Expert group to consider abortion law in light of human rights court ruling

 

MR JUSTICE Seán Ryan of the High Court is to chair an expert group that will examine the options available to the Government on how to implement a European Court of Human Rights ruling on abortion.

In December 2010, the court found that the Irish State had failed to implement existing rights to a lawful abortion where a mother’s life is at risk.

The 14-member expert group, appointed by Minister for Health James Reilly yesterday, consists of consultant obstetricians, GPs, legal experts and senior civil servants.

It is due to report back to the Government with a range of options within the next six months.

In addition to Mr Justice Ryan – who headed the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse – the group includes: Dr Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Mary Holohan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Imelda Ryan, psychiatrist; Dr Ailish Ní Riain, general practitioner; Dr Mark Walsh, GP; and Christine O’Rourke, Office of the Attorney General;

It also includes Mary O’Toole SC; Joanelle O’Cleirigh, solicitor; Denise Kirwin, solicitor; Deirdre Madden, Medical Council; Dr Maura Pidgeon, An Bord Altranais; Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, Department of Health; and Bernard Carey, assistant secretary, Department of Health.

While it is lawful for a woman to have an abortion if her life is at risk, following a Supreme Court ruling almost 20 years ago known as the X case, the Government has yet to legislate for this.

This failure to legislate was at the centre of a case taken by three women against the State, which the European Court of Human Rights ruled on in December 2010.

The court found in favour of one of the women – known only as “C” – who had a rare form of cancer. She feared she would relapse after she became unintentionally pregnant.

The court held that uncertainty generated by the lack of legislative guidelines for doctors, together with the “chilling effect” of criminal sanctions for illegal abortion, made it far from certain that a woman could actually obtain a legal abortion here when her life was at risk.

Pro-choice groups argue that the Government now has little option except to introduce legislation or clear guidelines to provide for this type of lawful abortion.

However, anti-abortion groups say the Government is under no such obligation and have called for a fresh referendum on the issue.