More than 50 medical and legal experts will give evidence to a special Oireachtas committee hearing on the Government's draft abortion legislation over three days.
The hearings, conducted by the all-party health committee into the heads of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, will begin tomorrow in the Seanad chamber with 10 hours of hearings, with a further 10 hours allotted for each of Monday and Tuesday.
There has been some criticism of the composition of the witnesses. Yesterday three women of the Women Hurt organisation, all of whom have had abortions which they later regretted, met TDs and Senators who argued that they should also have been included in the witness list.
No church organisations nor any of the advocacy groups campaigning for and against abortion legislation have been invited. Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer said that a decision had been taken that it was the function of the committee to scrutinise the draft legislation and that the best means of doing that was to hear from medical and legal experts only.
“We do not want to disrespect the views of women, and the committee would be quite satisfied to meet them on another occasion.
“We took a decision that the witnesses would be people who are involved in the area of obstetrics and psychiatry and that we would not bring in advocacy and religious groups.
“People who are not appearing will have an opportunity to make a written submission to the committee setting out their views or position,” he said.
Many of the experts who will give evidence also appeared at the same committee's hearing in January, which examined the medical and legal landscape that pertained and which debated the Government's decision to introduce legislation and regulations to give effect to the Supreme Court 1992 ruling in the X case, and also the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B, and C cases.
The prominent medical and legal practitioners who will make a second appearance include the masters of two Dublin maternity hospitals, Dr Rhona Mahony of Holles Street and Dr Sam Coulter Smyth of the Rotunda; obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, also of Holles Street; perinatal psychiatrists Dr Anthony McCarthy; Dr John Sheehan and Dr Joanne Fenton; medico-legal expert Simon Mills; constitutional lawyer William Binchy; and former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness.
Mr Buttimer said that the committee had gone to great lengths to ensure that there was balance among the witnesses (a number of medical and legal experts have identifiable views for and against more liberal abortion laws).
He said that the committee had also included a number of new specialities in addition to those from January, as well as a wider geographical spread – there are more medical experts from outside Dublin on the list this time.”
By its nature it will be different this time as the hearings will be analysing the heads of the Bill. I do not want to pre-empt anything that will be said but the committee report will reflect the opinions expressed.”