oireachtas who are in attendance.

During this session, which will run from 9.30am until noon, we can expect to hear from:

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

Simon Mills, Barrister at Law is up first.

It seems logical if unborn is to be referred to in the bill, one could refer to implantation in the womb, suggests Mills.

Dealing with heads two (threat to the life of the mother other than suicide) and four (dealing with suicide) together, he says there clearly has been a decision taken to treat suicidality in a different fashion than compared with the threat of physical injury.

He says a couple of things should be considered, including the fact the heads do not deal with giving sufficient detail to the test that is to be applied by the doctors when assessing the threat to life.

Examination may be the wrong word to use in the bill, says Simon Mills.

It might be the case that where the word examination is used in the heads, this might be made the subject of a definition or be dealt with more extensively to deal with the requirement of consultation with the woman, and the possibility the exam might be other than a physical exam and might require more than a physical exam, he says.

Simon Mills, speaking at the hearing:

Mills says the question may be asked whether or not ultimately there is or should be a role for the court – the High Court – in determining aspects of disputes that may arise. It may be that nothing like this needs to be expressed, he adds.

On to conscientious objection now – at what extent does this arise when an opinion is sought, asks Mills.

Mills also says that head 19 is simply overboard in the offence it creates. If it is supposed to be a restatement of the 1861 act, it misses that mark, he says.

He adds that some issue may also wish to be given to the question of criminalisation for vulnerable and desperate women. He asks how this may be dealt with and asks the committee to give consideration to it.

Up now is Barrister at Law Paul Brady.

Brady says he does not not come before the hearing with a particular moral position or expert medical opinion.

He believes the legal input today can clarify what the legal effect of what is being proposed is, and also what is being proposed.

If some say the bill is restrictive, that begs the question – restrictive compared to what? questions Brady.

He prefers to examine what is permissible and possible under head four – that does not mean probable, says Brady.

Brady says that it is clear that head four marks a change in the law, because it creates for the first time a statutory basis in Irish law for what may be the “direct and intentional termination of a child’s life”.

He brings up testimony from February’s Oireachtas committee hearings from Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of National Maternity Hospital, who said that medical staff never ‘kill’ a foetus.

Brady says head four says that the desired aim of the procedure will be a termination, which is a ‘new departure’.

He also says that head four permits such procedures at any stage of the pregnancy.

Head four does not require that the abortion be of last resort, Brady says.

He believes this is unintentional, but the bill would seem to provide for the possibility of a termination occurring at any stage up until the baby has been delivered. That has the potential – though unlikely, he clarifies – to allow for a procedure to take place even upon a partially delivered child.

The requirements of certification by three doctors on face might seem restrictive, says Brady, but in practice there are reasons to think it may operate otherwise.

Brady (pictured above) has concluded his opening points, so now it is time for senior counsel Tony O’Connor to speak.

He endorses the view of the Medical Council about the public interest in ensuring there is clarity for doctors when making clinical decisions.

It is somewhat unsatisfactory when you deal with a woman’s capacity to consent or refuse and that is impaired, says O’Connor.

He says he hopes a proposed bill on decision-making and mental capacity comes into play soon.

It is not seemly and not right, he thinks, that many cases concerning capacity end up in the High Court.

He is anticipating that there are instances under the proposed Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill where the patient does not have the capacity to consent or refuse the decision.

O’Connor speaks about provision for confidentiality for the patient and doctor, and that regulations should provide that this is for monitoring rather than enforcing any particular regime.

The word ‘patient’ needs a definition in the light of what may happen in the future, says O’Connor. The patient in this case is clearly the woman who is carrying the foetus as opposed to any other person who has an interest in the foetus. Some focus should be had in that regard, concludes O’Connor.

Caroline Simons, solicitor, is up now. She praises the contribution of all the medical experts so far.

Women listening to the hearings this week need to know the medical teams in hospitals are doing their best for women with whatever complications in pregnancy they have, says Simons.

She suggests the committee seeks the advice and testimony from consultant neo-natal intensive care doctors, if time allows.

Simons was particularly impressed with the understanding which the psychiatrists showed of the law, and what this bill will mean in relation to practice.

She believes there will be difficulty if heads two and four are merged.

Simons asks if the bill is about service provision, or is it something that has the backing medical evidence. On the latter point, she says it seems it does not.

There is no evidence that has been given to this committee that abortion is efficated [sic] in the care of suicidal women during pregnancy, and she also claims there is increased risk of suicide after abortion.

Simons, speaking at the hearing:

Simons: ‘What we are talking about is doctors wanting to practice good medicine, and wanting to avoid anything that has not been proven useful in managing patients where suicide is an issue.’

The questions for the experts begin now.

Deputy Billy Kelleher asks for clarity on if a woman who has been refused through the panel and makes an appeal would be entitled to legal representative or if someone else could represent her.

He also asks about potential conflict on the panel, and what that could be about.

He asks if the legislation overrides the right of the unborn. Head four is also brought up by Kelleher, who describes it as contentious in discussions, but asks is there not a constitutional obligation on the Oireachtas to legislate including the threat to the life of a woman by suicide.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghinn Ó Caoláin is up now. He asks for clarification of Brady’s view of the 21 years that have gone past since the X Case Supreme Court decision, as he described it as ‘inexcusable’. He wants to know what he means by this.

Deputy Seamus Healy asks is he right in his view that this proposed legislation will be operated on article 40.3.3 of the constitution, regarding the right to life of the woman and unborn; whether it will be based on substantial risk to life rather than the health of the woman; and that only where that risk can be averted by a termination is it permissible. He also asks if the woman herself will make the final decision.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout is up now, discussing conscientious objection. Does a patient have a right to know if their medical practitioner has such an objection, she asks.

Senator Colm Burke asks if there is a distinction between someone who is under 16 and someone who is over 16, and asks the panel to clarify their views on this issue.

In relation to Simons, he asks what she means by ‘alternatives’, and wonders under what legislation that exists is she talking about guidelines.

Dr Simon Mills says he can deal with a couple of the questions in a way that might respond to a number of the Deputies’ questions at once.

On the issue of capacity, Dr Mills says it comes in two forms: mental capacity and capacity in terms of age (that the law recognises your ability to take a decision).

It is a complex issue, he says, and that one wonders what is the situation for a patient who may require a termination in a life-threatening emergency, and who lacks capacity, for example.

They are likely to be taken in reference to the forthcoming capacity legislation, but it strikes him a big part of the conversation around this can be answered by the prompt introduction of that legislation.

What is the right of review for a person who lacks capacity, he asks.

Dr Mills says one of two approaches can be taken: that the bill allows a general right of representation; the alternative would be some form of representation is guaranteed.

