THERE is no getting away from it now – unless the government suddenly collapses and a general election is called – our politicians are going to have to imminently deal with the thorny issue of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. When the current minority government came into power, it managed to kick the proverbial can down the road by referring the matter to the Citizens’ Assembly for its recommendations and now, a year later, these have been made in a report issued last week by its chairperson, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.
The recommendations are that Article 40.3.3° should not be retained in full; that it should be replaced or amended and that it should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman. These will be considered by a Special Oireachtas Committee which will be asked to submit its conclusions and recommendations to both Houses of the Oireachtas within three months of its first public meeting.
After that, the Dáil and Seanad will debate the issue before final government consideration, followed then by the drafting of wording and legislation to enable a referendum – which is likely to be quite divisive – to take place. All of that will take us well into next year with the politicians finally and somewhat belatedly grasping the nettle on abortion legislation.
In the meantime, Minister for Health Simon Harris should note and act on some of the ancillary recommendations made in the Citizens’ Assembly report, including improvements needed in sexual health and relationship education, especially in the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people.
It recommends improved access to reproductive healthcare services for all women and that everybody should have access to the same standard of obstetrical care, including early scanning and testing – with these services available to all women, irrespective of geographic location or socio-economic circumstances. Improvements should be made throughout the country to counselling and support facilities for pregnant women both during pregnancy and, if necessary, following a termination of pregnancy.