Abortion vote: 'Important step in fight for women's rights’ - Amnesty; 'A tragic drift backwards for society' - PLC

Main points:

    • An Oireachtas Committee has recommended a full repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
    • That would decriminalise abortion, which would allow women to get abortion pills online or have one carried out by a certified medical practitioner.
    • They recommended to legislate to allow abortion on request up to 12 weeks of the pregnancy.
    • The committee has also voted in favour of allowing abortion in the case of a risk to the woman’s health, either physical or mental.
    • That would legalise terminations in cases of risk by suicide.
    • They also support terminations in cases of rape and in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities.
    • Two of the Citizens’ Assembly’s 12 recommendations were not supported: terminations for socio-economic reasons and significant but non-fatal foetal abnormalities.

Update 8.08pm: Amnesty International has welcomed the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s vote in favour of the full repeal of the Eighth Amendment and expanded access to abortion.

They added that any partial repeal or retention of the Eighth Amendment could cast serious doubt over future legislation’s compliance with Ireland’s international legal obligations.

“Today’s vote is an important step forward for the human rights of women and girls in Ireland. It is also a victory of expert evidence and reason over disinformation and ideology,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Colm O’Gorman

“It should finally put to bed the portrayal of abortion reform as too complicated or controversial. The Committee’s acceptance of abortion as a health and human rights issue is not only of immense domestic significance. It is an important outcome in the global fight for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights.

“The Committee heard from a wide range of international medical and legal experts, the vast majority of whom underlined the importance of expanding access to abortion. Having considered this evidence, the Committee not only supported the broadly human rights compliant recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, but went a step further in strengthening them. These recommendations would bring Ireland’s abortion laws broadly into line with the approach adopted by most other countries.

“Today’s vote once again underlines the broad political consensus that exists to expand access to abortion in Ireland. It shows that there is real political will to put women’s and girls’ health and human rights firmly at the centre of abortion law reform. Today’s vote, along with the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and repeated opinion polls, has highlighted the wide-ranging support that exists to reform Ireland’s abortion laws. We welcome the Taoiseach’s statement that he intends to schedule a referendum next May, allowing people in Ireland to finally have a say on this important issue.”

Update 7.25pm: 'Committee demonstrates frightening disregard for right to life', says Sherlock

The Pro Life Campaign has said today’s vote for abortion by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is “a total betrayal of women and their unborn babies and represents a tragic drift backwards for society rather than a step forward."

Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Cora Sherlock suggested anyone who tries to suggest that today’s vote is not for abortion on demand is telling a lie.

Cora Sherlock

“The decision to opt for a time limit of 12 weeks on request was plucked from thin air. It reveals a frightening disregard for the right to life of the most innocent and defenceless members of society, namely unborn babies. Also, the vote in favour of abortion on physical and mental health grounds is even more radical than abortion laws in other countries like England, where 1 in 5 pregnancies now ends in abortion."

Commenting on what she called the extreme nature of today’s vote, Ms Sherlock said: “When any group is handed the power to decide who’s in and who’s out, it follows that they feel they have permission to conclude that no unborn babies are deserving of any protections under the law. And that’s effectively what the committee decided today.

“But thankfully they won’t have the final say on the Eighth Amendment. The electorate will have that responsibility and I am confident they will vote to keep it.

“For anyone who doubts what today’s vote represents, I would encourage them to look at the evidence of abortionist Dr Peter Thompson to the committee where he let the mask slip and described in graphic detail how the baby is first paralysed by the abortionist, who then injects poison into the baby’s heart to stop it beating. This is what some of our politicians view as progress. It is shocking to think that they sat through Dr Thompson’s evidence and then voted today to have what he described introduced in this country.

Ms Sherlock said: “This entire process has made a mockery of democracy. The committee chairperson has been at pains to stress that they invited no advocacy groups to address them when in truth several pro-repeal advocacy groups were invited as witnesses at taxpayers’ expense. One of them, Bpas, is the largest abortion provider in England and has already registered the domain name abortion.ie in Ireland. The committee had no difficulty inviting them to present while disgracefully they refused to extend an invitation to groups representing families who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.”

