Republic of Ireland news

Committee to extend consideration of Ireland's abortion laws

The Citizens' Assembly is hearing evidence on abortion laws
David Young, Press Association

A SPECIAL public committee set up to deliberate on the Republic's strict abortion regime is to extend its considerations.

The Citizens' Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 members of the electorate chaired by a Supreme Court judge, is examining the eighth amendment to the constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and unborn child.

It was originally envisaged the highly-divisive abortion issue would be explored over four weekend sessions of the assembly.

But at the close of the January meeting in Malahide on the outskirts of Dublin, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said members had agreed to timetable an additional weekend.

The assembly is hearing evidence in public sessions from a wide range of experts and interest groups and also has been deluged with in excess of 13,500 submissions.

The Pro-Life Campaign has claimed it will be impossible to fully consider the issues within the time frame.

However, Judge Laffoy said the extra weekend would not impact her intention of handing a report to the Dáil in the first half of the year.

"By taking one further weekend I am confident we will be best placed to reach our conclusions," she said.

"In the coming weekends we will look at a wide range of issues including the complex and difficult area of rape, both from a medical and legal perspective.

"We will also look at the availability of legal terminations in other jurisdictions and learn more about the UK regime. We will also look at the regulation of the medical profession and issues arising including conscientious objection.

"We will also hear the personal stories of women in crisis pregnancy. We will hear of their experiences to allow the members to hear first-hand about how the matters we are discussing at these weekend effect women and their families."

Abortion law is only one of several topics the assembly is examining but by far the most divisive.

The state's strict ban on abortion was clarified in 2014 to allow for a termination if the mother's life is at risk, including from suicide.

But have been growing campaigns north and south for women to be allowed access to terminations if their unborn child child is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) or in cases of rape and incest.

A working group set up by Stormont's Department of Health to examine the issue has reportedly recommended a change in FFA cases.

Official figures in Republic showed 26 abortions were carried out under the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.

In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.

The 99 members of the assembly were chosen at random and their views on abortion were not known in advance.

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