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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 24 February, 2020
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THE COMMITTEE ON the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution met for the third time today.

Today’s session is the final of the first of two modules, the first module is concentrating on legal implications of a change in the Constitution.

Today’s session is focusing on the extent change is being driven by international human rights obligations.

Follow how it all went.

Hello, Rónán Duffy here again for today’s Oireachtas session.

First today we’ll be hearing from Emily Logan and Siobhan Mullally of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Later (at about 3pm) it’ll be Christina Zampas of the University of Toronto and William Binchy of Trinity College Dublin.

PastedImage-60185 Source: Oireachtas.ie

The members are currently meeting in private session to discuss the ongoing work of the committee.

After last week’s proceedings, which focused on the Constitution, some of the members want to meet next week (there’s no meeting scheduled) to make a decision on whether their report will recommend a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

That will be brought up in today’s private session.

The committee’s report is scheduled to be delivered to the Oireachtas before Christmas.

Committee member Ruth Coppinger (AAA-PBP) told me earlier today that she was behind this plan and said that the committee had agreed to make decisions as it goes along, having listened to witnesses.

She says she favours a straight ‘repeal or no repeal’ referendum.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said earlier today that he hoped the referendum could be held in May 2018, rather than June.

The committee is now in public session and you can watch it live here:

Posted by on Monday, 24 February 2020

Chief Commissioner Emily Logan is outlining that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is mandated by the United Nations to promote human rights in Ireland.

They are independent of government, she notes.

Professor Siobhan Mullally is outlining some specific areas where the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) feels Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of obligations.

For example, concerns about the discriminatory effect of the laws, which impact to a greater extent on people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Mullally recommends that the laws should focus on providing a choice for pregnant women in consultation with their doctors.

The IHREC also wants, as is required by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), that Ireland decriminalises abortion.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan asks Mullally whether other countries’ abortion laws have been brought before the UNHRC.

Mullally discusses Poland, which has been questioned on a number of occasions, including in relation to one case where a 14-year-old girl was raped.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte of Fianna Fáil is seeking information on whether the unborn has rights under international human rights law.

Both IHREC members say they are not suggesting that the unborn has no rights but that, in cases where there are competing rights, the rights of the unborn do not take priority over the rights of women.

Logan is also raising an issue that was spoken about last week by Mary O’Toole SC.

She says most of the case law they have in this area relates to children and women on the margins, such as refugees or women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

These people are “not in the mainstream of the debate”, Logan says.

Logan says that this issue is part of a wider problem in Ireland about not educating young people about sex.

“We need to discuss boys and girls who are sexually active, no matter how uncomfortable that may be for some. We need to move into the 21st century,” she adds.

PastedImage-27820 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Peter Fitzpatrick TD is repeating statements he made last week in which he describes the development of a foetus inside the womb.

“I am against abortion on demand,” he says, adding that he is fearful it would be used “as a method of contraception”.

He also says that in the UK it has led to 90% of prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses in ending in termination. We previously FactChecked that oft-repeated claim and found it to be ‘mostly true’.

Fitzpatrick also claims: “There are 100,000 people alive in Ireland because of the Eighth Amendment.” That claim is unproven.

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan strongly disputes Fitzpatrick’s claim that legalised abortion would be used as a form of contraception.

She suggests it is disrespectful to Irish women to say so.

Mattie McGrath TD is seeking to question Christina Zampas. She has not appeared before the committee yet, she will be appearing later.

Logan is being criticised by Mattie McGrath TD for not dealing with the rights of the unborn.

Logan says the view of the IHREC that is being presented today is the majority view of the committee, but notes that some committee members are against the content of their presentation.

Siobhán Murray says Ireland must comply with international agreements we sign up to.

PastedImage-40718 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Kate O’Connell TD notes that the term “abortion on demand” has been used several times today and wants to know what is the IHREC’s position on the use of that term.

She also notes that, in her view, public representatives must be careful about they say and takes issue with some of the comments made earlier by deputies about gestational periods and so-called “botched abortions”.

“They are putting lies out there and it is very serious for the committee’s work,” O’Connell says.

She is clearly referring to Mattie McGrath TD and she notes that he “has left the room”.

Emily Logan says that the IHREC does not see the term “abortion on demand” as appropriate.