Commenting on the next phase of the campaign, Ms Sherlock said: “No vote of an Oireachtas committee will distract us or knock us off course in defending the Eighth Amendment. The pro-life movement will give it our all to defeat any referendum proposal taking away protections from unborn babies.

“The clamour for repeal of the Eighth Amendment is clearly political and media driven. It is most definitely not coming from the grassroots up. As pro-life campaigners, we have a single focus in the coming months – to defend and safeguard the Eighth Amendment. We will stay united – truly united - and get the job done.”

Update 7.03pm: Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomes Committee’s decisions 

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has welcomed the decision of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution to recommend a referendum on a full repeal.

They also support the Committee’s recommendation that legislation should provide for unrestricted access to abortion services in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“The recommendations of the Committee on repeal and unrestricted access up to 12 weeks have shown that, like with the example of the Citizens’ Assembly, when reasonable people sit down with all the facts about abortion, notwithstanding their personal convictions about abortion, they have concluded that the law should be based on medical provision of abortion and the agency and autonomy of women,” said Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the ICCL.

Update 6.54pm: Sinn Fein and Workers Party welcome outcome

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth amendment represent “a massive step forward for the repeal of the Eighth amendment” and the finalising of the Committee’s work represents a “welcome day for the women of Ireland”.

Teachta O’Reilly said: “Today is a welcome day for the women of Ireland, who have been let down by the political system for decades in providing for their medical needs.

“The recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth amendment represent a historic step forward in correcting that injustice and are a step forward for the campaign to repeal the Eighth amendment.

“The challenge now is to have that referendum as soon as possible and to win that referendum.

“Sinn Féin has been unambiguous and consistent in our opposition to the Eighth amendment.

“The Constitution is not the place to deal with any issues relating to women’s health and we are glad that there has been support for that proposition at today’s Committee deliberations.

“We are satisfied that the Committee’s report reflects our party policy insofar as possible and for that reason we will be supporting the final report of the Committee.

“There are aspects with which we don’t agree. We have made that clear, but that is the nature of Committee reports, and we must look ahead to the next step in process in righting the historic wrong of denying women adequate healthcare.”

Louise O'Reilly

Meanwhile, the Workers’ Party have given a cautious welcome to the final report of the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment.

Their Meath representative Seamus McDonagh welcomed the recommendation to allow a termination until 12 weeks after conception, but said the committee had left excessive limitations which would continue to force women to travel abroad.

“There must now be no further delays in bringing forward the bill for a referendum to repeal the amendment,” he said.

Update 6.19pm: Repeal recommendation ‘a breakthrough for women’s health’

The National Women's Council of Ireland said repeal of the Eighth Amendment and a proposal to allow abortion without restriction for up to 12 weeks of a pregnancy was a breakthrough for women's health.

Orla O'Connor, director of the organisation, said: "This will be a crucial step to ensuring that doctors in Ireland will be able to care for all of women's and girls' healthcare needs.

"It is a clear recognition of the complexity of decisions in pregnancy and that these decisions are private and personal, never political. The person who can best protect a developing life is the pregnant woman, in consultation with her doctor, and not the Constitution."

Orla O'Connor

Original story (5.55pm): Pro-choice groups call for vote on full repeal; Pro-life campaign say it’s a sad day

A pro-choice group has called on the government to follow through on the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and hold a referendum on a full repeal.

However, Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign has said it’s a sad day for the country and “a very big move backwards”.

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One birth group campaigning for repeal, AIMS Ireland, disagreed, as chairperson Dr Krysia Lynch said: “Today’s outcome marks another important step towards the standard of maternity care that women want and need.”

Chair of Midwives for Choice Philomena Canning added: “We now hope that the government will step up to its responsibility to ensure the human rights of all pregnant women are protected by calling on the people of Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment.”

Pro-life campaigner Cora Sherlock criticised the “one-sided” committee which made the recommendations.

Cora Sherlock

“This committee will be remembered as one of the most one-sided in the history of the state but that doesn’t take away from the real sadness of what’s happening,” said Sherlock.

“Once you propose to remove legal protection from the most vulnerable in our society, unborn babies, that’s not a step forward; it’s a very big move backwards.”


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