Oireachtas to gather opinions for abortion Bill
The first step in the Government’s plans to draft abortion legislation will be taken next week when an Oireachtas committee hears evidence from interested legal and medical personnel, as well as religious representatives and groups advocating anti-abortion and pro-choice positions.
The health committee will sit over three days and hear from more than 40 witnesses in meetings in the chamber of Seanad Éireann which is currently in Christmas recess.
It will hear the views of experts and campaign groups on the decision taken by the Government before Christmas to legislate for the restricted introduction of abortion in Ireland, based on the finding of the Supreme Court in the X case in 1992.
Given the divisive nature of debates on abortion in the past, committee chairman Jerry Buttimer yesterday stressed the importance of the hearings being conducted in a calm and dignified manner.
The judgment in the X case permitted abortion when there was a substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother. The part of the decision that has led to most contention was the ruling that a threat of suicide could be accepted as a substantial risk. And it is the decision to include suicide as a risk that has generated most controversy and caused disquiet among a number of Fine Gael TDs.
The hearings, which will begin on Tuesday, are designed to gather information to help the Government when it prepares the Heads of Bill (draft legislation).
The committee is expected to collate and report the information it gathers without making any recommendation or drawing any conclusions of its own.
“It is intended that the hearings will help to determine what issues need to be addressed in the Heads of Bill and draft regulations,” the committee said in a press release last night.
Some of the country’s most eminent obstetricians and psychiatrists will appear before the committee, in addition to lawyers and legal academics with medico-legal and constitutional expertise.
Representatives of the four main churches – Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist – will appear, as will representatives of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland.
Among the advocacy groups will be Youth Defence, the Pro-Life campaign and the Iona Institute (all anti-abortion) and pro-choice groups such as Choice Ireland and Action on X.
“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,” siad Mr Buttimer.
“We would hope to be able to report to the Government by the end of the month on the information we gather from our meetings.”
Due to appear: Giving evidence
Among those due to appear are: Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital; Dr Sam Coulter Smith, Master of the Rotunda Hospital and Dr Mary McCaffrey, Kerry Hospital, Tralee.
Dr Anthony McCarthy, Dr Joanne Fenton and Dr John Sheehan (all from the College of Psychiatry Ireland); psychiatrists Prof Patricia Casey of UCD and the Mater and Prof Veronica O’Kane (Tallaght Hospital) will appear too. Also due are the Irish Council of Civil Liberties; medical doctor and barrister Simon Mills; Prof William Binchy of TCD; and retired Supreme Court judge Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness.