Council of State convenes to discuss abortion bill

President Michael D Higgins

President Michael D Higgins has until Wednesday to decide if new abortion legislation should be tested in the Supreme Court.

The decision will be taken after the Council of State gives its views on the constitutionality of the laws amid concerns that it will be challenged by opponents if the President does not step in.

The Council of State meeting took place at Áras an Uachtaráin this afternoon.

About 40 pro-life campaigners gathered at the gates of the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park as the meeting took place and held a prayer vigil and sang hymns.

The council discussed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 under Article 26 of the Constitution.

Former taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton and former president Mary Robinson were unable to attend the meeting.

The group of advisers included individuals personally appointed by the President including Dublin-born Sally Mulready, a British Labour Party councillor in London, Judge Catherine McGuinness, Professor Gearoid O Tuathaigh, Ruairi McKiernan, Professor Gerard Quinn, solicitor and civil rights activist Michael Farrell and Professor Deirdre Heenan.

Taoisaeach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore joined former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, former president Mary McAleese, Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett and Senator Paddy Burke.

Former and current members of the judiciary included Susan Denham, Nicholas Kearns, John L Murray, Ronan Keane and Thomas Finlay. Attorney General Maire Whelan also attended.

Convening the Council of State and referring legislation to the Supreme Court is one of few powers the President has.

If Mr Higgins asks the Supreme Court to test the laws and it is found to adhere to the Constitution, it will never be open to challenge once enshrined into law.

Once enacted, the laws will provide for a woman’s right to an abortion if her life is at risk, including from suicide.

The controversial legislation was drawn up following the death of Savita Halappanavar last October after being denied an abortion as she miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

It follows the 1992 X case judgment by the Supreme Court where judges ruled that abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother’s life, including suicide.

Ireland was also under pressure after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a woman in remission with cancer was discriminated against because she was forced to travel overseas for a termination.

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