In relation to age, the law is reasonably straight-forward to over 16s. Over 18s are an adult and have the right to refuse or consent to treatment.

16 and 17-year-olds can consent to dental, surgical and medical treatment,  but do not have the right to refuse.

We ‘do not know’ what the situation is regarding children under this age, and the Law Reform Commission has recommended reform in this area.

The Bill is always to be interpreted against the background of 40.3.3 in the Irish Constitution, says Mills.

He raises the issue that the bill states that a GP shall be consulted where practicable raises possibility that the process may be seen as defective because sufficient efforts weren’t made to contact a GP.

Paul Brady is up now, and says the issue of consent is a neuralgic one in Irish law.

Brady believes it could be problematic if the issue of capacity is parked, and that perhaps it could be dealt with properly before this bill is pushed through.

Brady says that it is unfortunate that in discussing this issue that legislators should feel that under some legal obligation to bind themselves to what was a concession in the decision in the X Case.

Brady says he would say “of course you are under a constitutional obligation to comply with the Supreme Court but also have the freedom to explore options in this regard”.

All four of the options given by the European Court of Human Rights to Ireland to expedite abortion legislation could have provided a route for what the European court was looking for, says Brady.

Tony O’Connor says that Ireland has waited long enough for the new legislation on capacity. It is a matter that perhaps this committee should forward to the relevant committee, regarding bring the legislation forward, he suggests.

Caroline Simons says that ‘we are not obliged to bring in legislation’ to give effect to an ‘unenumerated’ right in the constitutions, such as the right to bodily integrity, which is not legislated for, for example.

She says that conscience is different to religion, and it is important conscientious objection is protected. She suggests extending this to anybody who could be involved in assisting or facilitating the process under which an abortion is carried out.

Simons speaks about psychiatrists treating women who are suicidal because of their pregnancy.

Back now to the questions, the first from Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick.

He asks about late-term abortions. He speaks about the risk to pregnancy at 24 weeks and scenarios that could talk place at this time.

He asks will the State, the HSE or doctors be liable if a woman regrets an abortion.

He asks if an abortion takes place at a late stage, but the child lives will the father be liable for the cost of bring up the child. Is there any evidence to suggest that abortion is good for women, he asks.

Senator Ivana Bacik is up now, speaking about the definition of unborn under the bill.

She asks should we look at not criminalising the pregnant woman, in line with Irish law where a person who attempts suicide is not criminalised.

Denis Naughten TD asks Dr Mills about his point about the threat to life being on the basis of probability, and if he could clarify this.

He speaks about the C case result, and the fact the threshold of probability there is lower than under this proposed bill, and whether the experts believe if this is challenged in the Supreme Court will it stand up to this challenge.

Deputy Robert Dowds asks is it possible  in relation to consent where under-16-year-old girls are concerned, is it possible to write a provision into the bill to cover that?

Deputy Mary Mitchell-O’Connor asks Mills about conscientious objection and the freedom of medics to grant a woman’s right to be granted a termination. She asks him his views on this and has he concerns. She applies that question to all the other witnesses.

Simons is called to answer the questions first. She answers Senator Bacik’s question.

When asked where the experts find the bill and X Case would allow termination of life rather than pregnancy, she points to the judge’s decision in the X Case.

She says there is room in the judgement that a suicidal woman could look for termination of the unborn.

She says that abortion is still a crime in the UK, and a woman was given eight years in prison for aborting her child at 30 weeks. She says there may be the case where it is appropriate to criminalise a woman for having an abortion, so would not advocate removing the criminalisation.

O’Connor says that he agrees with Bacik that the consent of the patient to go the GP is important in the context of what we are talking about. He says he feels the patient term could be married in with the term pregnant woman in the bill.

He says that the broadness of the term ‘unborn’, it is his view and he has discussed this with Mills, does this cover the ectopic pregnancy situation, and why not take the opportunity now to make sure it doesn’t.

O’Connor is on to Mitchell O’Connor’s question about conscience, and says the guide of the Medical Council is that doctors disclose they have such an objection to the patient.

Brady disagrees that they are required to legislate for the X Case by reason fo the ABC decision, saying it is not an accurate reading of the decision.

In reply to Deputy Naughten’s question, Brady says in the case of suicidal ideation, as proposed under head four, it is conceivable that it is the refusal of an abortion itself per se that is the cause of suicidality. In those situations to turn around and say no what we will do instead is induce an early delivery does not respond to the threat to life on the grounds of that pregnancy, he says.

Dr Mills has asked for ‘a few extra seconds’ to speak about merging heads two and four. He says they can be dealt with separately but if so, they should be by the application of the same legal test, whatever the threat to the life of the mother.

He says no distinction was made in the X Case and no distinction was made in article 40.3.3 between the threats in these heads. Once there is accepted there is no grounds for distinction between those, it doesn’t seem to him as a whole that the distinction stands up.

It leaves open the prospect the two psychiatrists might form the view that suicide may pose a threat to the life of the mother, but might be vetoed by a consultant. What are the consequences of the rules you are laying down?, he asks.

To exclude suicidality is to change the law, he says. He mentions a ‘burden shift’, that when the burden is all about changing the law to exclude suicidality, that burden requires a heavy burden discharged by those looking to change the law and it is up to the committee to look at that burden.

Mills says on the question of balance of probabilities, the first question is whether or not risk is present at all, the second question is the risk that is present, what measure do we apply to say it is real and substantial?

Dealing with Mitchell O’Connor’s question, he says there is a requirement to deal with a balancing act which is on the one hand the right of the doctor to conscientious objection, but on the other hand the right of the woman to exercise her right to obtain a termination.

Catherine Byrne, Fine Gael TD, asks will the bill bring about the widespread termination of pregnancies, and will it legalise the killing of babies.

Robert Troy TD asks about self harm and mental illness under the bill.

Simons says the law will abandon the two-patient model. On ‘widespread abortion’, says she thinks it “would be very foolish of us” not to have regard to other jurisdictions where abortion was legalised.

She says regarding Byrne’s ‘killing of babies’ question that there is a fair argument that it is something that is understood by the breadth of the X Case decision.

However, O’Connor says that the bill will not legalise the killing of babies more than existing [law] and that it will not mean widespread abortion.

Brady doesn’t think the bill will lead to widespread abortion. He asks will it permit more than is intended, more than people are legislating for.

He says in that in a sense head four gives false comfort. He says you cannot double-think the situation, and that effectively there is no other option to certify (as opposed to prescribe) for an abortion, as indicated by Professor Veronica O’Keane, a psychiatrist, during yesterday’s hearing.

He said it is moving the test for real and substantial risk to suicide, therefore if the woman’s threat is based on the existence of the child, what the person is looking for is an abortion, not some other treatment.

