5-dec

Katherine Zappone has suggested she is in favour of replacing the Eighth Amendment with a “radical” plan to enshrine a woman’s right to choose in the constitution.

The minister for children and youth affairs said she was concerned that a foetus could still have constitutional rights that would block an abortion, even after a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

The government is seeking to appeal against a High Court ruling from July which suggested that the constitutional rights of unborn children extend beyond the right to life. The court suggested that a constitutional reference to the state’s duty to protect “all children” could also refer to a foetus. The ruling has led to suggestions that even if the Eighth Amendment was repealed, a foetus would still be entitled to some rights under the Irish constitution.

The judgment was made in the case of a Nigerian man who was facing deportation. The man and his partner, who was pregnant at the time, secured an injunction on his deportation after the court ruled that the couple’s unborn baby was also entitled to rights and a legal position.

Speaking at the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s Femfest event for young women on Friday, Ms Zapppone said: “We don’t want anything in our constitution that has to do with abortion. But we might want to put something in there that says something about women’s right to their health, to their autonomy and to their self-determination.

“Talk about radical. Because as you probably know, There are currently senior counsel and legal folks who are arguing on both sides of this that if we got rid of [the Eighth Amendment] there are still implicit constitutional rights that could block women’s access to abortion.”

She added that her instinct was to support taking all reference to terminating pregnancies out of the constitution and legalising access to abortion through legislation but that a new amendment should be considered.

Ms Zappone was forced to defend her position after she was heavily criticised by pro-choice campaigners for supporting Enda Kenny’s plans to consider abortion through a citizens’ assembly rather than the Oireachtas. Earlier this year the first-time independent TD voted with the government against a bill which would have legalised abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, which she had supported when she was an independent senator. She also voted against an Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit bill calling for a referendum in October.

Ms Zappone said that she did not believe that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment would win if it was held ahead of the citizens’ assembly completing its work. The assembly, led by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, met on November 26 to begin examining whether the constitutional ban on abortion needs to be repealed and will also meet over three more weekends in January, February and March. At the end of the fourth weekend, assembly members will vote on what their recommendations to the Oireachtas will be.

If the assembly decides to recommend a referendum, it could recommend replacing the Eighth Amendment with another addition to the constitution, or granting legal access to abortion in specific circumstances through legislation alone.

Various opinion polls have suggested that most people support legal access to abortion on grounds of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ms Zappone said that she did not want victims of sexual crime to have to go through an arduous process to access an abortion. “I would be in favour of legislation that doesn’t name rape and incest or circumstances or conditions. Because they’d have to prove it. We know what women now have to go through to demonstrate or prove that they were raped, we don’t need that in our legislation,” she said.

The Independent Alliance ministers have threatened government stability twice over the issue of abortion by demanding a free vote on two bills. In a thinly veiled reference to Shane Ross, John Halligan and Finian McGrath, Ms Zappone said she had been the only one to raise the issue of the Eighth Amendment during government formation talks. “Many of my colleagues who were around the table weren’t that keen, but they had to agree to it because I said I wouldn’t stay if they wouldn’t agree to at least that,” she said.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/ireland/abortion-rights-could-be-put-in-constitution-n2dhp5m58

Source: The Times UK