Committee 'couldn't find' any anti-abortion medical experts to argue for Eighth

Noone: No Irish-based consultants or GPs ‘made available to Committee on Eighth’

Schoolchildren walk by as anti-abortion activists protest  outside the Dáil earlier this month. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Schoolchildren walk by as anti-abortion activists protest outside the Dáil earlier this month. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment has revealed the committee could not find a single medical expert in Ireland to argue the case for the status quo.

Senator Catherine Noone said the committee secretariat and the membership had been asked to put forward experts who would put the medical case for retaining the Eighth Amendment.

Senator Noone said no Irish-based consultants or even GPs were made available to the committee.

“The committee secretariat were in touch with many people, to my knowledge both suggested by the committee and otherwise,” she said. “Nobody was willing to come forward, none who were experts in this country. There was no single GP who offered, or any way indicated, that they wanted the status quo to remain.”

Committee ‘biased’

Pro Life Campaign deputy chairperson Cora Sherlock reiterated her assertion that the committee, which recommended repeal of the Eighth Amendment and that abortion be permitted up to 12 weeks gestation, was biased.

However, some of the anti-abortion doctors asked to attend before the committee declined to do so, including professor of psychiatry Patricia Casey and US-based professor of paediatrics Martin McCaffrey. He described the Eighth Committee as a “kangaroo court”.

We know that a third of people don’t actually vote on the issue itself, so there is a job to be done. I do believe the referendum will pass

Senator Noone said “what else would they say?” when asked about the accusations of bias.

She said suggestions by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty that the referendum might be lost were “fair comment”.

She pointed to the Children’s Rights referendum, which had been regarded as a “slam dunk”, but only passed by 58 per cent to 42 per cent in 2012.

“We know that a third of people don’t actually vote on the issue itself, so there is a job to be done. I do believe the referendum will pass.”

Senator Noone suggested the central message which emerged from the committee was that abortion in the case of incest and rape was impossible to legislate for.

She also said it must be emphasised that thousands of Irish women are buying abortion pills through the post and taking them unsupervised.

“I think as legislators we saw that as a position, that would be very difficult to stand over.”

There are a large cohort of people in this country who have a problem with 12 weeks

Speaking on Sunday, Ms Doherty said she feared not enough will be done to explain to the Irish people why the committee had reached the conclusions it had in relation to abortion.

At an event on Monday, she reiterated her belief that the referendum could be lost unless the issues were explained properly.

Medical, clinical evidence

“It is not going to pass itself,” she said. “There are a large cohort of people in this country who have a problem with 12 weeks. Unless we provide them with factual, medical, clinical evidence that was presented to the Oireachtas Committee and the Citizens’ Assembly, they won’t know why they came up with the 12 weeks.

“There is clinical and medical evidence that clearly backs up why – that’s if we are to address the issues of rape, of incest, of foetal abnormality, the circumstances of 5,000 Irish women buying abortion pills online or travelling to foreign countries to avail of abortions.

“If we are to address all of these issues that the Eighth Amendment currently restricts, we are going to have to explain to people why we arrived at 12 weeks.”