Mills says he is aware of no country that has introduced a test along the lines that is being proposed in the 2013 bill, or introduced a test that is as restrictive. He says the 1967 California bill was an example of bad legislative drafting. However, this bill is precise in what it is aimed at.

The English test is a far vaguer test than the test in this bill, says Mills.

Brady comes back to Senator Walsh’s question of whether the decision should be based on evidence in the legislation itself. He says this was a recommendation of the Medical Council, but he has no view on that.

Now it is time for the 13 non-members to ask their questions. Chair Jerry Buttimer asks them to not take all allotted three minutes, as this might help more people to speak.

Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames brings up the comments of some experts that Ireladn ‘[is] not obliged to legislate for X’. She is stopped by Deputy Buttimer, who says a divergence of opinion is allowed.

Healy-Eames asks are legislators obliged to legislate for X “when we now have unanimity among all psychiatrists [at the hearings] that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal women”.

She asks where her duty lies as legislator, is it to be ‘enslaved’ by the X Case judgement, which she says is out of date. She asks can the Oireachtas satisfy the European Court of Human Rights decision without legislation or excluding head four, which is problematic.

Terence Flanagan TD asks the experts are there any other areas under medical law where they would legislate for treatment that is not effective and leads to an increase in the suicide rate.

Bernard Durkan TD asks whether it is permissible for legislators to introduce legislation that they know is in breach of the Supreme Court’s decision in relation to a particular issue where the court has already decided. ‘Is it possible that in some instances people can be tainted in their judgement by virtue of their predilection of a particular opinion?’ he asks.

Senator Paul Bradford is up now to ask his questions, and speaks about one sentence the jumps off the page. He speaks about Dr Mills line regarding termination not being the ‘destruction of the foetus’ a ‘legal fiction’.

Deputy Peter Mathews says he is less confident about Dr Mills and Dr O’Connor’s submissions compared to the other experts, as they “are too wordy”.

He is swiftly asked by Deputy Buttimer to show respect to the witnesses, but responds that he is allowed to share his feelings.

Senator Michelle Mulherin asks are we now legislating for abortion to be a treatment for suicidal pregnant woman?

If a child ends up with a disability due to this bill, who is protecting the child? How robust is three professionals to assess this, asks Mulherin.

She says that she wants to ask Brady can the issue of ‘having no option but to certify for abortion’ be addressed by reframing within the legislation that there is another option.

Deputy Michael Creed asks Brady to comment on the current Medical Council guidelines regarding abortion in Ireland:

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother. Under current legal precedent, this exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide.You should undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research on this issue.

He moves on to head six, and the issue of capacity and under-aged minors. He wants to raise a slightly different context regarding capacity, saying in this head there is capacity for a pregnant mother who was originally denied a termination, to access an appeals process.

He asks is it not a clear and flagrant deficit in the heads that there is no authorised officer of the state empowered to vindicate the rights of the unborn where a decision is made to grant the woman the right to terminate the pregnancy.

Does the panel see any reason why the Oireachtas could at a defined period after its introduction, review the legislation to see whether it ‘opened the floodgates’, asks Deputy Creed.

Simons says that Ireland is not obliged to legislate for the X Case, and she thinks that legislators have a duty to the people they represent to implement laws that are good laws, that are the best of medical practice. She says the degree of dissatisfaction from doctors should be a considerable concern to them all.

She says there is an ideological disagreement between the medical experts who have been before the committee, in her opinion.

She is asked not to stray from her answer by the chair Deputy Buttimer.

At least in relation to head four and suicidality, the two-patient model is going to be abandoned, says Simon.

O’Connor says regarding legislating for X, that the legislators can leave it to the courts to deal with the situations as they arise, but he believes the State should take the responsibility to legislate.

He says that if his submission is ‘too wordy’ as Mathews suggested, he can feel free to reduce the wording.

Regarding Sen Mulherin, O’Connor says that he can’t give a general answer to the hypothetical cases brought up by her and Fitzpatrick.

Regarding the sunset clause, O’Connor says this is a political decision. However, you can also come back and as legislators come back and say this legislation is not working.

Brady says in response to Deputy Durkan, “lawyers are trained to stand back from our own personal views and give an opinion on the law”.

He comes back again to his comments that the Supreme Court decision on X was based on a concession between the parties.

Brady says there is a logic in saying that there are two constitutional rights at issue in these cases, as there is the constitutional right to the unborn.

He agrees the sunset clause is a political decision, and asks what it is to benchmarked against. What will be the benchmark – what number of procedures is a success or failure?

Dr Mills says there is “a tension” in the bill between conscientious objection granted to an individual and the assertion no institute can have conscientious objection.

What happens if every individual in that institute had a conscientious objection, he asks. Dr Mills wonders if it would even lead to “the bizarre scenario” of people being asked during job interviews how they feel about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy 2013 Act.

However, he added “there may well be flexibility”.

We are “talking about a tiny cohort of women for whom the threat of suicide in pregnancy is a problem and a number of those for women the question of termination might arise”, says Dr Mills. He says the presumption that because that group hasn’t been studied that no conclusions should be made about them and they should be excluded from the constitutional protection of this country “is a stunning assertion”.

Part of the intention of the procedure is the termination of human life, says Dr Mills. It remains the case, whether ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional’.

He concludes by saying if Deputy Mathews has any concerns, he should put them to him by writing and he will be happy to deal with them.

And that is the first part of today’s proceedings drawn to a close.

The meeting is suspended until 12.15pm, when the following experts in constitutional law will speak:

  • 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

We’ll see you here at the liveblog when it resumes – and we’ll be liveblogging until the hearings conclude tonight at 8.45pm.

Thanks from me, Aoife Barry – I’ll leave you in the hands of my colleague Sinead O’Carroll.

As always, we welcome your comments below, or on Twitter or by email at tips@thejournal.ie.

Good afternoon. Sinéad O’Carroll here to bring you through the day’s second session. You can contact me on Twitter @sineadocarroll or by email at sinead@thejournal.ie.

There will be four speakers today, as outlined by Aoife earlier, and Professor William Binchy is up first. He is a barrister at law, working at Trinity College Dublin.

He says he will challenge the Taoiseach’s proposition that we have to – as a country – legislate for the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case.

Prof Binchy says that sometimes courts get things wrong. In the X Case, he says that the Supreme Court got it wrong on the science, on the medicine and on the human rights.

He tells the committee members that by introducing this legislation, they would be violating human rights and allowing for bad medicine and bad psychiatry.

He asks them not to go down the wrong scientific and human rights route. He believes this would not put the legislators on an opposition course with the Supreme Court.

Binchy is very animated in his case that the government should not be legislating for the X Case, despite the ECHR ruling. He says that the European court is just looking for clarity – not necessarily legislation.

