TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar says he still has concerns about suicide being included as grounds for abortion and there will need to be a "wall of safeguards".

His comments come in the wake of a poll showing eight out of 10 people support legislation for the X-Case ruling on abortion.

Fine Gael has also suffered a dramatic dive in support on the back of the botched handling of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy.

Mr Varadkar also lashed out at pro-choice "extremists" as he said the majority of people do not want abortion on demand.

The minister repeated his call for the Government to consider holding a referendum on abortion, despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruling it out.

Full article by Fionnan Sheahan here

THE ABORTION BILL put forward by Clare Daly was defeated by a remarkable 101 votes to 27 last week, despite the blustering showboating of many TDs following the death of Savita Halappanavar.

We need legislation to allow Irish doctors to make confident decisions on the care of their patients; there’s no getting around that. Our public representatives are aware of that. The question, really, is not if legislation will be enacted, but when. Ireland’s politicians will dither, waffle on about the need for reflection, and hop from foot to foot wringing their hands, their delaying the inevitable conveniently acting as a sort of political appeasement to those who would oppose the legislation.

In short, they’ll sit on the fence up to the point where they can claim they only moved because they were pushed off.

And this is for medically-necessary abortion: termination in cases where pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, including by risk of suicide. Many of those who are advocating abortion legislation stress this. Medically-necessary. Extreme situations. Last resorts. Abortion-on-demand, we are told, is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Even the term is loaded, isn’t it? Abortion-on-demand. It suggests unreasonable women stamping their feet until they get their own way, abortion as another facet of a culture of insufferable entitlement. Its structure dissuades objection, but all the same it begs the question: what’s so terrible about abortion-on-demand?

You might be aware that Labour TDs including myself, did not support Clare Daly’s billon the X case last night. As your TD, I want to explain why I voted No.

In order to succeed in getting legislation for the X case, I, as a legislator, have to work with the reality of the political games that are being played in order to get X case legislation passed into law.

Fine Gael, Labour’s coalition partners would not support Clare Daly’s bill. I believe that Labour Ministers suggested to them that they should support it. But they did not wish to do so – they want to wait to debate the Expert Group Report which has been published recently. This is because Fine Gael and Labour agreed on the Expert Group process a year ago.

Fine Gael now want to see that through. It is clear on reading the Expert Group
report that the Expert Group believes legislation for the X case and regulations for doctors, is the way forward on this matter.

Fine Gael are a very conservative political party. They do not really want legislation. Labour will have to force them to support legislation.

Full letter here

When I argued a case challenging Ireland's ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights in 2009, I told the story of my client, "Ms. C," who had been battling cancer when she became pregnant. Ms. C's doctors in Ireland, where abortion is illegal and lifesaving abortion is largely unavailable, refused to provide her with even basic information about the risk that continuation of pregnancy posed to her life, and so she had no option but to travel to England to obtain an abortion.

The human rights court found this to be a clear violation of my client's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and in 2010 demanded that Ireland reform its abortion laws. The case was considered a major victory for women.

But the victory exists only on paper, as is clear from the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar. Last month Halappanavar, 31, died from a pregnancy-related blood infection after doctors in Ireland refused to perform an abortion. According to her husband, as Halappanavar's health deteriorated, she had begged doctors for medically necessary treatment. Even after her doctors acknowledged that there was no chance her fetus would survive, they refused to terminate the pregnancy as long as they could detect even the faintest fetal heartbeat. Halappanavar slipped into a coma from which she never recovered.

Full article by Julie F. Kay here
THE expert group has confirmed the obvious. Legislation with regulations represents the best way to implement the European Court of Human Rights ABC judgment. It is "constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound". Primary legislation would provide for the drafting of regulations to deal with detailed matters such as changing medical practices. The legislation would also repeal or amend the 1861 Act which criminalises abortion in this country.

The report helpfully sets out a blueprint for Government as to the content of legislation to clarify the X case test. It addresses key issues, including the specific risk of suicide, by saying a psychiatrist could be required to assess this. As Minister for Justice Alan Shatter confirmed yesterday, it would be legally impossible to legislate without including suicide risk. The X case test was confirmed by the people in two referendums in 1992 and 2002. You can't legislate for a bit of that test – it would be like being 'a bit' pregnant.

