The Citizens’ Assembly has made recommended sweeping changes be implemented regarding Ireland’s abortion laws.
Justice Mary Laffoy, chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, pictured on Saturday
Source: Sam Boal
THERE HAS BEEN strong reaction across the spectrum to the Citizens’ Assembly’s vote against maintaining the status quo regarding Ireland’s abortion laws.
On Saturday, the Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recommend changing Ireland’s strict abortion laws, while yesterday it balloted as to how Ireland’s laws would look following the changeover.
The Assembly recommended the replacement, not the repeal, of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. It also recommended a provision that the Oireachtas must legislate for abortion, and that terminations should be allowed without restriction up to the 12th week of pregnancy, amongst other things.
An Oireachtas committee is now to be established to examine the Assembly’s recommendations.
Voices on both sides have been having their say on the Assembly’s decisions.
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) said it “welcomed” the Assembly’s recommendations “for comprehensive abortion law reform”, and called such reform “a political imperative”.
“The Citizens’ Assembly has provided the Oireachtas Committee with an extremely strong imperative for change,” said chief executive Niall Behan. “There can be absolutely no doubt that the members of the Assembly want healthcare policy that respects women’s reproductive health rights, their dignity, autonomy and equality.”
The Oireachtas Committee must take a women-centred approach and focus on legislation and policy that will ensure access to abortion services.
Parents For Choice meanwhile said it wished to ‘extend its gratitude’ to the members of the Assembly.
“The Assembly has called for an amendment to the constitution to ensure the Oireachtas legislates for abortion access. The Assembly then clarified what level of access to abortion people in Ireland should have: full access up to 12 weeks, and access up to 22 weeks on the grounds of a risk to health and for socio-economic reasons,” said spokesperson Sinéad Redmond.
This call for change cannot be ignored. The government must act on these recommendations without delay. We are also heartened to see the Assembly call for access to abortion at any stage of gestation where there is a risk to our life, a serious risk to our health, or where the pregnancy is not viable.
On the other side of the divide, Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said that the “writing was on the wall” for the Citizens’ Assembly vote given the “total lack of balance throughout”.
“There is nothing liberal or progressive about the Assembly recommending a referendum to strip unborn babies of their right to life in law and also ignoring the negative consequences of abortion for women,” she said.
The writing was on the wall for weeks after the Assembly invited Britain’s largest abortion provider to address them but never, for example, extended a single invitation to groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.
“This one-sided approach is typical of how the Assembly conducted its business from the get-go. It cannot be left unchallenged,” Sherlock said, adding that “if the next phase of the process is to have any credibility, the first thing the new Oireachtas Committee… must do is examine how the Citizens’ Assembly was allowed to operate in such a one-sided and chaotic way”.
There hasn’t been much in the way of official reaction from the main political parties.
Renua, however, has released a statement in line with its pro-life policies and said it “wishes to express its disappointment with the conclusions reached by the Citizens’ Assembly over the past number of days, and to reaffirm our commitment to protect the human rights of the unborn”.
“Renua believes that the recommendations of the Assembly, particularly that the constitution be amended to explicitly pass power on abortion over to the Oireachtas, diminishes the human rights of the unborn and will, far from ending the debate surrounding abortion, simply instigate an endless political fight over the issue,” it said.
“While we acknowledge the hard work of the Citizens Assembly we are puzzled and disappointed by their recommendations; to allow a fundamental human rights issue to be decided at any given moment by a majority of TDs is disturbing,” said party leader John Leahy.
Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger meanwhile said that the Assembly’s votes “can’t be ignored”.”The Citizens’ Assembly votes are an unequivocal message to the Dáil that abortion must be legislated for on a very wide range of grounds,” she said.
The Assembly reflects the massive change in attitudes that has taken place on abortion in recent years – evident to anyone campaigning on the issue, but not to the establishment parties who’ve voted down minimal change numerous times.
These recommendations can’t be ignored by the Dáil which established the Assembly as its favoured process.