“There is no obligation to implement the Supreme Court judgement,” he says again, stating the legislature is entitled and obliged in conscience not to go down that route.

Binchy says it is not fantastical to say that a woman could tell a psychiatrist that the existence of a child (and not the pregnancy) is causing suicide ideation. Removing the child (outside her body), in that circumstance, will not treat the suicidal intent, he argues.

Binchy concludes by stressing that there are “other ways” that the legislature can go to comply with the ECHR.

To implement the X Case decision would be a disaster, he adds.

Dr Maria Cahill of UCC now takes the stand. She says she comes to the conversation as a constitutional lawyer.

She said that it would not be difficult to find Head 4 of the draft bill unconstitutional because of the Constitution’s strong stance on the right to life (in Article 40.3.3).

The genesis of head 4 is not in Leinster House but in the Four Courts, she says.

When taking the Supreme Court decision into cognisance, the head then passes the test.

Dr Cahill brings up another High Court case that she says is relevant when looking at the X Case.

A woman facing deportation claimed she would die by suicide if she was forced to leave Ireland lost her case in the High Court. The Minister for Justice argued that to allow suicide ideation to put a stop to such administrative moves such as deportation would be opening “a Pandora’s box” of abuse that would undermine the rule of law.

The head 4 is now out of line, she surmises.

Echoing Prof Binchy’s testimony, Dr Cahill says there is no theory of precedent that supports the theory that there must be legislation for the X Case.

You are not impotent, you have a choice to respect the right to live, she concludes.

Senior Counsel Frank Callanan speaks now. He defends the use of a very experienced child psychologist in the X Case.

Some pro-life advocates have denied that X was correctly decided, he says. It is an argument that they are entitled to make. He says, he does not believe a lawyer that makes this argument can credibly or responsibly deny that the law in Ireland is not expounded by that Supreme Court ruling.

In a less convoluted way, Callanan is saying that Binchy and Cahill – as lawyers – cannot credibly deny that the current law does not allow for a constitutional abortion.

There has never been the slightest suggestion that X was wrongly decided, adds Callanan.

Callanan says the scheme of this bill is conceptually conservative. It seeks to translate the X Case ruling without widening the categories.

It may seem that the bill does not add to what is already there, he says. It is true that we are obliged to legislate, because of the ECHR. It is a momentous event in the turbulent history of Ireland’s statehood, he concludes.

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Catherine McGuinness says she was under the impression that the heads of bill would be discussed today, stating she is disappointed we are going over the same ground, and picking at the X Case ruling.

Her strong belief is that the X Case ruling is the law of the land and that we need to legislate for it.

She says the legislatures’ range of options are being determined by the 1983 Constitutional Amendment.

She says she is in general agreement with the draft heads of bill.

Reiterating previous remarks made during the January hearings, she said she finds herself on a “middle ground” and not on either extreme side of this argument.

With regard to the definition of the unborn, McGuinness said she is disappointed that it does not include foetuses that have fatal abnormalities.

Terminations in those cases should be allowed for in this legislation, she adds.

McGuinness says we have to look at head 4 from a human and practical point of view. The legislation has set up a difficult and conservative process that to suggest it would open the door to enormous numbers of abortions is unrealistic.

The procedure is so rigorous, women will choose to go abroad rather than even applying under this head.

She quotes Miriam Lord in today’s Irish Time: “Doctors disagree, patients fly.”

McGuinness works hard to counter the “floodgates” argument, asking for policy makers to remember the reality of what it is like living in Ireland. Who are these women who would lie, she asks. Who are the doctors who would collude in such lies?

Question time now. First up is Billy Kelleher of Fianna Fáil. He notes that the argument to legislate or not to legislate is over. The government has already made that decisions, he says.

And the opposition has to assume that the legislation presented is “at least Constitutional”.

He asks for an elaboration on the issue of term limits in terms of heads 2, 3 and 4.

He asks the panel to be mindful that the committee has heard from experts that suicide is a rare but real event in pregnancy

Next to speak is Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who asks Prof Binchy about his claims about the existence of a child adding to a woman’s suicidality.

In relation to Dr Cahill’s contribution, he says she is seeking to make a case that there is inequality between a woman presenting with mental illness and one that is suicidal. He says he is concerned that she says women’s rights are discriminated against under head 4 because they would be offered no treatment. All healthcare professionals heard by the committee indicated the complete opposite.

The deputy thanks Callanan and McGuinness for the clarification gained from their submissions, backing the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case. “We have been subjected to the continued assertion that all of this is based on poor judgement and a flawed judgement,” he concludes.

Next up is Mattie McGrath. He asks if a woman refuses all other options except a termination, would it be the only treatment for suicide ideation?

Labour TD Ciara Conway asks about suggestions to merge the heads 2 and 4. Is it something we should be cognisant of or give serious consideration to? She reiterates evidence from a cardiologist last night who said the bill will change treatments for pregnant women in Ireland who are sent to England for possible life-saving procedures.

She wants to gain more information about the criminalisation of women through this heads of bill. Should we replicate suicide laws (as in the person who dies is decriminalised but anyone who aids and abets is subject to prosecution), she asks.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout says she is very conscious that we are talking about X, who was a 14-year-old girl. To exclude suicidality is to change the law, she claims.

On amalgamating heads two and four, Callanan said he sees “some merit” in that. The Minister differentiated because of the subjective nature of diagnosis of suicide ideation.

Apologies for this but my stream just went wonky and I missed Binchy’s answers. Dr Cahill is up now who says it is a duty on legislators to ensure legislation is Constitutional – it is not just the job of the AG, she says.

She says she does not start with the assumption that the Bill is constitutional. She says that the law is not compatible with what was done in the High Court in 2006 (in Cosma vs AG).

Justice McGuinness says she thinks legislators must start with the presumption of constitutionality. Although she concedes that she has found laws unconstitutional in the past, she says when legislation is brought forward, it is done so with the best legal advice that could be obtained.

Once you start bringing this into a argument about Constitutionality (which was brought about in the 1983 Amendment), that is what brings in the problem with term limits. If you had been able to bring in your own legislation, term limits could be arranged.

The doctors are not going to kill viable babies. We are talking about real Irish doctors, not a legal concept.

The discussion on the Supreme Court judgement – whether it is flawed or not – is irrelevant, says McGuinness.

She says she has “considerable concerns” about the maximum sentence outlined in head 19. A distinction should be made between a man who runs an abortion mill – such as Kermit Gosnell who was convicted in America recently – and an individual doctor or woman who could use good faith as a defence.

Deputy Eamonn Maloney of Labour says there is a challenge for legislators because they have to confront women in a very dark place – with an unwanted pregnancy and suicidal thoughts.

