Politicians have duty to outline Eighth Amendment stance, Dáil told

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said it was time to provide leadership

 Minister Katherine Zappone at the March for Choice in Dublin last September.  File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister Katherine Zappone at the March for Choice in Dublin last September. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has called on elected politicians to show courage and outline their position on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

In what was seen as a direct reference to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Ms Zappone told the Dáil it was time to provide leadership on this issue.

While acknowledging this was a complex, emotive and divisive matter, the Minister stressed now is not a time for political cowardice.

“This is too important an issue for politicians to shirk away from their responsibilities.

“In the coming weeks the public have a right to hear the view of every member of this house.”

Mr Varadkar has declined to give his position until the Cabinet adopts a formal position. The Cabinet is to hold a special meeting on Monday to decide how to proceed.

Ms Zappone said the Citizen’s Assembly and the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment had done exceptional work and had given public representatives the opportunity to make informed decisions on where they stand on this debate.

“As elected representatives we have a duty to outline our positions - and how we arrived at them.”

On the issue of repeal, Ms Zappone said she did not believe there should be an enabling provision placed in the Constitution.

However, she said she would accept the advice of the Attorney General in this regard.

“I cannot and will not support any proposed text that would immunise legislation from judicial review, treating abortion as an almost unique matter within our constitutional system, or a text that would purport to lay down exhaustively the situations in which we may make abortion lawfully available through legislation.

Constitution

“The Constitution is simply not the place to regulate abortion. In my view, most people recognise and agree with that.”

The Minister supports access to abortion up to 12 weeks on request and does not believe women should be forced to undergo mandatory counselling or waiting periods.

After 12 weeks, terminations should be provided when a mother’s life or health is at risk.

This is a debate where those who shout the loudest could hijack this moment and rob the people of Ireland of the discussion which is so badly overdue, the Minister added.

Ms Zappone said media and politicians must “call out the misinformation, the lies and any deceitful attempt to mislead people”.

“Attempts to use misleading posters, language or lies to heighten emotions must be exposed.

“In addition materials which are blatant attempts to shock, traumatise or frighten voters have no place in a proper debate.”

The Minister referenced the concerns of some media outlets regarding regulations in the area of balance.

Clear guidelines must be issued to all broadcasters so that every producer, journalist and presenter in the country is aware of what is fair and what is not, Ms Zappone added.

“True balance must not be a crude exercise in clock watching, counting seconds or minutes of air-time allocated to each side.

“It must be based on providing the listener or viewer with informed factual debate and discussion. It must increase public knowledge. I accept achieving this will not be easy.

“A more enlightened, sophisticated and nuanced approach will be required from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland - and I look forward to seeing these guidelines being produced at an early date.”

How does your representative intend to vote?

To find out how your TD, Senator or party intends to vote, use Pat Leahy’s abortion-referendum tracker, at www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/referendum-tracker.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

Article 40.3.3, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted in the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It prohibits abortion in almost all cases. It states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.

What did the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment conclude?

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution concluded in December 2017 that article 40.3.3 should be removed from the Constitution and politicians should be allowed to legislate for abortion. After three months of evidence and a series of votes, the committee said the current regime for the termination of pregnancy is unfit for purpose and that constitutional reform is necessary. Legislation should be prepared to permit terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said. It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in cases of rape and incest would have presented significant challenges. It was the committee’s opinion that a verification process to prove someone was the victim of sexual assault was likely to be complex or even unworkable and could have caused further trauma to a victim. These difficulties and the availability of abortion pills led the members to agree abortions should be allowed up to 12 weeks of gestation. The committee’s final report also concludes abortions should be allowed when a mother’s life or health is at risk. Such a risk cannot be determined in legislation as it is dependent on individual circumstances and should be considered in a clinical setting.

To read more

Pat Leahy on the big questions the Cabinet must answer about the abortion referendum.