Experts to discuss new abortion laws

Medical and legal experts will meet cross-party politicians to make recommendations on draft legislation for new abortion laws.

Government plans to introduce a combination of legislation and regulation to legalise the procedure as a last resort to save a pregnant woman’s life will be discussed during three days of public hearings next week.

The Committee on Health and Children expects to deliver a report by the end of the month which will help guide the Government in implementing the new laws.

“The committee’s hearings will be conducted in a balanced, fair and calm manner focusing on the issues which need to be considered in drafting the legislation and regulations,” committee chairman Jerry Buttimer said.

“While we recognise that many people have divergent and deep-held views on the issues involved, we expect that the meetings will be held in a manner that is respectful and tolerant.”

Medical practitioners, legal experts, representatives of churches and religious and advocacy groups will be among those attending the meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Fine Gael TD Mr Buttimer said he hoped the hearings would help determine what issues need to be addressed.

The Government revealed plans to reform the limited ban on abortion last month, which will only allow a pregnancy to be terminated if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life.

The legislation will be drafted in accordance with the 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling on the X case, which allows for abortion when a woman’s life is in danger – including the threat of suicide.

The Government’s decision to introduce a combination of legislation and regulation followed recommendations in an expert group report in November.

The report was compiled to set out options on how to respond to a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling on the so-called ABC case, which found the state violated the rights of a woman in remission from cancer who was forced to travel abroad to terminate her pregnancy.

Its publication also coincided with the tragic death of pregnant Indian woman Savita Halappanavar, who miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

The 31-year-old died at Galway University Hospital on October 28 after contracting septicaemia. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claimed she had been denied an abortion.

The meetings, which will be held in the Seanad chamber, will allow TDs and senators who make up the health committee to gather information to assist in the drafting of the Heads of Bill.

Those attending will include the Irish Medical Council, the Irish Family Planning Association, the Bar Council of Ireland, Irish Council of Civil Liberties, church representatives and campaigners from both the pro-life and pro-choice camps.

“Our meetings next week will provide an opportunity for committee members to listen and engage with a wide range of groups, including medical and legal experts as well as advocacy groups and churches,” Mr Buttimer said.

All hearings will be in public session and will be broadcast live online and on Oireachtas TV.

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