It is rare, but that is a good thing, he says. But it is still the reality.

One of the principal arguments to not introduce legislation has been the question of “floodgates”. They have been open since the 1960s, he says. We are not dealing with the floodgates, he adds.

“It is my view…that this is a very conservative bill, dealing with a restricted area,” he says. “In the real world…it is my view that someone in this situation, do we really think that person will go to their GP, a psychiatrist, get a draft of this bill from their politician? They will not…they will go to England.”

Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick asks about patients who are under 18 years of age and how they can ask for an abortion under head 4.

“Will the bill make something legal that would otherwise be illegal merely because of the threat of suicide?” he also asks.

Deputy Denis Naughton reiterates Senator Colm Burke’s statement about “regulatory creep”.

Senator Ivana Bacik has specific questions about the bill being “too conservative”, adding that some balance is required with a number of acts to put the life of the mother on an equal footing.

She says she “utterly refutes” the relevance of the 2006 Cosma case (brought up by Dr Cahill) when dealing with this legislation. She says suicide ideation was not proved in the High Court.

To Dr Cahill and Dr Binchy she asks if they have any trust in or compassion for the women and girls this legislation will impact – e.g. girls in the care of the HSE and those too sick to travel. All other women will continue to travel to the UK, she adds.

Senator Jim Walsh wants to know if there will be any advocacy for the unborn child when a woman seeks a termination.

Justice McGuinness says the Supreme Court has told the government that it does not want this to be left in their hands as they don’t want to

Courts decide on the facts and the case before them. It may be inferred that they meant certain things, but the judges might not agree. That was her addressing the argument that the Supreme Court had decided that abortions could be carried out at any point through the nine months or pregnancy.

It is unrealistic in a sense. It is clear from the medical evidence, that it would be dealt with to preserve the life of the child where possible at all.

McGuinness agrees with Deputy Maloney that women with certain knowledge and ability will continue to travel to England, but adds that the legislation will need to deal with cases involving minors (particularly minors in care).

These cases have come before courts already, on a number of occasions.

Dr Cahill says that she did not argue that the Supreme Court was a flawed decision, she said it was a “non-decision”. She said it did not decide that an abortion was a treatment for suicidality.

She says that legislators are given the possibility to legislate but they are not obliged.

To Ivana Bacik, she says the X Case test was relevant to the Cosma decision and therefore it built on it so it becomes relevant for this heads of bill.

She says that everybody under head 4 is vulnerable and that advocacy for the unborn could be mentioned but it is not.

McGuinness shakes her in confusion at Senator Walsh’s question about advocacy for the unborn.

It raises an enormous number of questions of procedure, she says.

It could be argued, I suppose. But it would be left as a Constitutional question.

Binchy says Cahill is compassionate about both mother and child. He says it is unfortunate that Bacik made the comment and moves to defend his colleague further but is stopped by the chair who asks the witness to move on.

Binchy argues against McGuinness’s point that we are not dealing with a legal concept but real doctors. He says that we are dealing with a legal concept.

It is interesting that the two speakers advocating the bill (Callanan and McGuinness) have not provided a cohesive argument about the worry about late-term abortions, adds Binchy.

Binchy: We have had support that this legislation does allow for a termination of unborn life during the currency of a pregnancy.

“It is a startling proposition,” he continues. “It is one that the legislators have to contemplate and decline to implement.”

Just one thing that I didn’t type out earlier but is getting some traction on Twitter. Justice McGuinness confirmed that some minors in the care of the HSE have been allowed travel to the UK for abortions after appearing in family courts.

She says written judgements were not used in these circumstances because the X Case was used as precedent.

Judges have frequently lamented the absence of legislation, says Callanan.

On the argument of using Cosma when dealing with X, he adds: One might as well google suicide and say that must remove X of the field.

Pleasing the chair with his brief question, Deputy Robert Dowds asks the guests how a victim of rape should be treated?

Professor Crown says it is extraordinary that two Constitutional lawyers come before them and not mention the two referenda that gave clearcut answers.

He asks what authority do those who want to “thumb the Constitution” stand over?

Binchy says that clarity and right of appeal can be provided – in detail – without legislation but through regulation and guidance. He says the proposed laws do not have an ounce of detail.

To Senator Crown, he says that “simply because the Supreme Court has made a decision”, does not mean legislators have to think of a new way forward. He cites a change to adoption laws 35 years ago.

On the point of the referenda, he notes that the pro-life campaign opposed the 1992 change to the Constitution. He accuses Crown of making historically unsound statements.

Cahill said she finds it alarming that Callanan equates a google search with a High Court judgement.

She repeats her line that the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case was a “non decision”, not a “flawed decision”.

“When we vote to reject a proposal to amend the Constitution, nothing changes,” she tells Prof Crown, adding that she has made this argument a number of times to him at home when he is on the TV. It is not the job of the legislator to legislate for something that has not changed.

McGuinness says that Dr Cahill is “entirely misinterpreting” what the psychologist said in the X Case when he said he would not have left her alone. He meant in case she died by suicide, not that she was going to be in England alone, explains the former judge. When she travelled for an abortion, she was within the bosom of her family, she says.

It was a family decision, it was not throwing the girl out the window.

Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames says she welcomes the clarity given today that the government does not have to legislate for the X Case.

She says that head 19 is “over stringent” in criminalising the woman.

On gestation issues, she said it would be barbaric to not include term limits. She asks Judge McGuinness whether it would it be unconstitutional if time limits were added.

Echoing earlier questions from Senator Walsh, she asks if the unborn will have the right to legal counsel.

Healy-Eames also wanted to know if the government can satisfy the ECHR judgment by ignoring suicidality?

Senator Paul Bradford asks, “Are we obliged to legislate?” He wants a simple yes/no answer.

Deputy Terence Flanagan asks if head 12.3 should be removed? That head reads:

No institution, organisation or third party shall refuse to provide a lawful termination of pregnancy to a woman on grounds of conscientious objection.

He also asks (again) if there is a need to legislate for Supreme Court legislation.

To Dr Cahill, he asks why we are not compelled to legislate and why we have been told again and again that we do have to.

Billy Timmins says relying on polls on social issues can be unreliable, citing opinion polls taken before the Children’s Referendum. He is asked to stick to the matter at hand by Buttimer.

Olivia Mitchell brings up ECHR’s criticism that Ireland did not offer a clear pathway to accessing a constitutionally-lawful abortion. She says she has fears this legislation will not satisfy the court.

Legislation should be “at pains” to provide a path out of the GP surgery, she argues. There should also be a clear timescale for trying to access the system.

She says she has concerns about heads 2 and 3 because the woman has a diminished role.

Buttimer asks Peter Mathews for a question and not a dissertation.

