News Roundup

Oireachtas abortion committee likely to recommend straight-up repeal referendum

A referendum to outright repeal the Eighth Amendment is likely to be the recommendation of the Oireachtas abortion committee. The Irish Times reports that a majority of members of the committee spoke on Wednesday in favour of removing article 40.3.3 and giving politicians the ability to introduce legislation. Fianna Fáil TD and health spokesperson, Billy Kelleher, led the way saying that trying to replace or amend article 40.3.3 is not practical, and he insisted a straight repeal is the only option. He was joined by the left-wing members of the committee, including Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan and Independent Senator Lynn Ruane who all supported a straight repeal of the Eighth Amendment, as did the three Sinn Féin members.

Three members of the committee, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen, Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, said bias was shown by the committee and criticised in particular the paucity of pro-life witnesses. Mr Fitzpatrick said many of his concerns about the harmful effect of abortions on women were not considered and the committee was therefore turning a blind eye to such. On the substantive legal change being proposed, he said repealing the Eighth Amendment would create a two-tier system where some “babies are given the right to life and some are not”.

The accusations of bias were rejected by the chair of the committee Catherine Noone, who insisted her conscience was clear in this regard.

The committee will take its final vote on all recommendations this coming Wednesday, December 13th.


Austria’s Supreme Court declares same sex marriage a legal right

The highest court in Austria has ruled that a law allowing same-sex couples enter civil partnerships but not marriage is discriminatory and have declared that such couples may enter marriage contracts from January 1st 2019. The overturned law had been passed in parliament in 2009, and in June of this year, parliament voted by a majority of 110 to 26 to reject same-semarriage. Nonetheless, the conservative People’s Party (OVP), whose leader Sebastian Kurz is expected to be sworn in as chancellor next month, said it will accept the ruling. However, the Freedom Party (FPO), Kurz’s chosen government coalition partner criticised the ruling. “Now there is equal treatment for something that’s not equal,” said Herbert Kickl, FPO General Secretary, in a statement. A marriage between women and men needs protection as only these partnerships can create children, he said. In response to the ruling, the lawyer for the female couples who brought the case, Helmut Graupner, said it was a historic day. “Austria is the first European country to recognise marriage equality for same-gender couples as a fundamental human right. All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it (just) the political way,” he said in a Facebook post.


Abortion committee due to decide fate of the unborn

Members of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment have been asked to take a position on each of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and submit to the committee by Friday any amendments to those recommendations or propose a different outcome entirely. The members will then vote on the proposals next Wednesday, Dec 13th, and a draft report will be prepared by Friday Dec 15th. The committee will finalise its report and submit it to the full Oireachtas on Wednesday Dec 20th. The Citizens’ Assembly recommended that abortion should be generally available for the first 22 weeks of pregnancy and anytime up to nine months in more serious cases. They also recommended not only that the Eighth amendment should be repealed but that the Oireachtas should be given absolute sovereignty, above the Courts and the Constitution, to make law in the area of abortion.   

While various committee members have talked about the kind of abortion legislation they would like to see, most have not said whether they want a referendum that would fully repeal the Eighth Amendment. Pro-life members of the committee, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, want it retained in full.


Belfast abortion clinic shuts down

A Marie Stopes abortion clinic that opened in Belfast in 2012 and has been subject to protests by pro-life groups ever since is to shut down. Director of the pro-life group Precious Life, Bernadette Smyth, who led the protests said she was “celebrating this massive pro-life victory”. She said the closure is due to the dedication, commitment, and hard work of Precious Life volunteers. “We will now accelerate our efforts in helping women with unplanned pregnancies, liaising with agencies like Stanton Healthcare NI — because women and babies deserve better than Marie Stopes.” Stanton Healthcare Centre is a life affirming pregnancy care centre dedicated to serving women facing unexpected pregnancies.


We offer ‘woman-centred care’ say Australian midwives, not ‘person-centred care’ 

Midwives all across Australia have rejected a draft new code of practice that replaced references to “woman-centred care” with “person-centred care”. The new code was proposed by the country’s Nursing and Midwifery board, but submissions flooded in from the profession, academics and individuals, rejecting the change, and forcing the board to reverse itself. Midwifery professor Mary Steen said “Midwife means with woman,” and added, “The woman is at the centre of a midwife’s scope of practice, which is based on the best available evidence to provide the best care and support to meet individual women’s health and wellbeing needs.” Dr Caroline Homer, from the Centre for Midwifery at Sydney’s University of Technology, wrote that, “Person-centred care also removes the woman from the central role in her child-bearing experience and renders her invisible”.

Australian College of Midwives spokeswoman Sarah Stewart acknowledged there were “individual instances” of people who were physically female but identified as male, but added “I personally feel at this stage the absolute, vast majority of people we care for are women”. She said midwifery has to be about women, as otherwise, “we lose women’s identity — that fundamental essence”.

“Women are struggling to have their voices heard enough as it is. It’s another chip at women’s identity”.



Pro-Life Campaign blasts abortion committee’s Chairman Noone for polarising comment

The Pro-Life Campaign has asked abortion committee Chairman, Senator Catherine Noone, to identify which witnesses were not pro-women’s health in comments she made on Sunday. Responding to criticism that the committee initially issued invitations to 24 pro-abortion advocates and only four pro-life witnesses, Senator Noone rejected the description and said the vast majority of witnesses were “pro-female health” and that “this pro-life and pro-choice polarising argument needs to become more nuanced in this debate.”

