Citizens’ Assembly putting the Eighth Amendment on trial

Outcome of what was meant to be impartial look at abortion appears predetermined

Citizens’ Assembly chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy addresses a meeting in the Grand Hotel Malahide, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Citizens’ Assembly on abortion is proving to be a bigger farce than many predicted. It was flagged as an impartial look at the Eighth Amendment. The reality is turning out very different.

Members of the assembly are randomly chosen citizens not selected for their in-depth knowledge of the issue and its complexities. Yet over a handful of weekends they are expected somehow to acquire the knowledge and expertise needed to make recommendations to the Oireachtas on this life and death issue.

Observing the proceedings online, it’s clear from their questions that the members are taking their responsibilities seriously. But it’s a rush-job. Just when members are starting to grasp one point, they are whisked along at conveyor-belt speed to another point, on the lengthy “to do” list of complex issues. There is simply not enough time to reflect, debate or deliberate on any point, let alone appreciate how they all relate to one another.

The formal presentations at the assembly are almost entirely framed in a way where it appears as though the Eighth Amendment is on trial. The chairperson of the assembly Ms Justice Mary Laffoy has a responsibility to address this huge shortcoming without delay. It is not enough to point to the fact that they are just following the ground rules set by the Government.


Everyone knows what the key players in Government want from the exercise: they want the assembly to recommend that referendum be held to dismantle the Eighth Amendment so politicians can blame them if there is a public backlash from calling a ballot.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone is on record assuring pro-choice campaigners, in writing, that the assembly "will be the fastest way to achieve our goal" of repealing the amendment. Her repeated public utterances show disregard for members of the assembly and take for granted that they will deliver the outcome she and some of her pro-abortion colleagues in Government want.

Overlooked lives

The net result is that more than half the story is missing from the assembly's deliberations including the lives saved by the Eighth Amendment and the parents who say if abortion had been available in Ireland their child wouldn't be alive today. Also overlooked are the parents who have felt pressured to abort their baby with a life-limiting condition and are now deeply distraught at their decision. They blame the constant media focus on abortion for the fact that they never heard about the existence of perinatal hospice care as a positive alternative to abortion, until after they returned home. Additionally sidelined are the many women suffering heartbreak and regret following their abortions whose stories have been airbrushed from the public conversation.

None of these critical areas are being seriously explored by the assembly. Instead, disgracefully, the assembly has heard presentations from groups such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest abortion provider.

What about, for example, letting one of the many former abortionists who have left the industry give an honest account to the assembly of what the abortion procedure actually involves, instead of just the sanitised descriptions concealed and wrapped in pro-choice speak by BPAS and others?

The assembly has briefly touched on issues such as the huge numbers of Down Syndrome babies being aborted in countries with legalised abortion, but all references to this and similar aspects of the debate are fleeting at best and there simply won’t be time to consider them in any detail.

Illegally profiting

Two recent congressional investigations in the US, with witnesses subpoenaed to attend under oath, established beyond doubt that the abortion industry there has been illegally profiting from selling the body parts of aborted babies for research. Adding insult to injury, these horrendous practices have been going on without the knowledge or consent of the mothers of the babies.

In one case a clinic harvested and sold the skin of a baby with Down Syndrome for $325, and a leg of the same baby for $325; other babies’ organs were sold for over $3,000. These were not isolated exceptional occurrences involving shady backstreet abortion clinics, but a substantial widespread practice involving the main abortion providers in the US.

This horror story provides a glimpse at what really goes on in the abortion industry and what happens when the right to life of unborn babies is stripped away and abandoned in law.

Zappone and her fellow campaigners want the assembly over and done with so they can press ahead with a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, with as little public reflection or debate as possible. Some abortion campaigners would even settle for “restrictive” recommendations from the assembly, knowing that once it is voted through that certain human lives are unworthy of protection, it’s only a matter of time before the grounds for abortion are expanded.

The Citizens’ Assembly is, in truth, nothing more than a cynical insurance policy the Government has taken out in case the abortion issue threatens the one life it holds dear, namely, its own.

Sinéad Slattery is a spokeswoman for the Pro Life Campaign