Members of the Citizens’ Assembly have asked to hear anonymously from women who have had abortions, as well as from pro-choice and anti-abortion groups and from people representing disadvantaged communities, including Travellers and those in direct provision.
At the close of the assembly’s weekend meeting in Malahide, Co Dublin on Sunday, representatives outlined their wishes to hear a range of expertise and viewpoints to help them reach their conclusions on issues around the Eighth Amendment to the constitution.
Over the day and a half, the 99 members heard presentations by medical, legal and ethical practitioners and academics.
The assembly broke up into roundtable discussions in private session to deliberate and then presented feedback in plenary session.
A representative from each of 14 tables outlined to chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy the areas they wished to explore, and the experts and others they wished to hear from.
Members asked to hear from more medical experts and for more gender balance in the expert views presented. One table suggested that female medical and legal experts appear before the assembly.
They also wished to hear from representatives of abortion clinics in the UK who deal with Irish women, about the actual medical procedures involved in abortion, and from those involved in pre- and post-abortion counselling.
A number of people raised the question of fathers’ rights and said they would like to hear from groups representing a male viewpoint on abortion.
There was also a call to hear from bodies such as the Catholic Church and the Iona Institute and from pro-choice and anti abortion groups. One representative said members would like to hear also from the Repeal the 8th campaign, which had "made a lot of noise".
One group said it would like to hear from both sides of the debate but to “avoid polarisation”.
There were also requests to hear more about the legal regimes prevailing in other jurisdictions.
Closing the session on Sunday, Ms Justice Laffoy said she had made a very conscious decision that the members should this weekend receive the facts about the current position, without commentary about the perceived advantages or disadvantages of the current regime.
“It is essential that the members have that strong grounding, to allow them to be able to make their own judgements about material that is presented to them in future weekends,” she said.
She said the number of topics and the range of perspectives to be considered was vast and it was a challenge to find the right balance, both in terms of presenting each side of the debate and in terms of the appropriate amount of time to spend in a voluntary civic forum on what was “a very difficult and emotive topic”.
The assembly has already received 600 submissions and is continuing to accept submissions from members of the public, representative groups and citizen organisations on the subject of the Eighth Amendment until December 16th.
It will meet again on January 7th and 8th for what will be the second of four meetings on this topic. Following this series of meetings Ms Justice Laffoy will prepare a report for the Houses of Oireachtas outlining the conclusions and recommendations of the assembly.