He asks whether the guests believe the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste should be present for this hearing, given they are proponents of this bill. He is wrapped on the knuckles (not literally) by the chair.

He also is scolded for not using temperate language – the FG TD had used the phrase “killing of a baby”.

Justice McGuinness says Mullen is trying to flush out if the speakers have any “background” on this issue.

She says she does not belong to any group but reiterates that she was part of the Church of Ireland’s statement on this issue. It takes the middle ground, she says. The Church is against abortion but understands that it takes place.

She says that she believes the Senator has his own religious background as well.

McGuinness reiterates that the problem with adding terms to the bill is with the current Constitution but that legislators can consider testing whether it is constitutional or not.

It is difficult, she adds, but it might be worth a go.

To Healy-Eames, she says that it would not be possible to satisfy the ECHR without head 4 on suicidality.

McGuinness jokes that Fine Gael TDs (and Senators) could do with psychological care given the stress of being lobbied by groups about various abortion issues and referendum.

Dr Cullen says she is not part of a political party.

She says she is not sure why politicians have been told again and again why they have to legislate for suicidality to allow for abortion. She repeats her analysis of the X Case judgement, stating that the court did not rule that abortion is a treatment for suicide ideation in pregnancy.

To answer Mullen’s question, Binchy says he was a member of the Labour party in the 1960s when it was a party “committed to justice and the protection of all human beings”.

He is asked by the chair to refrain from such remarks.

“This is about all human beings, including unborn children,” he adds.

Binchy says abortion is not the most important issue in the world, that there are a number of social issues.

He praises Catherine McGuinness but says that she has put across the argument for “his side”.

And that’s it for the afternoon session, which wasn’t much different to Binchy and McGuinness’s appearance during the January hearings, given that we hashed over the same arguments on whether to legislate or not.

A brief recap?

  • Two of the speakers – Callanan and McGuinness – claimed that the government is obliged to legislate, while Binchy and Cahill said the opposite.
  • There is a need to expand the legislation to give more clarity for those under the age of 18, according to both politicians and witnesses. Justice McGuinness confirmed that some minors in the care of the HSE have been allowed travel to the UK for abortions after appearing in family courts.
  • Supporters of the bill, including McGuinness, believe that the process allowed for in the legislation will not open the “floodgates” to widespread abortion.
  • The issue of advocacy for the unborn was brought up by a number of non-committee members, who asked if the legislation could allow for legal representation for the foetus.

That’s all from me this afternoon. TheJournal.ie‘s deputy editor Christine Bohan will be taking over from 3.30pm to bring you the evidence from three medical ethics experts:

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

Thanks for joining me and good afternoon.

Exactly on the dot of 3.30pm Jerry Buttimer kicks off the eleventh in the series of twelve hearings. As before, he starts off by asking TDs and Senators to be temperate and civil to each other. He welcomes the three medical ethics experts to the Committee.

Dr Ciaran Craven begins by talking about the role of doctors in society, and how good medical practice depends upon a relationship of trust between the profession and society. He says honesty, responsibility and accountability are all crucial. What’s at the heart of this legislation, he says, is that proper and professional standards are met – and if they aren’t, sanctions should be applied.

This is about the safety of the public, he tells the Committee. It’s about assuring that individuals receive the quality of care that they deserve.

Dr Ciaran Craven cites a recent High Court case which upheld that health care professionals owe a duty to patients to protect their constitutional rights.

He says that a ‘good faith’ defence by any doctor who has damaged an individual would have an ‘absolute defence’ under this legislation.

He emphasises the importance of evidence-based medicine and opinions, which is a point that has come up repeatedly over the course of the hearings. He says that a ‘good faith’ opinion which is not supported by evidence-based practice is regressive and also potentially dangerous – it’s old-fashioned, he says, and it no longer finds favour with the courts.

He says that the number of individuals required to review any particular piece of evidence is one of academic relevance and significance which is fundamentally based on good faith or bona fides. He says that given the history of some of the particularly bad scandals Ireland has endured, there has to be a limit to the deference that any society gives to ‘clinical hegemony’.

Dr Ruth Fletcher says she’s going to be looking at four different areas: the definition of ‘unborn’, the significance of Heads 1-4 on the risk of loss of life, the limits to conscientious objection, and the inappropriateness of criminalisation in the legislation.

She begins by saying that the legislation defines ‘unborn’ as following implantation, which she says needs to be discussed more fully. It is open to this legislature to consider more fully the criteria by which the unborn should be defined.

Dr Fletcher turns to Head 19 of the new bill, which creates a new offence under the legislation. Criminalising a woman’s decision is a “disproportionate and unfair” response, she says. “It is disproportionate because it does not achieve the end of protecting foetal life,” she says.

The law doesn’t have to criminalise, she says. There are other less punitive options that could be used.

Dr Fletcher says the maximum penalty of 14 years is quite extreme and legislators should consider reducing this rather than criminalising moral decisions made by women.

Sunniva McDonagh, Senior Counsel, is up next. She immediately says she’s going to give some constructive criticism of the bill.

As legislators, it’s important to examine the provisions and see what they actually provide for, bearing in mind that the purpose for which we are here is to bring clarity to the rights involved.

McDonagh says nobody is saying that X was wrongly decided, but that certain matters were not decided in the case – so X is silent on some of the matters that have been raised at the hearing. As she says this, Ronán Mullen, who is sitting two rows behind her, snaps forward and begins taking notes.

She asks if this means that we are trying to legislate based on a flawed presumption, based on the fact that medical evidence seems to say that abortion is not a treatment for suicide.

McDonagh is sounding out the issue of psychiatrists examining pregnant women. She says that the legislation as it is right now doesn’t provide that psychiatrists must examine the patient – which, she says, leads to the suggestion that psychiatrists are being involved for some “optical or non-medical purpose”.

A further consequence of not requiring an examination is more likely to bring about “forum shopping” by patients and by doctors.

On the risk of suicide, McDonagh says that the legislation proposes abortion as a treatment for suicidality, rather than looking at procedures which might ensure that the baby would survive. “The proposed legislation does not bring clarity to the position,” she says.

She finishes, and the floor is opened to questions.

What appears to be the loudest mobile phone ever heard is currently vibrating in front of a microphone in the Seanad chamber, making it almost impossible to hear Sunniva McDonagh. Turn it off, folks.

As always, Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher is first up. He asks where in the legislation one of the experts believe that the intentional destruction of the unborn to save the life of the mother is allowed for.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin of SF asks Dr Craven about his view that the bill is not fit for purpose and fundamentally illogical. Does this mean that there can be no provision for conscientious objection if it passes, he asks.

