Latest: Citizens Assembly makes historic call to legisltate for abortion 'without restriction as to reasons'

  • The majority of the Citizens Assembly today voted that abortion should be available in Ireland “with no restriction as to reasons”
  • 89% were in favour in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality
  • 80% were in favour in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormality
  • 78% were in favour of allowing abortion if a woman's health was at risk from the pregnancy
  • 72% in favour of allowing the procedure if a woman wishes to express socio-economic reasons
  • The Pro Life Campaign says that if the recommendations voted on were inserted in the Constitution, it would result in abortion on demand.
  • Amnesty International says today’s vote was an important vindication of women’s and girls’ human rights.

A special committee set up to deliberate on Ireland's abortion regime has made a landmark call for the procedure to be allowed without restriction.

The Citizens' Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 members of the public and chaired by Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy, voted in favour of terminations in cases of rape, foetal abnormalities including non-fatal conditions, a risk to the mother's health and for socio-economic reasons.

The committee also called for no distinction to be drawn between the woman's health issue being physical or mental.

Judge Laffoy will include the results in a report being submitted to the Dáil in late June with an onus on politicians to introduce new laws.

"The recommendations you have made certainly have called for a change to the status quo," she said.

Judge Laffoy paid tribute to the work of the assembly members over the last few months and also offered a special note of thanks to women who came to the meetings to give personal evidence about how they were affected by abortion laws.

She also said her report would include the views of "dissenting voices".

At the heart of the Citizens Assembly's work was an examination of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and to the unborn child.

If TDs accept the recommendations a constitutional referendum will be needed to determine any reform.

The Assembly members initially voted to replace or amend Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and then called for it to be changed to a provision explicitly authorising the Dáil to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman.

In a series of subsequent ballots today, the Assembly set out its support for fundamental liberalisation of Ireland's strict regime on abortion.

Some 78% were in favour of allowing abortion if a woman's health was at risk from the pregnancy, 89% in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality, 80% in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormality and 72% in favour of allowing the procedure if a woman wishes to express socio-economic reasons.

More than 3,400 women gave Irish addresses while attending abortion clinics in Britain in 2015.

Judge Laffoy said: "I will leave it for others to parse the immediate significance of these recommendations but it is important to acknowledge the work of the members since this process began.

"Over five weekends they have engaged with some of the most complex pieces of legislation, immersed themselves in medical and ethical discourse, and listened with respect to the voices and opinions of others.

"This has been to the benefit both to the process and to the wider conversation on this topic."

Since 2014, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide.

The procedure can involve a medical or surgical termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section to deliver the baby.

But there are growing campaigns for women to be allowed access to abortion if their unborn child is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or in cases of rape and incest.

Figures from the Health Service Executive showed 26 terminations were carried out under the legislation in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.

In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.

As the Assembly results were announced Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, gave a homily at Knock Shrine reiterating total opposition to the constitutional change.

"Demands to quash and abolish this amendment go against the good news that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life, from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death," he said.

The Archbishop added: "To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person, whatever their state or stage of life, is always gravely morally wrong."

Earlier:

The Citizens Assembly has today voted that women should be able to legally access abortion in Ireland, with no restriction on her reasons.

Speaking after the vote, Chair of the Assembly Justice Mary Laffoy said: "You have made your recommendations known. These recommendations at a minimum have called for a change to the status quo.

"To be clear, to act on this initial recommendation, a constitutional referendum will be required."

Reacting to the vote, Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said that “no matter how one dresses it up, today’s vote at the Citizens’ Assembly would result in abortion on demand if the recommendations voted on were inserted in the Constitution.”

Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Cora Sherlock, Aifric Ní Fhloinn, Emma Sisk, and Lorraine McMahon outside Leinster House yesterday. Pic: Gareth Chaney

Ms Sherlock continued: “There is nothing liberal or progressive about the Assembly recommending a referendum to strip unborn babies of their right to life in law and also ignoring the negative consequences of abortion for women.

“The writing was on the wall for weeks after the Assembly invited groups like BPAS, Britain’s largest abortion provider, to address them but never, for example, extended a single invitation to groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.”

Referring to a possible referendum in the future, Ms Sherlock said: “It's far from certain that it would pass. According to polls, support for dismantling the Eighth Amendment is extremely soft.

Ms Sherlock concluded: “Pro-life supporters will understandably be disappointed with today’s result but it’s no reason to become disheartened. Human rights don’t get old. They don’t pass their sell-by-date.”

Amnesty International today applauded the votes of Citizens Assembly, saying it was an important vindication of women’s and girls’ human rights.

“The outcome of this final session is a truly momentous leap forward for the human rights of women and girls in Ireland,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

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“No longer can this issue be painted as controversial or divisive. The Assembly’s overwhelming (64%) backing for abortion on request at least in early pregnancy is a testament to their compassion and good sense.

“Today’s vote bears out independent polling we commissioned from Red C, which found that 80 % of people in Ireland want women’s health to be the priority in reform of Ireland’s abortion laws. Four out of five of the members want a risk to a woman’s health to be a ground for lawful access to abortion. Nine out of ten want a serious risk to a women’s health to permit abortion access, with the majority wanting this without gestational limits. We are also heartened that the Assembly voted against discriminating against women whose mental health as opposed to physical health is at risk.”

He added: “The ball is now firmly back in the Government’s court.

“The Assembly has voted that the Oireachtas should be exclusively empowered to legislate on abortion, and that this legislation must be expansive. The Government must immediately schedule a referendum to make this happen, and quickly arrive at the appropriate wording.

Earlier:

A majority of the Citizens Assembly voted that Ireland should legislate for abortion "with no restriction as to reasons".

The group has held its final ballot to decide on their recommendations for the Oireachtas on the issue.

When asked if terminations should be allowed "with no restriction as to reasons", 29 out of the eligible voters chose "Never for this reason", while a total of 52 voted in favour. Six preferred not to state an opinion.

Today's ballot asked them to recommend whether terminations should be allowed in 13 different cases - such as rape, physical risk and fatal foetal abnormalities.

The body has decided that terminations should be allowed in the case of serious risk to the health of the mother amongst a number of other issues.

It will now put together its report for the Government - with a referendum expected to be held as a result of its work.

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