Abortion committee hears Eighth Amendment should be repealed - and not replaced

The committee heard that retaining any part of the amendment will be no help to vulnerable women

Northern Ireland, abortion, human rights, law, Stormont, Belfast High Court

A general view of Belfast High Court | Image: Paul Faith / PA Archive/PA Images

The Oireachtas abortion committee has heard that medics need the Eighth Amendment to be repealed - and not replaced.

The cross-party group has been hearing about risks to the mental health of pregnant women this afternoon.

Previously the committee voted not to retain the Eighth Amendment in full - however, it could yet recommend that the amendment be changed or replaced.

Consultant Psychiatrist Veronica O'Kane warned that retaining part of the amendment will be no help to vulnerable women:

“Any sort of legislation, I think, within a very unyielding constitutional framework is not going to be appropriate to the sort of medical care that is practiced,” she said.

“It doesn’t allow for unforeseeable circumstances either – and good care cannot be dictated by exceptions.”

She said the Eighth Amendment is damaging the mental health of the Irish people, noting that 16% of pregnant Irish women are diagnosed with depression, slightly above the EU norm:

“We are actually creating – we are creating – suicidal women,” she said.

“We are creating desperate women by this constitutional clamp.

“I wonder would we have as many difficulties and so many tragedies in relation to abortion if we did not have this clamp.

“Would situations escalate so quickly? I don’t think they would.”

She said mental health difficulties associated with the amendment do not extend solely to women who need abortion care.

“I would go further than this and say that the mental health of everybody in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment because we are all shamed by the current situation,” she said.

Fatal foetal abnormalities

The committee has also been hearing from parents whose unborn children had fatal foetal abnormalities.

Gerry Edwards, spokesperson for Termination For Medical Reasons (TFMR) Ireland said mothers facing the toughest situation should have access to safe and legal abortion services.

He told the committee his own experience of travelling to the UK with his wife for a termination after their baby was found to have a fatal abnormality:

“At times when we were experiencing our most intense grief, we found ourselves in another country,” he said. “Often having left Ireland in secret; feeling like medical refugees.”

“We were abandoned by Ireland; by the State and by its people. We were isolated from our family and friends we were separated from the medical team who looked after us up to that point.”

Pregnancy following rape

Meanwhile, the medical director of the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit at the Rotunda Hospital warned against creating a clause where victims of sexual crime would have to qualify to access abortion.

Dr Maeve Eogan warned that there is no conclusive test that women who are pregnant after rape could – or indeed should – be subjected to.