UN will challenge Ireland further if abortion law unchanged, Oireachtas told

Anti-abortion professor declines to give evidence to ‘kangaroo court’

Rosa (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) activists highlight a RedC/Amnesty poll. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Rosa (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) activists highlight a RedC/Amnesty poll. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Ireland will face further cases before the United Nations if it fails to change abortion laws, an Oireachtas committee has been advised.

The committee examining the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was warned the State would be further criticised by the UN human rights committee and be forced to pay compensation to individual women if the status quo remained.

Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) regional director Leah Hoctor said Europe was “watching and waiting” for Ireland to take action.

Ms Hoctor advised the committee on the cases of Amanda Mellet and Siobhán Whelan, two women who were forced to travel the UK for an abortion after a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

The UN found against Ireland in both cases because of the obligation to travel for healthcare services, Ms Hoctor said. The Government was ordered to pay the two women €30,000 each.

While she stressed the centre is not aware of any further cases being taken, Ms Hoctor anticipated there would be further actions if there was not constitutional change.

Legislative change would not be sufficient, Ms Hoctor added, stressing the need for humane and equal treatment.

The Oireachtas committee is continuing its examination of the Eighth Amendments of the Constitution. However, it received confirmation from two anti-abortion witnesses that they will not appear.

‘Biased’ committee

Professor of paediatrics at the University of North Carolina Marty McCaffrey and anti-abortion lobby group Both Lives Matter declined to participate in the committee’s deliberations, both claiming it is biased towards a pre-determined outcome.

Only one anti-abortion witness remains, a group called One Day More, which represents families who received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormalities but continued with their pregnancies.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen and Independent TD Mattie McGrath, both of whom are anti-abortion, claimed the failure of witnesses to attend highlighted the skewed nature of the committee.

Senator Mullen alleged their legitimate concerns were being ignored by the committee, while Mr McGrath claimed he was being scoffed at and hissed at by colleagues.

Prof McCaffrey wrote to the committee members this week confirming he will not give evidence to what he described as a “kangaroo court”.

On reviewing the testimony to date, Prof McCaffrey said it was clear the proceedings were “deeply biased in favour of repeal”.

The professor was asked to appear before the committee following a request from Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin, who is not a member of the committee. The invitation was issued in late October.

‘Kangaroo court’

However, in a letter to members, Prof McCaffrey said he was disappointed a decision to discover a decision had already been taken to “repeal the Eighth Amendment”. The members did not vote in favour of repeal but supported a motion not to retain article 40.3.3 of the Constitution in full.

In his statement, the professor said his testimony to the committee might be interpreted by some as the work of an objective committee.

However, he added: “In reviewing the proceedings, testimony and transcripts from records on the committee website one can only conclude that the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth is a ‘kangaroo court’. It is simply stunning that most committee members did not see the need for a fair hearing for such a momentous issue as the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, but were satisfied with such a prejudiced process.

“I hope that the Irish people will not be deceived by such theatre.”

Later, a separate anti-abortion lobby group wrote to the committee declining to present its research at a public meeting.

Both Lives Matter, a group campaigning to change abortion laws in the United Kingdom, had been asked to present before the committee. However it has now written to members outlining its opposition to participate in what described as a “deeply-flawed process”.

The lobby group has agreed to provide written evidence but will not appear before members.