Citizens’ Assembly to meet at weekend to discuss abortion law

Delegates will hear from experts on medical, legal and ethical issues in Malahide

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy is chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy is chairwoman of the Citizens’ Assembly. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Citizens’ Assembly is to meet again in Malahide this weekend to discuss possible changes to the law on abortion.

The members will hear from experts on the medical, legal and ethical issues raised by fatal and other foetal abnormalities and how they relate to the human rights of women and the current constitutional protection of the unborn.

For the first time since it began its work last October, the assembly will begin to discuss what its eventual recommendations on the abortion issue might look like.

Just two more weekend meetings focusing on it are likely to be scheduled after this weekend, and officials say the shape of its final recommendations should become apparent by Easter.

“This weekend is when the rubber will start to hit the road, I guess,” a spokeswoman for the assembly said, at a briefing for journalists in Dublin on Friday.

The chair of the assembly has said it will make its report by the end of June. For political reasons the Government is anxious to deal with the abortion issue as soon as possible.

However, it is not yet clear if the members will decide to issue recommendations in a particular direction, or whether they will present a range of options for the Government and the Oireachtas to consider.

That is one of the questions that may be discussed on Saturday and Sunday.

Presentations

The assembly will hear presentations from Dr Peter McParland of the National Maternity Hospital and Dr Adrienne Foran of the Rotunda and Temple St Children’s Hospital on foetal abnormalities on Saturday morning.

Later, Eileen Barrington SC and Noelle Higgins from Maynooth University will discuss the legal issues raised by foetal abnormalities in Irish and international law.

In the afternoon, delegates will be addressed by one pro-choice and one pro-life expert in ethics on “the moral status of the unborn/foetus”.

Dr Helen Watt, who speaks from a pro-life perspective, is from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, while Prof Bobbie Farasides from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School is a director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a British abortion provider.

On Sunday Dr David Kenny from Trinity College will make a presentation on how laws are made and changed, to be followed by discussion among the delegates.

The assembly consists of 99 citizens and is chaired by the Supreme Court judge, Mary Laffoy.

It is charged with discussing and making recommendations on a number of public policy issues, but must first deal with the future of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which as article 40.3.3 underpins Ireland’s anti-abortion laws.

Over 13,000 submissions have been made to the assembly on the Eighth Amendment, which are being published by the assembly on its website.

The proceedings of the meetings will also be streamed live on citizensassembly.ie.