“Requesting healthcare,” is how she sees it.

“I don’t hear anything about men ‘demanding’ healthcare, so I don’t see why it should be used for women,” she adds.

Ruth Coppinger TD asks: “Is the opposite of abortion on demand forced pregnancy?”

PastedImage-4112 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan says he cannot see any circumstances where a woman shouldn’t seek healthcare immediately after a rape.

“There are no circumstances where that should be avoided,” he says, adding: “There should be an intervention, and quickly.”

He feels termination should be available in cases of rape, adding that forcing women or girls to proceed with a pregnancy could be akin to revictimising them.

Bernard Durkan’s comment about rape are being criticised online.

Senator Lynn Ruane says comments made earlier today by Peter Fitzpatrick TD are “offensive to women” and asks members to educate themselves on the issue.

Fitzpatrick expressed concern that women may seek an abortion if they were not happy with the sex of the unborn child they were carrying.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien says he has just one question. He wants to know, “Is there a legal definition of risk?”, be it serious risk or substantial risk.

Emily Logan says there is not, and that it is usually a medical call.

kelleher Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher wants to know whether, in terms of human rights, there are provisions for clinicians to withdraw from certain procedures due to a conscientious objection.

Kelleher is also seeking clarification on the position, in cases of foetal anomalies that aren’t fatal, where one parent is in favour of an abortion but the other is not. He is seeking guidance on whether this has been tested.

Siobhán Mullally says international human rights law has established that pregnancy is intimately connected to the woman and that a veto does not exist.

PastedImage-47481 Source: Oireachtas.ie

There is now a “short break” before the next two witnesses come before the committee.

International human rights lawyer Christina Zampas of the University of Toronto is now speaking.

She says: “I want to see that states themselves , like Ireland, create human rights law. Ireland has been an important player in the creation of human rights treaties.”

She adds that Ireland has “time and again” respected its obligations under international rights treaties.

Zampas says that countries that have been found to be in breach of their obligations have also only been told to liberalise their laws.

PastedImage-28380 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Zampas says that the United Nations has noted “states’ obligations to respect the rights of women to make autonomous decision about their healthcare”.

She says that, in every country with restrictive laws, the most impacted are marginalised women.

“Ireland is no exception,” she says.

Zampas says that no human rights body has argued that ‘right to life’ human rights apply to the unborn.

William Binchy says is very grateful and honoured to be invited to be invited before the committee.

In beginning, he says that equal human rights “have inherent value by being a human being”.

He argues that “small unborn babies are human beings”.

Binchy is arguing that states have no obligation to be in agreement with international human rights legislation.

Speaking about the Citizens’ Assembly, he says it recommended abortion “without any meaningful reasons”.

Binchy says that people often talk about the “right to choose”. He says that this is a “half-sentence” and if completed would translate as “the right to choose to end the life of a human being”.

Lawyer William Binchy says he is very grateful and honoured to be invited before the committee.

He says that equal human rights “have inherent value by being a human being”. He argues that “small unborn babies are human beings”.

Binchy is arguing that states have no obligation to be in agreement with international human rights legislation.

He describes the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations as “wide-ranging abortion” and urges the committee to not go down that road.

binchy Source: Oireachtas.ie

Binchy is arguing that, unlike international rights monitoring bodies, which cannot force states into line, the European Court of Human Rights has the power to do so.

He says that the ECtHR has allowed individual states to defend their own laws and he says that Ireland should do so.

Louise O’Reilly TD has criticised Binchy’s presentation, saying: “We sought information and evidence on the law, not your opinion.”

Binchy disagrees that his presentation was based on personal opinion, saying that there was legal opinion “buried in there”.

PastedImage-67630 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Clare Daly TD says: ”I probably will direct more of my questions to Ms Zampras because I thought her presentation was excellent and we are trying to change the law here.”

She says that she feels Binchy might want to correct the record in his opinion that the Citizens’ Assembly has in effect recommended abortion on the grounds of disability.

Binchy says he did not say that, but that the Citizens’ Assembly did talk about foetal anomalies which could include, as he says, “Down syndrome, spina bifida, blindness or cleft palate”.

Clare Daly is now bringing up Binchy’s objection to the same-sex marriage referendum.

She attributes a quote to him which he says he “absolute did not say”.

The quote related to whether he believed in the equal capacity of women and the unborn child.

One of last week’s witnesses Fiona de Londras, and perhaps a former student of Bunchy, has some thoughts on his contributions.

Christina Zampras says that human rights bodies have argued that “grounds based laws harm women”.

Last week, both legal experts said that it was their understanding that only Somalia, Swaziland and Kenya provide for abortion only on specific grounds.

Peter Fitzpatrick TD says that “Ireland is one of the safest places in the world for pregnant women” and feels that Zampras created the impression that this was not the case.

Zampras says that the Eighth Amendment has impacted on the decision-making of medical practitioners.

She references the case of Savita Halappanavar and says she was speaking specifically about pregnant women seeking abortion.

Kate O’Connell is taking issue with some of the language used by Binchy.

She say he spoke about Ireland “rolling over”.

“I think the women have been rolling over for long enough,” she says.

PastedImage-45085 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Catherine Murphy TD is asking William Binchy about the right to health.

She asks if he believes the right to health is a human right.

He says he does, but the question arises “when it comes to taking another human life”.

William Binchy is asked by Catherine Murphy TD if he believes in abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality.

He objects to the term and says it is disputed in medical journals, instead he believes it is about “life-limiting conditions”.

He goes on to say that the unborn have a right to live out their life.

PastedImage-40848 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Senator Lynn Ruane says that William Binchy is being hypocritical and “incoherent”.

She says he argues about the right to life of the unborn but that he also agrees with the right of women to travel for an abortion.

He says this in effect is “an elitist right to life” because this option is not available to marginalised women.

Senator Paul Gavan, quoting Binchy, is asking “in the spirit of staying real” what is Zampras’ view on the necessity of Irish women travelling to the UK for an abortion.

Gavan is categorising Binchy’s views as “extreme”.

Binchy says that it is indeed a “stark choice” Irish people will have in a referendum

Gavan responds: “Irish women are facing stark choices every day.”

Mattie McGrath TD is back in the room.

He said he had to make up a quorum in a European committee.

McGrath says he has been “attacked on social media” for leaving.

He tells the committee that he was given permission to leave and called objections “pedantic”.

McGrath now wants Kate O’Connell’s comments from earlier to be withdrawn.

He says it’s “disgraceful” that he has been called a liar and says it “would not be tolerated” in the Dáil.

Chair Catherine Noone says his request is noted but that she does not believe O’Connell actually said that.

(O’Connell did actually direct those comments to McGrath)

You can judge for yourself here

 

Mattie McGrath says some of the questioning of William Binchy has been unfair:

I am shocked by the way he has been treated today, it’s not a hanging that we have here today.

William Binchy was one of the most vocal legal advisers to the pro-life campaign that pushed for the Eighth Amendment 34 years ago.

Ruth Coppinger TD is bringing this up:

You’re asking politicians to listen to you, but they listened to you in 1983 and that’s why we’re here today.

Binchy says he still supports the 1983 amendment and that it has “undoubtedly saved lives”.

He says the Eighth Amendment has been “a considerable success” and that is why it is “under attack” internationally now.

PastedImage-34313 Source: Oireachtas.ie

Finally now, and for the first time today, is Senator Rónán Mullen. He says he couldn’t attend earlier because of a family bereavement.

He welcomes William Binchy, and says he has for years been “a voice of sanity and compassion in an increasingly uncaring world”.

Rónán Mullen is again repeating the claim that 100,000 people have been saved by the Eighth Amendment.

He says it is his belief that there is an “actuarial study” which has shown this to be the case.

The committee is ending on a rather tetchy tone, Mullen wants Zampras to answer questions about what he says are “babies who are left to die after botched abortions”.

Zampras says she had answered it earlier, she has in fact, but repeats it.

She says such instances, if they occurred, should be investigated.

And that’s the end of today’s committee. It will return in two weeks’ time, when the focus will switch from legal evidence to medical evidence.

We will be sending out an email round-up of what happened at the committee later today.

To get the weekly round-up, just enter your email in the box at the bottom of this article.

That’s it from me, thank you for joining us and I hope you do so again in a fortnight.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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