The Citizens' Assembly has been told by Dr Brendan O'Shea, a member of the regulatory body for general practitioners, that poorer women here frequently accept their crisis pregnancies because they cannot afford a legal termination abroad.

Meanwhile, a speaker from the HSE's Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, Janice Donlon, said that between 2010 and 2012 an average of 821 women on the island of Ireland were sent abortion pills annually. 

Cork obstetrician and gynecologist, Professor John Higgins, said over 2014 and 2015, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act had facilitated 26 terminations.

Most arose from a mother's life-threatening physical illness, with just three involving the threat of suicide.

Meanwhile, a Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist, Anthony McCarthy, quoted international research on the damaging effects of pressurising women in crisis pregnancies.

The specialist at the National Maternity Hospital said that the surveys consistently found that women who are pressurised to have an abortion, or not to have one, suffer significant mental health problems because of that.

The first weekend-long sitting for the 99 ordinary members of the Citizens' Assembly took place behind closed doors in a north Dublin hotel this morning.

But an hour later the Chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy reminded them that advising the legislature on our Constitutional restrictions on abortion would occupy four of their eight similar sittings over the coming year.

She said the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was definitely the most difficult topic they would address.

This fact was underlined by the graphic pictures displayed outside the venue by four protestors.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Following Judge Laffoy’s welcome speech, Professor Eoin Carolan of UCD delivered a brief review of the history of the Eighth Amendment and the law on abortion here. 

He said that although abortion had been illegal in Ireland since 1861, the Amendment, passed in a referendum in 1983, made it clear for the first time here that the right to life applied to the unborn.

Prof Carolan recalled that in 1992 the Supreme Court ruled in the X case that abortion is allowed where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and where the risk could only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy.

He said the risk could be from either a threat of suicide or because of a physical condition.

The ordinary members then broke into groups of six and upwards, each assisted by a facilitator and a note taker, which discussed the presentation in private before resuming in public with a question and answer and feedback session.

The ordinary members were chosen by a polling company to be broadly representative of the electorate demographically.

The four protesters outside the meeting, members for the so-called 'Irish Centre for Biomedical Research', said it had agreed to the request from a schoolteacher to remove graphic posters from the entrance to the Assembly.

However, Dr Jean-Simonis Eugela defended the use of the images saying that their pictures of aborted babies was a valid protest against the inhumanity of the termination of human life in the womb.

The inaugural meeting of the Assembly was held last month when it decided to hold four weekend-long meetings on the constitutional restrictions on abortion before submitting a report to legislators.

All public sessions will be carried on the Citizens' Assembly website while all the formal presentations will be broadcast on RTÉ News Now and simultaneously live-streamed on RTE.ie.