Despite this, anti-abortion activists have argued against legislating for suicide risk. They say it will lead to 'abortion on demand'. This is legally wrong. The Supreme Court test for 'real and substantial risk to life' arising from risk of suicide is far stricter than the 'mental health' ground for abortion under the British 1967 Act, to which anti-abortion activists refer.

In making this argument, activists display a dismissive attitude to mental health, downplaying the horrific incidence of suicide in Ireland and suggesting suicide risk is not a 'real risk' to life. The argument is profoundly demeaning to women – implying we will be queuing up for abortions by pretending to be suicidal. It also demeans psychiatrists, by suggesting they could be so easily fooled.

In fact, as the report says: "The diagnosis of expressed suicide intent is a routine process for psychiatrists."

Another issue addressed by the report is that of time limits. Anti-abortion activists have engaged in unsavoury scaremongering, suggesting that legislating for the X case would mean carrying out abortions 'up to term'. The report clearly states that where a woman has a pregnancy that places her life at risk, and her foetus is viable, the pregnancy can be ended without ending the life of the foetus; early delivery of the baby may be possible with subsequent neonatal care.

These and other issues addressed in the report will be debated by the Oireachtas over the next three weeks, and the Government will then announce its decision before the Christmas recess. This clear timeline for action is very welcome.

Over many years, Labour has consistently called for legislation on the X case. The decision to legislate is the only one that Government can now make, in light of the expert group's findings. Public opinion is with us.

The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar has generated national outrage, with thousands of people calling for legislative action on protests around the country. Twenty years after the X case, the Government must legislate to clarify the 'grey area' of abortion law that continues to risk the lives of women. It is just a pity it has taken so long.

It is also a pity that fatal foetal abnormality is not covered in the report. Earlier this year, we heard the testimonies of four women who had to travel to England for terminations after being told their babies would not survive. It is inhumane to require women to travel abroad in such traumatic circumstances. It should be possible within the terms of the Constitution to legislate for abortion where there is no viable foetal life.

Ultimately, it is not possible under the Constitution to legislate properly for the real health needs of Irish women. Women are voting with their feet. Over 4,000 women travelled from here to England last year for abortions, most on grounds other than risk to life.

The flawed wording of the 1983 amendment, which equates the right to life of the 'unborn' with that of the pregnant woman, has created the legal quagmire we are in; and has prevented the introduction of legislation to meet the needs of these women.

That amendment should be deleted ultimately. For now, we must act swiftly and pass the X case legislation necessary to fulfil our international responsibilities, provide legal clarity and prevent further uncertainty for doctors and women. No more inaction. We know that it costs lives.

Ivana Bacik

Fine Gael TDs must back legislation to deal with the European Court of Human Rights ruling that pregnant Irish women need certainty about legal abortion rights in Ireland, or else lose the party whip, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Speaking in Cardiff, he said the party had very clear rules on this. “People who are elected to the party that I lead ... act and vote in accordance with party decisions. And that is the way that it will be,” he said.

On what needs to be done now he said: “We are dealing with a very different generation of politicians, our country has moved to a different space, there are clearly very strongly-held views,” said Mr Kenny.

“The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done here, but they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country,” he went on.


TV3 PLANS TO broadcast a debate on the issue of abortion tomorrow night.

Among the speakers will be writers for the Irish Times and Irish Independent, as well as a patron of the Iona Institute and a Labour Senator.

Arguing against legislating for the X Case will be:

  • Breda O’Brien, Patron of the Iona Institute and columnist with the Irish Times
  • William Binchy, Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College & Legal Advisor to the pro-life campaign
Arguing in favour of legislating for the X Case will be:

  • Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Affairs Editor at the Irish Independent
  • Ivana Bacik, Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Trinity College
The debate will be pre-recorded at 8pm and broadcast at 10pm on TV3.

The debate comes the same day that the Expert Group report on the A, B and C case is presented to Cabinet. Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, will present the report tomorrow. According to what has been seen in purportedly leaked copies, the report puts forward a number of recommendations, including primary legislation; the issuing of guidelines without primary legislation; legislation alone; or legislation plus regulations.

The government will put an Action Plan to the Council of Europe on the issue on 30 November.


