Government decision on ABC Expert Group option

The Government has today announced its decision on the form of action to be taken in the light of the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in A,B and C v Ireland. Having considered the report of the of the Expert Group on the judgment in A, B and C v Ireland the Government has decided that the implementation of this judgement by way of legislation with regulations offers the most appropriate method for dealing with the issue.

The drafting of legislation, supported by regulations, will be within the parameters of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case. It was also agreed to make appropriate amendments to the criminal law in this area.

The Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children will hold hearings on this matter next month. The Government has also decided that the drafting of the Heads of a General Scheme of a Bill will be take place in the wake of those hearings. After the completion of Draft Heads of a Bill there will be comprehensive debate in the Oireachtas and beyond before the Bill and regulations are finalised.

The legislation should provide the clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy.

The Government has also noted and agreed to the request from the Health Minister Dr James Reilly for further decisions at a later stage related to policy matters that will inform the drafting of the legislation.

It is important to note therefore that the significance of today’s decision involves the Government selecting the form of the response to the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. Much further work will be required in drafting the legislation and further decisions of government will be required to inform the detail of the legislation and the regulations.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting, Minister Reilly said he was very conscious of the sensitivities around the issue. “I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfill our duty of care towards them. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.”

The Minister went on to say that “today the Government has decided the form of action to be taken. We will not preempt the debate that must follow by speculating on details to be decided later in the process.”

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