Churches, faith groups and non-confessional bodies attended final day of Oireachtas abortion hearing

Friday 11 January 2013 11.37
Today was the last day of the Oireachtas Committee hearings
Today was the last day of the Oireachtas Committee hearings

The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children has concluded three days of hearings from various experts and interest groups on the issue of abortion.

Chair of the committee Jerry Buttimer thanked everyone involved and said he appreciated the manner in which the proceedings were conducted.

He acknowledged that it was one of the most divisive issues for society.

Mr Buttimer said that the committee would meet next week and would begin to compile the report that it will submit to Government for the drafting of the heads of a bill.

The committee heard from the main church groups in the first session of the day this morning.

It later heard submissions from advocacy groups on each side of the debate.

The Catholic Bishop of Elphin said that the only way the difficulties posed by the X case judgment can be addressed is by a new referendum.

Bishop Christopher Jones told the committee that the Supreme Court ruling allowing the risk of suicide as grounds for abortion was unsound and any legislation giving it force would be unsound.

Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson said the current position was very unclear and he welcomed the Government’s decision to legislate.

That view was echoed by Heidi Good of the Methodist Church and Trevor Morrow, who was representing the Presbyterian Church.

Most of the questioning from the committee was directed to Bishop Jones. Labour's Eamon Maloney said any suggestion that legislation would open the floodgates was insulting and insensitive.

Fine Gael's Catherine Byrne said some of the language in Bishop Jones' submission had been disturbing and offensive.

Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty said the church’s attitude would mean in some cases both mother and child would die.

Bishop Jones said abortion was the deliberate destruction of human life and not a situation where in treating the woman, the child dies, and that needed to be clarified.

Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said that we cannot give a green card to victims of rape that says "yes you can have an abortion".

However, he said that if physical or psychological problems were considered by a doctor, and they considered that abortion was the only option, then he would say yes to abortion.

Micheal Nugent of Atheist Ireland said that if there was concern about a line being crossed through legislation for suicide, that line had already been crossed because of the X case.

Abortion was legal, he contended, and told the hearing the job of politicians was to legislate for it.

Rabbi Zalman Lent said that from a Jewish point of view, every single case is taken on an individual basis and a decision taken on that basis.

Advocacy groups attend hearing

Later, Caroline Simons of the Pro Life Campaign told the committee that this week's hearings have totally undermined the Government's arguments for the proposed legislation.

She said that the argument for suicide was demolished.

Dr Eoghan de Faoilte of Youth Defence said as a doctor he believes that the current law is crystal clear.

He said that he does not know of any women who travelled to England because they were going to take their own life.

Family and Life Director David Manly said that it was important to note that despite the lack of clarity in the law, women still got high standards of treatment

He said that suicide is not an option.

The Iona Institute's Breda O'Brien said legislating for suicide meant the crisis pregnancy was being presented, even in rare circumstances, as something so awful that suicidal thoughts and threats were an acceptable reaction.

She said anyone with a bit of life experience would tell you that it was not the baby that ruined your life.

Ms O'Brien said it was everyone else, such as the family who will not stand by you, the principal who will not accept you into the school or the partner who will pay for a termination but will not pay child support.

In the third session, Abigail Rooney from Choice Ireland said it was insulting to her and all women in Ireland to say that they would manipulate a suicide clause in any legislation.

She said that the organisation has been campaigning for the legislating of the X case and welcomes the Government's decision to act after 20 years.

Citing statistics of women travelling to other jurisdictions for abortions, she said 4,149 women provided Irish addresses to UK abortion clinics in 2011.

She said up to 1,470 travelled to the Netherlands between 2005 and 2009.

Ms Rooney said that so-called abortion drugs have been seized by the Irish Medicines Board and that this demonstrates the need for legislation.

She said that one can only assume that given the lack of clarity in Irish law women would choose to travel for abortion.

Ms Rooney said that abortion under the X case was extremely limited and would result in relatively small number of terminations.

Orla O'Connor of the Women's Council of Ireland told the committee that the council has worked on the issue of abortion for over 30 years.

She said that its position has changed based on women's experience.

Ms O'Connor said it had been mandated by large and diverse membership to adopt a pro-choice position. 

She said that it was calling for abortion in certain circumstances - where a woman's life was at risk, including by suicide.

Ailbhe Smyth from Action on X has described the committee's hearings as historic.

She explained that Action on X was an alliance of other groups that was formed in 2011 to call on the Government to legislate for the X case.

Just before the close of the hearings, Health Minister James Reilly told the committee that the only purpose of the legislation was to clarify what was legally possible in this area.

He said that the issue of conscientious objections by medical staff must be closely considered.

Minister Reilly said that the hearings will help the Government develop legislation that will stand up to legal challenges.

Diverse views are 'strongly held'

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher summed up the three days, saying it was clear that there are very diverse views on the abortion issue and they are strongly held.

He said we should not box people into either pro-choice or pro-life, as there were many in the middle ground of the debate who wished to just get all the facts.

Mr Kelleher warned people who will engage in the debate on the use of language as there are thousands of women who have travelled for an abortion and are affected by the comments made.

Sinn Féín TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin also said the three days of hearings have been a very good exercise.

Independent TD Séamus Healy thanked all who took part in the hearings and also said it is clear that abortion is an emotive issue.

Mr Healy also asked that fatal foetal abnormality be dealt with in the upcoming leglisation.

Labour's Ciara Conway said that sometimes politics does work and the past three days have shown this.

She noted that she is hopeful that politicians can now legislate on the issue.

Keywords: abortion, x case