In response, Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said: “Ms Noone says the vast majority of witnesses were simply ‘pro-female health’. This implies she thinks some of the witnesses were not pro-women’s health. Would she care to name who they might be? Will she clarify that it’s not pro-life witnesses she is referring to?” Ms Sherlock further questioned why numerous experts on the adverse effects of abortion on women were rejected: “When Senator Noone talks about inviting witnesses that were ‘pro-female health’, how come the committee never intentionally set aside any time to seriously look at all the peer reviewed evidence that clearly points to adverse after effects of abortion for women. Is Senator Noone suggesting the more than ten international pro-abortion groups and individuals her committee invited at taxpayers’ expense fit in with her definition of ‘leading health professionals’?” Ms Sherlock concluded with a damning assessment of the committee: “Irrespective of what Senator Noone says, the tragedy remains that this committee will be remembered as one of the most skewed and incurious committees ever to convene in the houses of the Oireachtas.”


Changing abortion law will inevitably lead to liberal UK-style regime, conference told

A pro-life conference has been told that any liberalisation of the country’s abortion laws would inevitably lead to a radically liberal regime equivalent to that of the UK. Lord David Alton, a long-time anti-abortion campaigner and a member of the British House of Lords, said the “law of unintended consequences” which had seen Britain move from a restrictive abortion regime when legislation was introduced 50 years ago to one which sees “an abortion carried out every three minutes” would be replicated in the Republic. “It was a law that was only supposed to be is used in very extreme circumstances but of course it is now an open-ended law and is it has led to massive destruction and loss of life,” he said. His comments were echoed by Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign. “If we were to look at changing any other law we would look and see how it has affected other countries. But when we look at abortion, when you look around the world, what you find is that when you introduce abortion in any way it settles down to generally one in five pregnancies ending in abortion.” She said she had frequently been asked about her preferred wording for a referendum but said “the reality is the wording doesn’t matter to people who want to see the baby protected and mothers protected. Because we have no doubt that when the wording is announced by the Government it will be presented as something very restrictive, very attractive to voters but that’s what happened in England.”


‘Advent for Choice’ campaign ‘tasteless in the extreme’

An Irish pro-choice group has initiated an “Advent for Choice” social media campaign as part of its push to repeal the Eighth amendment. David Quinn of The Iona Institute called it ‘tasteless in the extreme’. The campaign involves a daily post on social media under the hashtag #adventforchoice showcasing a parent who supports pro-abortion laws. It is organised by the group Parents for Choice who are campaigning for the availability of “free, safe and legal abortion in the Irish maternity care system”, and for “the recognition of a pregnant and birthing person’s immutable right to bodily autonomy and exercise of choice in all situations”. The groups does not used the term ‘pregnant woman’. The group is prominent in the Repeal the Eighth coalition and addressed the Citizens’ Assembly’s fourth session on March 5th last. Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, expressed her “love” for the initiative and thanked the group “for thinking of it”.


Concern that Catholic teachers might perpetuate Catholic ethos in divested schools

Educate Together, a non-denominational school patron body, has warned the Department of Education it will be difficult to change the culture of schools divested by the Church if long-serving teachers committed to a Catholic ethos remain in place.

In a meeting in April, Educate Together representatives told Department officials, the body was “particularly concerned about the [Department’s] proposals for the live transfer of schools, including existing staff”. Paul Rowe, Educate Together’s chief executive, told the Sunday Times, Ireland edition, they were not looking to replace staff, but they were concerned that “changing school culture is quite difficult and usually involves changes in personnel”. Rowe said there could be teachers in Catholic schools “who have been teaching in a certain way for 20 years and don’t want to change”. Hence, they have asked the Department to provide more resources on the divestment process, including a “voluntary redeployment process” for teachers who do not want to work in Educate Together schools.


Doctors have an ‘ethical imperative’ to resist assisted suicide

The medical profession has an “ethical imperative” to say assisted suicide is not how you alleviate suffering, an Oireachtas committee has been told. Prof Des O’Neill, of the school of medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, that many people expressed the idea that they do not want to suffer at the end, but 30 years practise as a geriatrician had shown him that when care was proactive, compassionate and provided dignity “not one of our patients has chosen to die,” he said. Prof O’Neill said assisted suicide that is passed off as a “noble deed” is very often an “ignoble response to dreadful patient care.”

He agreed with Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan that “there is no legal right to die” and that “people in Ireland do die with dignity”. He said the phrase “the right to die with dignity” had been “adopted as a synonym for assisted suicide”. Prof O’Neill said the notion of freedom of conscience among medical practitioners was also being undermined. He said there was pressure on doctors to go along with arguments for assisted suicide and this was “an assault on ethics and it is a very difficult and dark place”.

“We have an ethical imperative to say this is not how we care for people, not how we alleviate suffering,” he said.

However, Dr Louise Campbell of NUI Galway, a philosopher with training in clinical ethics, said she would be “cautiously” in favour of “assisted dying”. In some cases “the motivation was to end the suffering of the individual at his or her request”. She said the capacity for autonomy, a person’s ability to make decisions based on their own beliefs, was widely recognised within the liberal tradition, and that proponents of assisted dying argued that those who were “suffering intolerably” should be allowed “to control the manner and timing “ of their dying.