Oireachtas committee set to recommend repeal of Eighth Amendment

Most of committee backs removal of clause with formal vote to take place next week

Fianna Fáil’s  Billy Kelleher: it is “wholly unacceptable”  people are  fearful of seeking medical attention or advice on abortion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher: it is “wholly unacceptable” people are fearful of seeking medical attention or advice on abortion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment is set to recommend repealing article 40.3.3 and giving the Oireachtas the power to legislate for abortion.

The majority of the members of the committee spoke in favour of removing the Constitution clause and giving politicians the ability to introduce legislation.

It is also set to recommend decriminalising abortion and removing the 14-year jail term for women who have terminations in Ireland.

Votes will not take place until next week, but the majority of the 21 members spoke in favour of such proposals at a meeting on Wednesday.

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher said trying to replace or amend article 40.3.3 is not practical, insisting a straight repeal is the only option.

On the issue of criminalising women who access terminations, Mr Kelleher said it was “wholly unacceptable” that people were fearful of seeking medical attention or advice.

The idea that young women are alone, frightened and unable to seek assistance for fear of criminal sanction is unacceptable, Mr Kelleher added.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan and Independent Senator Lynn Ruane all supported a straight repeal of the Eighth Amendment, as did the three Sinn Féin members.

Insulting to women

Ms Daly said it would be frankly insulting to women to amend or replace article 40.3.3, while Ms O’Sullivan insisted it would add to the ambiguity facing women.

Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton said she believed the referendum should coincide with the publication of what legislation should be put in place.

Ms Naughton stated it was for the Oireachtas to legislate but it should also allow for the courts to have judicial oversight of laws passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said he was not in favour of abortion but accepted it should be allowed in certain circumstances.

The Oireachtas committee is tasked with examining recommendations by the Citizen’s Assembly and providing a report to Government.

The Government will be tasked with preparing a wording for the referendum, which is due to take place in May, and preparing legislation for possible changes.

The committee will take a series of votes on the 13 recommendations from the assembly next week and its final report will be completed by December 20th.

Three members of the committee, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, raised concerns about the alleged bias shown and criticised the lack of anti-abortion witnesses who appeared before members.

Mr Fitzpatrick said many of his concerns about the effect of abortions on women were not considered and the committee was therefore turning a blind eye to such.

Accusations of bias

He also claimed repealing the Eighth Amendment would create a two-tier system where some “babies are given the right to life and some are not”.

Such accusations of bias were rejected by the chair of the committee Catherine Noone, who insisted her conscience was clear in this regard.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan told the committee he had changed his mind on the matter since becoming a member.

While he missed a number of hearings due to illness, Mr O’Sullivan indicated he was pro-women and allowing them to make decisions about their own body. The committee received legal advice on the effects of changes to the Constitution and to legislate.

It was advised of difficulties in legislating for terminations in certain cases, including in the area of rape.

Members were told physical proof that a sexual offence has occurred is extremely difficult and can cause additional stress.

A possible solution, members were told, is allowing GPs the authority to dispense an abortion pill based on their reasonable assessment.

The committee will meet next week to begin the votes with the first question to be whether the Eighth Amendment should be repealed.