Another one for Dr Craven: Seamus Healy asks if he thinks it would have been good to use the Mental Health Act as a template for the legislation. He also asks Dr Fletcher to expand on why fatal foetal abnormalities should have been included, and Ms McDonagh on the difficulties around where terminations would be carried out.

Ciara Conway takes up the point made about abortion not being a treatment for suicide. She quotes one of the peri-natal psychiatrists who spoke before the Committee earlier who said that abortion is not a treatment for suicide, but that counselling and anti-depressants aren’t either. We have to try and prevent suicide by looking at the reasons for suicide, she says.

“I would put it to you that abortion is not a treatment for suicide but it is the choice of the woman, and it is the doctor’s [who] certify the woman to be suicidal,” she says.

Dr Craven says he is highly critical of the approach which the bill has taken and that there has been a kind of philosophical inversion in how it has been framed. Rather than simply looking what is ethically and legally mandated, it seems to decided that there are certain procedures which are not defined which are somehow lawful and defenceable – and then invites professional bodies and regulatory bodies to provide assistance on the implementation. “That strikes me as an inversion,” he says.

Dr Craven echoes McDonagh: This bill is medicalising legislation, he says.

More questions from TDs and Senators who aren’t on the Committee.

Catherine Byrne (FG) asks whether Dr Fletcher would compare a foetus to someone who is on life support and has been pronounced brain dead.

Jim Walsh asks if there is an obligation on legislators to enact laws that are just. He also asks about termination techniques, and how a doctor may use a procedure which would directly end the life of the unborn.

Aside: Jim Walsh began by mentioning the Children’s Referendum before he was cut off by Jerry Buttimer. Walsh wasn’t too happy and grumbled about the interruption – but as Buttimer pointed out to some chuckles in the room, “The chair intervenes – he doesn’t ‘interrupt’”.

Back on track: Ivana Bacik says she is “at a loss” understand the basis of Dr Craven’s opposition to the bill. You say it changes the current two-patient focus in medicine, she says, but this draft legislation does nothing to change the current duty both to the right to lfie of the unborn and also to protect the life of the pregnant woman.

Denis Naughton asks McDonagh about Head 19 of the bill, which he says he understands as prohibiting the intentional destruction of the unborn.

Dr Fletcher is speaking about the definition of the unborn, and how foetuses compare to babies that are born but only survive for one second. She says there is no legal precedent for a definition. She says ‘unborn’ could be used to define babies which could survive for a matter of hours after being born, but she says she’s arguing for it to apply to foetuses which are never going to survive at all.

Dr Fletcher takes up the issue of how foetuses compare with say, people considered brain dead or people with Alzheimer’s. Personhood is not all that counts, she says. There’s a distinction between foetal life in the womb and someone who has been affected by a disease or an accident and has been sentient and had consciousness at some point but have now lost that capacity. Foetuses are dependent on a pregnant woman to attain that capcity.

Dr Craven stands up and begins by taking on Ivana Bacik’s point. He says he is concerend about her point on fatal foetal abnormalities. He says that just because a baby has a lethal abnormality does not meant that it is wholly inconsistent with life. It may be inconsistent with a long life but it may survive for hours, days, weeks or months, he says.

Robert Dowds of Labour keeps it brief: he asks if the experts believe in the criminalisation of women who take action to end their own pregnancy.

Senator Imelda Henry is furious with Ciaran Craven. She stands up and says his comments about the medical profession in Ireland were misguided and wrong. “We trust our doctors” she says, before asking him to withdraw his comments.

Ciaran Craven says he fears he may have been misunderstood. “I may have put it inelegantly,” he says, smiling.

He says that there are ethical and legal imperatives for doctors and in the past, too much faith has been placed on good faith and undue deference on doctors.

Non-members of the Committee up now. First up: Senator Rónán Mullen. He says that a debate about fatal foetal abnormalities would be more suited as part of a debate about euthanasia.

Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames says she knows of women who are delighted to be pregnant, even if they know that the baby will die shortly after birth, or won’t be a “take-home baby”, as she puts it. She asks Sunniva McDonagh if the State could be deemed liable in the event of a premature baby delivered post-viability where the baby was severely disabled, given that the State could be working against best practice under Head 4.

Terence Flanagan asks Dr Fletcher when does life become human and acquire human rights. He says that there are a lot of concerns about what has happened in other countries. Should the law be cognisant of the fact that abortion safeguards will be flouted, he asks.

Dr Liam Twomey says Ireland has had an messy history with laws around reproduction, citing contraception, morning after-pill, and the fact that there’s no legislation for things like IVF and stem cells right now.

The questions from the non-Committee members have all veer towards one side of the debate. Peter Mathews says that the legislation means that “we are accessories to the termination of a life in order that the host life can be saved,” under the proposed law “when it is not the only possible treatment for that life.”

“A point not argued is a point not decided” - Sunniva McDonagh is coming back to how the Supreme Court may not have dealt with psychiatric and other elements in the X Case in 1992. The courts have changed a lot in how they deal with cases now, she says, pointing to historical sexual abuse cases which now take a more holistic approach and look at more angles than just what’s in front of them.

Dr Fletcher says that women carrying foetuses with fatal abnormalities aren’t going to be forced to have a termination under the current legislation, in response to a question from an Oireachtas member.

She says that changing the definition of ‘unborn’ to include these foetuses would enable women who wish to take that route to do so. “I don’t accept that there’s a problem in that regard,” she says.

The experts are asked about their membership of any relevant groups. “I’m a member of a tennis club,” Sunniva McDonagh says to laughter in the chamber.  Dr Fletcher says she has given some advice to a pro-choice group, and Dr Craven says he was a member of the Pro-Life Campaign up until the early 2000s.

And with that, the third session of the day and the penultimate hearing overall has come to an end. Jerry Buttimer thanks the experts for attending and suspends the meeting until 6pm when it will be back for the wrap-up session.

So what did we learn from the penultimate session of these hearings? The session was more disjointed than previous ones as the experts came from three very different areas; in previous sessions, even when the experts disagreed strongly with each other, they were all speaking about distinct areas of expertise (e.g. psychiatry, obstetrics, etc). This disjointedness was seen in the questions too. Unlike previous days, or the January hearings, the number of TDs and Senators asking questions has been reduced, with the same voices (often asking the same, or at least very similar) questions of each expert.

A brief recap of the past two hours:

  • The definition of ‘unborn’ could be changed to cover foetuses with a lethal abnormality which would allow for termination in cases where the woman chose it, according to Dr Ruth Fletcher of Keele University.
  • The X Case decision may not have been wrong, but certain matters were not discussed at the time of the case in 1992 and so the case is silent on some issues in the legislation, which puts legislators in a difficult position, according to Sunniva McDonagh SC.
  • There was concern among two of the experts that the draft legislation proposes abortion as a treatment for suicidality, rather than looking at procedures which may ensure that the foetus would survive.
  • It is “old-fashioned” to expect to rely on doctors to act in good faith, said Dr Ciaran Craven, who emphasised the importance of evidence-based medicine and opinions.