We'll probably be live tweeting it over at @SavitasLaws, see you there?

Click here to RSVP to the event on Facebook. 

What: Protest at the Dail @ 7pm
Why: The Government is set to debate the Expert Group recommendations - we will be streaming audio live outside. 
How: As before, people will gather. Most likely we'll have some opening speeches, then we'll simmer down for the Dail debate, then we'll have closing statements.

What's different: As we're going to spend some time listening to the debate, bring camping chairs / a flask of tea/coffee to keep warm, and be sure to wrap up. 

Do you know any street vendors?

It's going to be a busy winter's night on the street, people would probably love to buy some grub, or at the very least some tea and coffee - if you know street vendors (with the relevant licences) please let them know they'll have a really large captive market on hand to buy their warm food and drinks.

The Government has been told in the expert group report that the State is under a legal obligation to establish "effective and accessible" procedures so that women who are "legitimately entitled" can have an abortion in Ireland.

The Sunday Independent has seen a full copy of the expert report that was given to the Cabinet late last week and is due to be published on Tuesday.

The report suggests it will be necessary to repeal the 1861 statute governing abortion, which it believes has a "chilling effect" on the treatment of pregnant woman in Irish hospitals.

The top-secret report was commissioned from an expert group following a European Court of Human Rights finding that an Irish citizen's rights were violated because of the absence of procedures to establish if she qualified for a lawful abortion.

The report was compiled before the Savita Halappanavar tragedy -- which is continuing to cause a political and public furore.

The expert group report, compiled by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, is likely to lead to a political firestorm.

Among the findings are:

- The State is obliged to provide procedures to establish a woman's right to an abortion as well as access to such treatments.

- In the case of a risk to the mother it must establish criteria or procedures by which a doctor is to assess that risk; and set up an independent review system where a patient disputes her doctor's refusal to certify that she is entitled to a lawful abortion and where there is a disagreement between doctors as to whether one is necessary.

Though the expert group is circumscribed, by its terms of reference, from making specific recommendations, the full unexpurgated report clearly indicates that legislation is the only appropriate response to the challenges posed by the X and C cases.

The report notes that while the State "is entitled to and indeed obliged to regulate and monitor" the rights of the unborn, it must ensure that "measures that are introduced to give effect to this constitutional right should not act as an obstacle to any woman who is legitimately entitled to seek a termination on lawful grounds".

It then gives the Government a complex list of options for creating a panel to decide such issues.

"The diagnosis of the medical specialists as to whether the woman satisfies the test in the X Case should be made expeditiously/or within a defined time limit and should be formally notified to the woman," it says.

The report also recommends that the Government must make provision for emergencies and disputes and measures to protect medical personnel involved.

"If a doctor carries out a termination in circumstances where the risk to life of the woman is imminent and inevitable rather than real and substantial, he/she should not have any liability because of the failure to follow prescribed procedures."

The Government has also been told to select locations where abortions may take place and taking into account "standards, geographical access and the need to have due regard to the right to the life of the unborn". Such centres should be certified by the Health Minister.

The report also confirms that, when it comes to concerns about suicide, in the wake of the X Case, "termination of pregnancy should be considered a medical treatment regardless of whether the risk to the woman arises on physical or mental health grounds.

"Ultimately, the most politically contentious aspect of the report is likely to be its analysis of whether non-statutory guidelines on the rights of a woman to an abortion in Irish hospitals, or a legislative response, will meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights," it says.

It warns that while consideration was given to the possibility of implementing the judgement without recourse to legislation, it is unlikely that "guidelines in isolation" or "some non-statutory protocols" would "fulfil all the requirements set by the European Court of Human Rights judgement."

OPINION: The Government needs to introduce robust legislation that provides clarity for women facing health risks

When I argued a case challenging Ireland’s ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), I told the story of my client Ms C, who had been battling cancer and had had no option but to travel to England to obtain an abortion when she became pregnant.

Ms C’s doctors had refused to provide even basic information about the risk that continuation of pregnancy posed to her life. The human rights court found this to be a clear violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. It demanded that Ireland reform its abortion laws. The case was a major victory for women’s health and rights.

But the victory exists only on paper and not in practice, as is strongly indicated by the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar.