Friday 22 March 2019

Party leaders vague on abortion views as final proposal is signed off

Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin is still considering his own views
Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin is still considering his own views

As the committee on the Eighth Amendment signed off on its final report proposing a more liberal abortion regime, chairperson Catherine Noone said it is the "Irish people who will ultimately be the decision-makers on this".

While three pro-life members have boycotted the report, the remaining 18 are behind the document.

It recommends a repeal of the Eighth Amendment and unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Due to be published on Wednesday, its recommendations are set to influence the terms of a referendum that is to be put to the people next year. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refused to be drawn on whether or not he will campaign in support of the recommendations in a referendum campaign.


"That's really to be decided," he said. "I'll be doing my best to make sure the debate that we have is respectful and civilised and I think that's very important."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said his party will facilitate a referendum on the Eighth Amendment but he is still considering his own views on the issues involved.

He said he believes "there needs be movement on the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities" and victims of rape or incest should not be "forced to proceed with a pregnancy against their will". He said he will "give a more considered view on the committee's recommendations in the new year".

Committee members, Independent Mattie McGrath, Fine Gael's Peter Fitzpatrick and Senator Ronan Mullen are boycotting the report.

They claim the process was "unacceptably flawed" leading to "cruel and unjust recommendations" that strip unborn children of legal protection. They are to publish a minority report.

Sinn Fein's three committee members did sign off on the report, despite abstaining in the vote on the 12-week limit as it goes further than the party's position on the matter.

A party spokesman said they are satisfied the report reflects its policy "insofar as possible" and areas where they don't agree will be noted in the document. Ms Noone said the committee's work had been a "very challenging experience" but it had shown how effective the format could be on "this most divisive issue".

A draft report recommends that the Eighth Amendment be repealed. It recommends that terminations should be lawful where the life of the woman or her health is at risk.

It says that in such cases gestational limits should be guided by medical evidence, with assessments made by at least two specialist doctors.

Due to the difficulty of legislating for cases of rape and incest, the committee's draft recommends that unrestricted access to abortions be allowed up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.


It also recommends terminations be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality likely to result in death before or shortly after birth, and that there be no criminal sanctions for women who have abortions.

In the Dail, Tanaiste Simon Coveney reiterated the Government's wish to have a referendum as early as May.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy called the committee's outcome a victory for those who fought for a woman's right to choose. Mr Coveney said it would be helpful if people weren't declaring victories, adding that the debate will "divide households".

It also emerged that GPs will be allowed to opt out of any law introducing unrestricted access to abortion pills in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The proposal would mean that women would be able to go to their GPs for the pills to end their pregnancy.

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