That’s all for me now – thanks for sticking with us. My colleagues Jen Wade and Gavan Reilly will be covering the twelfth and final session of these hearings. Coming up:

  • Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White will be speaking, and TDs and Senators will get time to make their closing statements.

Jennifer Wade here to bring you through this evening’s session, which will feature Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White. You can contact me on Twitter @Jen_wade or by email at jen@thejournal.ie.

The twelfth –and final – of the public hearing is now underway with opening statement by Minister of State for Primary Care, Alex White.

White notes ‘overwhelming’ consensus on some points of the Bill and the divergence of views on others. He notes that the purpose of the legislation is to clarify in statute what is already lawful under the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case.

White notes that head four (ie the risk of suicide) has raised concern, and that the wording “self-destruction” is not well-enough defined to be used in legislation.

Billy Kelleher assures White that there has also been “a high level of non-consensual discussion in relation to head four” during the discussion over the past number of days.

He underlines that there is a “real risk” to the lives of some women due to suicide – no matter how rare or limited the circumstances. Kelleher also wants to point out there is a “very large middle ground” which wants to tackle this issue sensibly.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin says the past three days have been an “exercise in democracy”, and has helped to tease out a number of issues in relation to the proposals. He says no-one should be surprised that a consensus has not emerged from the legal and medical experts, as those groups have differing views just like any other group in society.

Implementation of the X Case  ruling is not only necessary but long overdue – and the time for decision is fast approaching, he says. It’s a pity the suicide aspect has overshadowed the debate, as more likely and common problems face women experiencing a crisis pregnancy, Ó Caoláin adds.

Seamus Healy notes the “varying degrees of views throughout the spectrum” and that the past three days have been “very helpful”. Appropriate location, the criminal sanction proposed, the timeframe of reviews, consent in relation to children and  the monitoring of bill are all aspects of the legislation that must be considered, he says.

Ciara Conway notes that six successive governments have failed to legislate on this issue, and that she is proud to be part of the government that finally will. She raises concerns about head 19 and the criminalisation of women, noting that psychiatrists on both sides of the debate have said they do not wish to see women criminalised if they take medication to bring about an abortion. Conway says the draft wording is far too broad and that  it should be removed from the bill.

She thanks all who have contributed over the past few days, adding: “It’s been emotional.”

Jillian Van Turnhout raises concerns about separating physical and mental health, and says heads two and 4 should be merged. She also raised concern over the appeals process timelines and the “silence in relation to children”. Van Turnhout  says specific legislation needed is needed in regard to pregnant children, and she is troubled that the proposals  could “compound problem of voiceless children in the care of the State”.

She also condemned any comparisons between the Holocaust and abortions that arose during the course of the debate, saying it showed a “woeful disrespect” to the six million victims of the atrocity. “There are no ‘two sides’ to the Holocaust,” she says.

Catherine Byrne says the focus on saving women’s lives and the life of the unborn, and although the debate has been at some times heated – and at some times “offensive” – it has been educational.

Senator Jim Walsh says the process has been “very rushed indeed” but has nevertheless  been helpful and instructive. He said the presentations have clarified that “we are not required to legislate in the instance” as legislation already exists – and that it was now clear that previous governments did not act unlawfully by not legislating.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor says three things have struck her during the hearings:

  1. That she is concerned about young girls in State care
  2. Asks if, under head 19, whether a 14-year-old girl who imports a drug to end her pregnancy will she face a criminal charge
  3. Conscientious objection – she  wants assurance that, despite the right to conscientious objection by individual medics, that a woman will be given access to the best care for her.

Ivana Bacik says she is also proud to be part of a government “facing up to its responsibility” in this regard. She says she has a personal objection to Article 43.3 of the Constitution but that, bearing in mind this is the law of the land, this draft legislation goes some way to providing proper medical care to women. She raises several concerns, including wording of “appropriate location” and “unborn, as well as a need to merge heads 2 and 4.

John Crown said the proceedings of the past few days had not just been like herding cats, but like “herding cats who have been taking crystal meth and possibility have rabies”. He tells pro-life advocates that this Bill is about saving life, not trying to giving wide access to abortion.

“I have a very nuanced position on abortion – but that’s irrelevant today,” he adds, saying this is about providing clarity on the issue.

Fidelma Healy Eames wants assurance that key findings will incorporated into the legislation. “Our underpinning concern is for the welfare of the women and the child,” she says. Addressing White, she says: “If you act on the best medical practice available, you will you come to the best outcome for both [woman and child]”

She asks the Taoiseach and the government to “seriously reconsider meeting the clarity required by the European Court of Justice while not legislating for X”.

Imelda Henry this debate is about women, about pregnant women, Henry says “and no one knows more about pregnancy than women themselves. Men play their part, but they do not become pregnant.”

As a mother, and the mother of a teenage daughter, I support this legislation. We have to protect our doctors, she says.

Henry adds that this legislation is about “Saving lives. Not killing babies, saving lives.”

Regina Doherty says she never thought she would describe herself in an expert on anything. “But I am an expert – and expert on me. I am a woman who has been pregnant five times and who has three wonderful children. On that basis I’m very pleased that we’re bringing clarity to this issue.”

Responding, Alex White says it is clear that head four is the “greatest point of concern” for people. 

Each issue that has been raised by a Deputy or Senator during the course of this debate will be considered during the preparation and publication of the Bill, White adds.

In relation to the appeals timeframe, White emphasises that the “two period of seven days” are the maximum periods of time involved – and should not be viewed as standard timeframes for the appeal process .   

It’s worth pausing for a moment to focus on the wording, White says: “A real and substantial risk to the life of the mother that can only be averted by a termination of pregnancy.”

White says it remains a clear goal of the Government to publish Bill in coming weeks – ahead of the summer recess. 

Chair Jerry Buttimer addresses the members of the public watching the proceedings “at home, through Twitter, or via TheJournal.ie” (tips hat) – saying that he is “heartened” by them for listening to and following this important debate.

Buttimer adds that he hopes this process has facilitated the sharing and discussion of expert views, saying he believes these hearings have been another example of how this parliament can function and debate “in a way that is respectful and tolerant”.

He thanks all witnesses and member for their time, very helpful contributions, and exemplary conduct.

The meeting in now adjourned.

On behalf of my colleagues and myself, a huge thanks to everyone who stayed with us as we followed proceedings over the past few days. In the words of Deputy Conway – it’s been emotional.

About the author:

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