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Committee to extend consideration of Ireland's abortion laws

A special committee set up to deliberate on Ireland's strict abortion regime is to extend its considerations.

The Citizens' Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 members of the public chaired by a Supreme Court Judge, is examining the Eighth Amendment to the Republic's Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and to the unborn child.

It was originally envisaged the highly divisive abortion issue would be explored over four weekend sessions of the Assembly.

At the close of the January meeting in Malahide on the outskirts of Dublin, chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said members had agreed to timetable an additional weekend to examine the Eighth Amendment.

The Assembly is hearing evidence in public sessions from a wide range of experts and interest groups and also has been deluged with in excess of 13,500 submissions on the topic.

Judge Laffoy said the extra weekend would not impact her intention of handing a report to the Irish parliament in the first half of the year.

"By taking one further weekend I am confident we will be best placed to reach our conclusions," she said.

"This additional weekend will not affect my commitment to complete the report in respect of the Eighth Amendment within the first half of 2017.

"In the coming weekends we will look at a wide range of issues including the complex and difficult area of rape, both from a medical and legal perspective. We will also look at the availability of legal terminations in other jurisdictions and learn more about the UK regime. We will also look at the regulation of the medical profession and issues arising including conscientious objection.

"We will also hear the personal stories of women in crisis pregnancy. We will hear of their experiences to allow the members to hear first-hand about how the matters we are discussing at these weekend effect women and their families."

Abortion law is only one of several topics the assembly is examining but by far the most divisive.

Ireland's strict ban on abortion was clarified in 2014 to allow for a termination if the mother's life is at risk, including from suicide.

But there are growing campaigns for women to be allowed access to abortion if their unborn child child is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or in cases of rape and incest.

The 99 members of the assembly were chosen at random from around Ireland and their views on abortion were not known in advance.

In Ireland, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide.

The procedure can involve a medical or surgical termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section to deliver the baby.

Figures from the Health Service Executive showed 26 terminations were carried out under the legislation in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.

In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.

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