Publication of the Report of the Expert Group on the judgment in A, B and C v Ireland

The Government yesterday published the Report of the Expert Group on
the judgment in A, B and C v Ireland. This report provides background
information on the topic of termination of pregnancy in Ireland, and
sets out options for the implementation of the European Court of Human
Rights judgment in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

On foot of the judgment, and to fulfil a commitment included in the
Programme for Government, the Government established an Expert Group
to make recommendations on how this matter should be properly
addressed. The terms of reference of the Group were as follows:

To examine the A, B and C v Ireland judgment of the European Court
of Human Rights.
To elucidate its implications for the provision of health care
services to pregnant women in Ireland.
To recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment
taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical, and ethical
considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this
area and the over-riding need for speedy action.

The Expert Group was made up of experts in the fields of obstetrics,
psychiatry, general practice, law, professional regulation and public
policy. It was chaired by a judge of the High Court, Honourable
Justice Mr. Sean Ryan. The Report is available on the Department of
Health Website at http://www.dohc.ie/publications/Judgement_ABC.html

Key Points made by Minister Reilly re publication of Expert Group Report:
·        The Government will make a decision before the end of
December on which option (from the report) to implement. There will be
three days of hearings at the Oireachtas Health Committee in early
January before the Dáil resumes and then we will seek to implement the
decision of the Government as quickly as possible (early in the new
year). So this issue will not be allowed drag on.
·        The only decision that Cabinet has made today is to publish
the report, which I think is welcome. I think it is an important step
along the road to giving clarity to the women of Ireland of what
service is available to them in this country and how to access that
service and to the people who must provide the service also.
·        (On difficulties in getting support for option adopted?) Well
I think that is an integral part of what this process is about; is to
allow people time for debate. I think we are very clear at Govt and
the Taoiseach is particularly clear that everybody should have an
opportunity to contribute to this debate, every single member of the
Houses of Parliament, of the Oireachtas here in Dáil Eireann. So I
think that that will be accommodated and that will allow people come
to their own conclusions. I know there is a lot of people that hold
very firm views in relation to this and have certain issues of
conscience and we need time to allow people consider the report and
consider what the best way forward is.
·        As the Taoiseach has said many times, this is a different
generation of politicians and the country is now in a different place
than it was 20 odd years ago. So I think we need to reflect that in
our deliberations. But I think it would be wrong, if I may say so, to
pre-empt the outcome of the debate which is there to inform the Govt
decision.
·        (On suggestions of another referendum) The Govt today made
absolutely no reference to any referendum.
·        (Could there be conscience exemptions for those medical
personnel who didn’t want to take part in abortions?) Well I think the
Medical Council guidelines already allows for this but it is very
clear that in a situation where you feel this is a matter of
conscience and you can’t proceed, that you should hand the care of the
patient over to somebody else and do so expeditiously. Obviously that
is all the more important when it is an acute situation. But if it is
a more, shall we say, planned situation, then always you are expected
to refer the patient on to another doctor for a second opinion and
transfer all the notes and information along with the patient.

Speaking Points
Yesterday the Government decided the following:
* To publish the report of the Expert Group – it is available to be
seen on the website of the Department of Health:
http://www.dohc.ie/press/releases/2012/20121127.html
* To commence debate on the report in the Dáil next week
* The Government will decide what course of action to take before the
end of next month
* The matter will be referred to the Oireachtas Health Committee for
three days in early January before the Dail resumes

Speaking on Morning Ireland this morning, Minister Alan Shatter made
the following points:

This Govt is committed to doing what no other Govt has done since
article 40.3.3 of the Constitution first came into affect
The provision in our Constitution must be addressed
Following on from the publication of the report of the Expert
Group, the Govt will make a decision on the option to be implemented
to ensure that our human rights obligations are fulfilled
Debate will take place in the Dáil next week
Clarity will now be put in place
The Expert Group set out  a number of possible ways to deal with
this, setting out the advantages and disadvantages of each option
Q: Is the legal solution not the slippery slope to liberalisation?
We are guided by the provision in Constitution and The Supreme Court
decision from 20 years ago that decided that where there is a threat
of suicide to the mother a termination can be carried out
Two further referenda rejected attempts to remove the threat of
suicide as an issue, being turned down on both occasions when it was
put to the people (1992 and again in 2002)
Suicide is important issue. If this issue related to the listeners
daughter/niece would they do nothing or would they want to ensure that
action was taken to protect that life
Q: Can we leave it out (suicide)? No, it is not an option to leave it out
The Supreme Court and other relevant litigation puts the onus on
us to deal with the issue
There is no possibility of the Govt introducing abortion on
demand. Legal provision will not be provided for this
In incidents where a woman has been raped but is not suicidal;
this is not a matter the Govt can address
In incidents of foetal abnormalities; many believe that it would
be appropriate to terminate but under our Constitutional provisions
terminations cannot take place. These are issue which the Govt cannot
address

Further information:
A, B and C v Ireland Case
In December 2009 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard a
case brought by three women in respect of the alleged breach of their
rights
under the European Convention on Human Rights in regard to
abortion in Ireland (the A, B and C v Ireland case). All of the
applicants were women who unintentionally became pregnant and who
travelled to the UK for abortions.

The A, B and C v Ireland Judgment
The judgment of the Court confirms that Article 40.3.3 of the
Constitution is not inconsistent with the European Convention on Human
Rights. The Court accepted that Article 40.3.3 of the Irish
Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case,
provides that it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland if it
is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and
substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the
mother, which can only avoided by a termination of the pregnancy. This
has not been altered by this judgment. The Court dismissed the
applications of Ms A and Ms B finding that there had been no violation
of their rights under the Convention.

In the case of the third applicant, Ms C, the Court found that
Ireland had failed to respect the applicant’s private life contrary to
Article 8 of the Convention, as there was no accessible and effective
procedure to enable her to establish whether she qualified for a
lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with Irish law. The
Court ruled that “no criteria or procedures have been… laid down in
Irish law… by which that risk is to be measured or determined,
leading to uncertainty…” and held that further legal clarity was
required.

Judgment of Court is Binding
Ireland has signed and ratified the European Convention on Human
Rights, article 46 of which states that signatories agree to abide by
any judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties.
Ireland is therefore under a legal obligation to implement the
judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in A, B and C v
Ireland.

Monitoring Process
Supervision of Ireland’s execution of the judgment falls to the
Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Ireland has already
submitted two reports to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of
Europe (in June 2011 and January 2012). A further action plan in this
regard is due to be submitted by the end of November 2012.