News Roundup

Wording for abortion referendum passed by Cabinet

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, draft plans for a referendum to repeal the Eighth amendment and legislation providing for abortion were passed by the Government.

The referendum would delete article 40.3.3 and replace it with a text affirming the authority of the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

The proposed abortion legislation at present would allow for abortions “without specific indication” up to 12 weeks. It will also allow for abortion after 12 weeks where there is a “serious threat” to the life, health or mental health of a mother or where the baby is suffering from a life limiting condition. In those cases, reports the Irish Times, “it is expected no gestational limits will be applied” meaning they may be carried out at any time up to birth.

In the UK, well over 90pc of the almost 200,000 abortions that are performed annually take place under the ‘mental health’ ground.


State’s appeal to Supreme Court to erase all unborn rights, beyond life, begins today

The State is to argue today that the High Court erred in deciding the unborn has constitutionally protected, personal rights beyond article 40.3.3. Any other legal entitlements of the unborn are dependent, the State is expected to argue, on being born alive. The case will involve potentially the widest consideration by the Supreme Court of the extent of the constitutional rights of the unborn and it will be argued before a seven judge court on Wednesday, presided over by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke. The appeal is scheduled to run for two days and the Court’s judgement may affect the wording of the planned referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The High Court’s Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, a one-time Labour councillor and adviser to former Minister Mervyn Taylor, had found that the unborn has constitutional rights in addition to the right to life and is a “child” within the meaning of Article 42A, with constitutional rights the State is required to protect and vindicate. The State, represented by the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, however, is asking the Court to declare that the unborn child has no rights other than the explicit right to life recognised in article 40.3.3. The State will be represented by a team of no less than six barristers – senior counsel Mary O’Toole, Nuala Butler and Denise Brett, and junior counsel, Simon Mills, Silvia Martinez Garcia and Andrea Mulligan.


Court grants custody of 13 children born via surrogacy to sperm-donor father

A Bangkok court has granted sole custody of 13 children born via surrogacy to a wealthy Japanese heir. Mitsutoki Shigeta, now 28, had hired Thai women in a so-called ‘rent a womb’ scheme to gestate embryos conceived using donor eggs and his own sperm, paying them between €7,500 and €10,100 each. Most of the babies, now around four years of age, were found in a luxury apartment by police in 2014 sparking an international furore, dubbed the “baby factory” scandal. The babies were taken into care, but this week a Thai court awarded paternity rights to their biological father.

“For the happiness and opportunities which the 13 children will receive from their biological father, who does not have a history of bad behaviour, the court rules that all 13 born from surrogacy to be legal children of the plaintiff,” Bangkok’s Central Juvenile Court said in a statement.

Mr Shigeta was deemed the “sole parent” of the children after the Thai surrogates had signed away their rights, the court said.

In Ireland there are legislative plans to enable the practice of surrogacy in this country. While they would outlaw commercial surrogacy, there are no restrictions on those who bring babies into the country acquired through commercial arrangements abroad. Currently, such parents must go to court to sue for parentage rights based on a genetic link to the child. However, a recent court case involved a couple who brought back a baby for whom they had no genetic link. The ruling in that case was never published.

The forthcoming Irish legislation would also not prohibit single men from arranging the creation and surrogate gestation of babies. Likewise, there would not be a prohibition on someone ordering multiple so-called altruistic surrogacies in a move akin to Mr Shigeta’s commercial endeavours, with the sole difference that only “reasonable expenses” could be paid.



Simon Coveney declares support for UK-style abortion law

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he would vigorously campaign for repeal of the Eighth amendment and support a law very like the one in the UK under which the vast majority of abortions take place for ‘mental health’ reasons. One in five pregnancies end in abortion annually in the UK, amounting to almost 200,000 cases.
Speaking on Monday morning Mr Coveney said “this is a two-step process and Ireland needs to change its constitution in this area because it’s too restrictive in terms of what the State is allowed do. If we don’t do that we can’t bring in legislation that we need to bring in to protect women in pregnancy.”
He stated: “I think we have to prioritise the lives and the health, both physical and mental, of women and so we can’t do anything of that if we don’t change the Constitution.”
He has misgivings about permitting abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The Savethe8th campaign assailed his remarks, saying “Simon Coveney is asking the public to vote YES and then to trust him to vote NO. His government has proposed an abortion regime so extreme he says he cannot support it – yet he is asking the public to do just that. The bottom line is that if this referendum is passed, an abortion on demand regime through three months of pregnancy will be adopted by the Government. Simon Coveney wants the public to vote for this legislation, so that he can then cast a protest vote against it. The public will not fall for this trickery. Mr. Coveney is trying to run with the horse, and hunt with the hounds”


Cabinet to review draft of abortion referendum Bill today

The draft heads of the Bill to provide for a referendum on abortion is to be considered by the Cabinet today. The Bill will ask voters if they wish to repeal the Eight Amendment and replace it with a text that affirms the authority of the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion. While the first draft of the Bill will undergo the scrutiny of the Cabinet today, a final draft is not due to be agreed until March 6th. The Government plan on publishing the Bill on March 8th to coincide with International Women’s Day, although that plan will be scuppered if a Supreme Court case on the rights of the unborn is not decided before then, or if the Court renders an unfavourable judgement.
In addition to the referendum Bill, a policy paper outlining the abortion legislation that would follow passage of the referendum is also due before the Cabinet on March 6th. It is anticipated that the bill will follow closely upon the recommendations of the Oireachtas abortion committee which allowed abortion unrestricted up to 12 weeks, and after that on UK-style ground, namely for reasons impacting the ‘mental and physical health’ of the mother potentially up to birth.
The consideration of the draft heads of the referendum Bill will mark the beginning of the legislative process ahead of a referendum, which the Government is intent on holding by the end of May or the beginning of June.



