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Irish Parliamentary Committee Recommends Radical Abortion Laws

by | Dec 21, 2017

Editor’s note. This comes from the Pro-Life Campaign, a major Irish pro-life organization. It is a composite of three separate posts.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

The Oireachtas is the Republic of Ireland’s Parliament. The Dáil is the lower House of the Parliament; the upper House is the Seanad. A “TD” is a member of the Dáil. The 8th Amendment provides equal legal protection to mother and unborn child.

The Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment has recommended that abortion should be made available on demand up to 12 weeks and without any time limit if the baby has a serious life-limiting disability. The committee endorsed almost all of the proposals of the Citizens’ Assembly. Despite the extreme nature of the committee’s recommendations, its chairwoman, Senator Catherine Noone, claimed the majority had taken a middle course.

Three members of the Oireachtas abortion committee, Senator Rónán Mullen, Deputy Mattie McGrath and Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick, refused to endorse the extreme recommendations of the committee and produced a separate report which calls for the retention of the 8th Amendment.

The minority report accused the committee of being more concerned to produce its report before Christmas than “to thoroughly consider questions on which lives would depend in future.” They highlighted the huge imbalance in the witnesses invited by the committee, and the fact that, despite having declared that it would not invite advocacy groups, the committee went on to invite “numerous well-funded international pro-abortion advocacy groups and an abortion provider.

The decision of the committee to vote in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment before it had even heard from all the invited witnesses was described by the minority as a “hasty, ill-considered and prejudicial move.”

The minority recommends that the 8th Amendment be retained “on the grounds that it protects both mother and unborn child, does not endanger top quality medical care for women and unborn children in pregnancy and is consistent with the best standards in the protection of human rights and human dignity.”

Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Leo Varadkar has refused to declare whether he will back the extreme recommendations of the Oireachtas abortion committee. He said he, and the rest of the government, would “spend the Christmas period understanding [the committee’s report]”. The Fine Gael parliamentary party will meet in early January to discuss the report before it is debated in the Dáil and by Cabinet.

In a sign that he expects to face significant opposition to the abortion committee’s recommendations—that abortion be permitted on demand up to 12 weeks and without a time limit if the baby has a serious life-limiting condition— Mr. Varadkar said that ministers would be permitted to oppose the position adopted by the government.

Although the Cabinet will come to a collective decision on holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Mr. Varadkar said Ministers will be free to “dissent” from that position. “What I would anticipate is Cabinet acting collectively, as it always does. So if we put a procedure or proposition to the Dáíl and Seanad, that will be a collective decision of the Cabinet,” he said. “That is not to say that people couldn’t dissent from that. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. But Cabinet can only operate collectively.”

A government spokesman later confirmed that Mr. Varadkar intended to allow Ministers who participated in an expected decision to hold a referendum, to vote against the proposal in the Dáil and to campaign against the referendum, if that is their wish.

Fine Gael TDs have been promised a free vote on conscience grounds on the issue, but this is the first indication that it will extend to Ministers.

Mr. Varadkar also said the Government would publish the heads of abortion legislation (a short summary of the intention of the various section of the Bill ) rather than a full draft Bill, as previously expected. This would be published in advance of the referendum to act as a guide to the sort of legislation the Government would bring to the Dáil if it is passed.

Asked if he thought the referendum would be passed, Mr. Varadkar said: “That I don’t know, we must bear in mind that referendums are always difficult.”

Fianna Fáíl [a political party] leader Micheál Martin also stopped short of endorsing the committee’s recommendations. He said he would examine the issue further and give a more “considered view” in the New Year. He did say, however, that he would be in favour of allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest and that there needs to be “movement” on the issue of so-called “fatal foetal abnormalities.”

The final report of the committee was published just before the Dáil’s Christmas recess, giving many TDs the opportunity to reflect on the proposals before declaring their position.

Categories: Ireland