Citizens’ Assembly chair defends presence of abortion advocates

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy answers accusations of bias from Pro Life Campaign

The chair of the Citizens’ Assembly has said it would have been a “serious omission” not to include material from two women who were described by anti-abortion activists as being a part of the “abortion industry”.

Mrs Justice Mary Laffoy said the presence of Gilda Sedgh from the Guttmacher Institute in New York and Dr Patricia Lohr from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) at the assembly was at the request of the citizens deliberating on the Eighth Amendment.

Justice Laffoy was criticised by the Pro Life Campaign for including Dr Lohr from BPAS, which provides abortion services to Irish women in the UK, and from Ms Sedgh. Both spoke at a previous session of the assembly in February.

In response, Ms Laffoy said both had been asked to contribute in a personal professional capacity as experts in their respective fields.


“Their invitations were in response to specific requests from the members to hear where Ireland’s abortion regime sits amongst other developed nations and to hear from medics in the UK about how the procedure is carried out,” the judge said.

“The inclusion of both of these issues was signalled when we published our work programme as far back as January. Failure to include this material would, in my view, have represented a serious omission in our overall work programme.

“The assembly has endeavoured to present the legal and medical material in a neutral manner. Our ethics discussions have always featured voices on both sides of the debate.”

The judge was applauded by members of the assembly for her remarks.

She was responding to comments from Family & Life's Patrick Carr who told the assembly that the presence of these two individuals from the "abortion industry" was proof that the "assembly was being firmly guided towards a predetermined outcome".


He was challenged by members of the assembly. One citizen asked Mr Carr if he would concede that Dr Helen Watts and Dr Dónal O'Mathuna, who have both given evidence on the part of anti-abortion lobby, also had a vested interest.

Another facilitator asked Mr Carr if he would accept that both Dr Lohr and Ms Sedgh were there because the members had requested their presence.

Mr Carr responded by stating that he respected the wishes of the assembly members. “I hope that answers your question. The reason I came here because I know as a scientific fact that the unborn is the same as the born – a human being.”

The assembly members heard graphic evidence from an American doctor Dr Anthony Levatino who had performed 1,200 abortions in the 1980s.

Dr Levatino, on behalf of the anti-abortion lobby group Women Hurt, said he had performed second-trimester abortions where he removed arms and legs from aborted foetuses.

‘Betrayal of women’

“The betrayal of women is total. Future generations will look back in disgust and disdain at the casual, nonchalant way human life is disrespected today.”

Rebecca Kiessling from Youth Defence said abortion was loved by "sex traffickers and child molesters. It destroys the evidence. It protects and enables them so that they can continue".

Sineád Redmond from Parents for Choice said the Eighth Amendment did not make Ireland a safer country to have babies. There were 25 countries in the world with lower rates of maternal mortality, she pointed out.

Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International said the assembly was focused on solutions to the issue of the Eighth Amendment.

He said abortion was a much less divisive issue than some had claimed and said that repeated polls had shown that 80 per cent of the Irish public would either repeal or amend the Eighth Amendment.

He proposed that a solution would involve repealing the Eighth, the full decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of a human rights compliant framework for access to and information about abortion.

Maria Steen from the Iona Institute said holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment would be wrong.

“It puts the power in the hands of the majority to vote away the only defence a given vulnerable minatory has from the same majority.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times