Senator Noone attacked over claim no doctor would ‘defend status quo’ to Oireachtas committee

In a sharp rebuttal of remarks by Senator Catherine Noone, the Chair of the Oireachtas abortion committee, the Savethe8th committee ridiculed a claim that no doctor would appear before the committee to defend the Eighth amendment. According to the Irish Times, Senator Noone “revealed the committee could not find a single medical expert in Ireland to argue the case for the status quo”. She was quoted as saying “The committee secretariat were in touch with many people, to my knowledge both suggested by the committee and otherwise,” she said. “Nobody was willing to come forward, none who were experts in this country. There was no single GP who offered, or any way indicated, that they wanted the status quo to remain.”
A spokesperson for Savethe8th, called the claim “utterly bizarre” and pointed to the group Doctors for Life who defended the Eighth Amendment and the status quo in both a submission and an oral presentation to the Citizens Assembly. He also questioned how media in Ireland could report the claim unchallenged, without subjecting it to even the most rudimentary fact-checking. He continued: “Senator Noone’s claim raises serious questions about her command of the facts in this debate, and the coverage of Senator Noone’s claim raises serious questions about internet connectivity across the newsrooms of Dublin”.


Govt Minister fears abortion referendum will be lost as polls show public divided

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, believes the Government’s proposals to repeal the Eighth Amendment and legislate for an extreme abortion regime could fail, unless a lot more work is done to convince the people to pass it. She spoke after a duo of polls showed support for repeal dropping, and the public evenly divided on legislation for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Ms Doherty said “Standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass”. She added: “We need to sell, as advocates of people who want to see the Constitution changed and the 12-weeks imposed, that needs to be sold to people and the reasons why that 12-weeks figure was come at. That needs to be explained clearly to people with reasons and evidence, so there is a job of work to be done”.

The polls published today in the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times both show a drop in support for the Government’s proposal to introduce abortion on wide-ranging grounds. 48% of respondents to the Sunday Independent poll support allowing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, 33% says it goes too far and a further 19% are undecided. The Sunday Times poll shows a broadly similar result. 43% of respondents support the Government’s proposal with 35% opposed to abortion up to three months and a further 22% undecided.

Commenting on the two polls, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson, Dr Ruth Cullen said: “Obviously I welcome the shift in support in a pro-life direction indicated in the two latest polls. As more and more people come to realise what repeal of the Eighth Amendment would lead to in practice, I’m confident the polls will continue to move in the same direction.

“No matter how it’s packaged or presented, repeal of the Eighth Amendment would strip unborn babies of all meaningful protections and lead to abortion on demand similar to countries like England where 1 in 5 pregnancies now end in abortion.

“The point we have been making that there’s no such thing as limited abortion is starting to resonate with voters. This is not surprising as the evidence from other countries on this point is so strong.

“It makes no sense talking about doing away with all constitutional protections for unborn babies through repeal and in the same breath arguing that meaningful protections for the right to life could somehow be provided for in legislation. The vote on repeal is about whether we introduce abortion on demand or not. It is about nothing else.”


Huge rise in sex crimes committed by children

Children and teenagers under 18 perpetrated an eye-popping 45 per cent of all sexual crimes recorded by the Gardaí in 2016, a report has found.

The figures in the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme (GJDP) report show that 334 sexual offences involving juvenile offenders were reported in 2016. That figure represented a massive increase of 39 per cent on previous year’s figures and included 114 cases of rape and 21 cases involving child abuse images.

Clíona Saidléar, executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said she was appalled but not surprised by the figures. “They are a wake-up call to the fact that sexual offences are being committed by children. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the problem,” she said. The network has called for more research into the factors behind the increase as well as to examine how girls were viewed by boys.

Ms Saidléar said that the growing sexualisation of culture and the normalisation of pornography was a concern. “There must be a realisation that children can also be perpetrators as well as victims when it comes to sexual offences. What might have been classified as sexual experimentation in the past can constitute sexual abuse,” she said.



HSE seeks tenders for half a million condoms as response to STD crisis

Tenders are being sought from firms to provide 500,000 HSE branded condoms and 250,000 branded lubrication packets as part of ongoing efforts by the executive to prevent unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It is planned that the condoms and lubricants will be given out free across the country to at-risk population groups as part of the HSE’s National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 -2020.

HSE records show that sexually transmitted disease notifications increased by 279 per cent from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 while HIV cases increased to over 500 in 2016. The 2016 total for new HIV cases was the highest number since records began. Last year saw an 11 per cent increase in cases of sexually transmitted infections in the 15 to 24 year old age bracket, increasing from 4,677 to 5,200 with chlamydia making up 50 per cent of cases.


ICGP will NOT campaign for repeal of the pro-life amendment

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) have vowed to remain neutral in the upcoming referendum to repeal the 8th amednemnt and pave the way for widespread abortion. In a letter to members yesterday, ICGP chair Dr. John Gillman said that the ICGP would “not have a formal position” in relation to the referendum, and would support the right of individual members to take their own position.

The move was welcomed by Savethe8th, a group campaigning for a NO vote in the forthcoming referendum. Their spokeswoman Niamh UiBhriain said: “The decision from the ICGP not to endorse a YES vote in the referendum on repeal is significant and welcome. In recent days and weeks we have seen increasing concern from doctors, both those who oppose this proposal on principle, and the significant number who see it as simply unworkable”.

She added: “For months now, supporters of Repeal have tried to present medical opinions on the referendum as uniform. They are not. In the coming months, we are glad that those many doctors with serious concerns about the Governments proposal will have the support of the ICGP if they wish to make their views known. This is a good day for those of us who want a fair and open debate”.

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