Citizens Assembly hears from advocacy groups

17 groups representing both sides on the Eight Amendment are making presentations today

Citizens Assembly hears from advocacy groups

Chairperson and Justice of the Supreme Court Mary Laffoy addressing the inaugural meeting of the Citizens' Assembly in Dublin Castle | Image: Rollingnews.ie

The Citizens Assembly is continuing to hear opposing views on the issue of abortion today, with 17 advocacy and representative groups are outlining their opinions.

The presentations are part of this weekend's extended discussions on the issue of the Eighth Amendment and the constitutional restrictions on abortion.

The group of 99 citizens is due to make a recommendation to the Oireachtas next month on the future of Ireland's abortion law, and this weekend will be the last occasion for the members of the assembly to discuss as a group the issues that have been raised in previous sessions. 

Yesterday, the assembly heard emotional testimonies from six women who had personal experiences with abortion. They heard that two of the women discovered their babies had life-limiting foetal abnormalities, with one woman informed that her baby would not survive in the womb past 17 weeks.

She explained how she was made to carry through with the pregnancy, against her wishes: “They (the doctors) told me that as long as there was a heartbeat, they couldn’t induce me. They made me feel like my life didn’t matter, that my life was the same as my unviable baby."

Another woman spoke of her experience of having to take out a loan in order to travel to Liverpool to terminate her pregnancy, which she felt she was mentally and financially incapable for.

“They ship you across the Irish Sea and let others deal with your mistake. Even though you know you are doing the right thing, you are still ashamed. I don’t think that is right.”

Varied advocacy groups 

Chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy acknowledged in her opening statement this morning that although the sitting had been extended to accommodate 17 groups she was aware that others are frustrated that they are not presenting.

Citizens heard this morning from Dr Orla Halpenny from Doctors for Life. She said that she believes there are no clinical reasons to put one life before another except in the case of an emergency.

"In pregnancy there are two patients, and with the exception of a medical emergency that threatens the life of the mother, there are no clinical reasons to put one life before the other."

Citizens also heard from Professor Veronica O'Keane. from Doctors for Choice who criticized the 8th Amendment: "The presence of the 8th Amendment does do harm, it does significant harm not only to the mothers but also to babies or to children who might be born from unwanted pregnancies," she said.

She also said that Ireland's history shows that lack of abortion can lead to tragedies for women and children.

American Pro-Life Campaigner Rebecca Kiessling told the assmebly that she was conceived as a result of rape and said that that “sex traffickers and child molesters love abortion” because it “destroys evidence”.

The majority of Kiessling’s presentation differed from the script she had submitted to the assembly in advance.

Kiessling also spoke of graphic descriptions of terminations, quoting US doctor Anthony Levatino, who also presented before the Citizens’ Assembly on behalf of Women Hurt, a group which represents women who regret their abortions.

Many members of the public watching the online live stream of the presentations commented on the fact that a male doctor was speaking on behalf of Women Hurt, rather than a personal story from a woman who regretted her abortion.

Ms Annie Hoey, of Union of Students in Ireland, responded to a question about Dr Levatino's graphic descriptions of abortion procedures, calling them "an attempt to frighten people and cause upset."

'Abortion is a human rights issue'

Pro Life Campaign, Amnesty International, The Iona Institute and the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment are presenting their views in the current session.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign and Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International have been giving opposing opinions, with Colm O'Gorman telling the assembly that "'women and girls have a human right to access safe and legal abortions."

The fifth and final session this afternoon will see presentations from the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, Atheist Ireland and The General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

You can watch the remaining proceedings live here.