Abortion laws would allow safe treatment, committee members say

Cases of rape and incest ‘simply impossible to legislate for,’ Senator Catherine Noone says

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher, Senator Ned O’Sullivan,  Senator Catherine Noone,  Jonathan O’Brien and Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Maxwell

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher, Senator Ned O’Sullivan, Senator Catherine Noone, Jonathan O’Brien and Jan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Maxwell

 

Members of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment have said the Government’s proposed legislation to permit abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction as to reason will allow women who would otherwise travel to the UK, and those taking unregulated abortion pills, to be treated safely here.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, who chaired the committee, Fianna Fáil TD and health spokesman Billy Kelleher, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan and Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien called for a Yes vote in the referendum on May 25th.

The members said abortion in Ireland was a reality not just in urban areas but in rural areas and in every county.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Together for Yes campaign in Dublin on Wednesday, the TDs and senators noted that official figures from the Department of Health in the UK showed that 18,112 women from Ireland had travelled to the UK for an abortion between 2012 and 2016.

Ms Noone said the committee hearings last year heard testimony about the prevalence of abortion pills in Ireland over the last number of years.

“I think at the end of the day we felt that this was a situation that we find it very difficult to stand over, where Irish women are taking abortion pills in the privacy of their own bedrooms, unsafe, unregulated by the general practitioners. It’s something I think was very determining in us coming to our decision,” she said.

She said the committee had also heard much testimony during the hearings on the issues of rape and incest and had been told that they were “simply impossible to legislate for”.

“What is being proposed here is a safe, regulated framework where women will have care in their own country under a system that will be restrictive. We cannot say that enough. It will be handled by GPs and it will be a much more satisfactory circumstance (than) where women are travelling to the UK and taking abortion pills. We simply just cannot stand over that,” she said.

Mr Kelleher said most Irish women travelling abroad were having terminations later in gestation.

22 weeks

“The bottom line here is an awful lot of people will take an abortion pill. This is the issue that changed, I think, the mindset of the committee in how they looked at the 12 weeks,” he said. He noted the Citizens’ Assembly had, in fact, recommended that termination of pregnancy should be lawful without restriction up to 22 weeks.

The committee had felt 12 weeks was more appropriate in an Irish context.

He said three women a day would take the abortion pill in Ireland, unregulated and unsupervised, purchased on the internet.

Mr Kelleher said he welcomed the fact that the Government’s legislation was being scrutinised by the No campaign, and equally welcomed that the two sides were having a “robust” debate. He was confident it would stand up to all scrutiny.

Asked about a booklet that groups on the No side of the campaign had distributed which had a similar appearance to government publications, Ms Noone said she thought it was an example of messaging from the No side that was attempting to “blur the lines” and that voters needed “facts and evidence”.

“That is not helpful to Irish people. It is an attempt to actually blindside them and to fool them and I don’t think that is in any way respectful of voters.”

A green and white booklet titled ‘Your guide to the referendum: Information on the Government’s proposals’ delivered to 200,000 households was published and sponsored by the groups Family and Life, Life Institute, Save the 8th and the Coalition Against Abortion on Demand.

Asked on Tuesday if the booklet was masquerading as a Government publication, the groups disputed this and said they did not think it was dishonest or misleading.

Abortion: The Facts

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