The Citizens’ Assembly
Sir, – William Binchy is wrong to assert that the outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly does not represent the views of the Irish public (“No sensible legislator would go near the result of the Citizens’ Assembly”, Opinion & Analyis, April 26th).
In recent years, opinion polls have consistently shown that people in Ireland want expanded access to abortion. Independent polling we commissioned from Red C in February 2016 found that 87 per cent of people favour expanded access to abortion and 80 per cent would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, either outright or if reasonable restrictions were put in place. One would be hard pressed to identify another issue on which opinion polling has been so consistent and decisive. The appetite for change is not new.
The author takes issue with the fact that 64 per cent of the citizens voted for access to abortion on request, at least in early pregnancy. He claims that there is no justification for this.
But the well-informed members of the Citizens’ Assembly, UN experts and the human rights framework would disagree. In September 2016 four UN Experts recommended “the good practice found in many countries which provide women’s access to safe abortion services, on request during the first trimester of pregnancy”, as well as access to abortion in specific circumstances in later pregnancy. This is the best way to safeguard women’s and girls’ rights.
Far from being “abhorrent to any civilised society”, as Prof Binchy claims, it is how many European states legislate for abortion access.
What Prof Binchy also ignores is polling data that clearly indicates that our current abortion regime is abhorrent to many people in Ireland, a majority of whom believe it to be cruel, inhumane, hypocritical and discriminatory.
The greatest lesson of the Citizens’ Assembly is that when people have all the information and evidence, providing access to abortion on request in early pregnancy and on protected grounds thereafter is the logical and compassionate conclusion. The Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations set out a comprehensive mandate for law reform. If key gaps are plugged by the Oireachtas Committee, including fully decriminalising abortion, these recommendations pave the way for human rights-compliant legislation.
The special Oireachtas Committee established to consider the assembly’s recommendations must conduct its work quickly and decisively. The assembly has set out a mandate to end the daily violations of women’s and girls’ human rights. The Government must commit to a timeframe for a referendum to remove the the Eighth Amendment from our constitution. There can be no more excuses and no more delays. – Yours, etc,