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Oireachtas hearings on abortion wrap up with pro-choice presentations

Health Minister James Reilly appeared in the Seanad chamber for the end of today’s sessions.

Action on X protests 2012
Action on X protests 2012
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

WOMEN FROM A number of Ireland’s pro-choice lobby groups appeared before the Oireachtas committee tasked with helping the Government prepare legislation on abortion in Ireland this afternoon.

Choice Ireland, Action on X and the National Women’s Council of Ireland participated in the hearings, praised so far for their open, tolerant and respectful tone.

It has been a gruelling three days for Jerry Buttimer and his committee, which has been asked by Minister James Reilly to collect as much information as it can to aid the Government in its endeavour to bring forward legislation on abortion.

In his presentation to the committee at the end of today’s sessions, the Minister said he would call on the Joint Committee on Health and Children for more assistance when the Heads of Bill had been drafted.

Earlier, the committee heard from a number of pro-choice advocates who welcome the decision to legislate for the Supreme Court judgement in the X Case but believe that the restrictive nature of that legislation will mean the needs of the majority of women who decide to have abortions will not be met.

All three organisations called for the sections dealing with abortion in the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act to be repealed and all five witnesses cited the “chilling factor” that criminalisation brings.

“There is no good reason” for these sections of the 1861 Act to remain, said Ailbhe Smyth of Action on X. And in reply to those who said over the past three days that there is no need to remove the sections because there has never been a prosecutions, she added, “All the more reason then to delete these redundant but chilling clauses.”

Although the three-day hearing has been noted for its calm tone, there were a couple of moments of fire today with some TDs and Senators taking issue with the language used by Choice Ireland on its website, linking pro-life campaigners with anti-contraception, anti-sex education and homophobic groups.

Buttimer asked Abigail Rooney to retract a comment calling Senator Paul Bradford “juvenile” for bringing the issue up.

There was also a slight bit of argy-bargy between senators Ivana Bacik and Fidelma Healy-Eames, described by the chair as akin to a “Hill 16 episode”.

That jolted everyone back to their best behaviours with a laugh.

In the end, the Fine Gael deputy commended the committee members and the non-committee members who participated in the meetings for putting their partisan politics aside to contribute to a most useful debate.

He said the engagement, unlike much of the heated debates of the past, was positive and constructive.

The committee will reconvene next week to work on its report for government ahead of the drafting of legislation and parallel regulation on abortion.

As it happened: Advocacy and religious groups address Oireachtas on proposed new abortion laws

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