Belfast Telegraph

Refusal of anti-abortion advocates to attend committee 'very regrettable'

The refusal of certain anti-abortion advocates to appear before an Oireachtas committee examining the Eighth Amendment is "very regrettable", its chairwoman has said.

Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone conceded that the committee was struggling to secure witnesses who were opposed to changing the constitutional position on terminations.

Her remarks came after a second witness declined an invite, suggesting the committee had already adopted a pro-choice position.

Last month, a majority of committee members voted that the Eighth Amendment - which recognises the unborn child's right to life - should not be retained in full.

The decision not to attend by US expert Martin McCaffrey, a professor of paediatrics at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, came after anti-abortion campaign group Both Lives Matter also turned down an invite.

The committee is examining evidence on the controversial issue ahead of next summer's referendum on the future of the Eighth Amendment.

The existing amendment to the constitution affords equal rights to pregnant women and unborn children. Added to the constitution in 1983, the amendment recognises an unborn child's right to life.

Terminations are currently only permitted when the life of the mother is at risk and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison.

Thousands of Irish women travel across the Irish Sea to Great Britain every year to have a legal abortion.

At the start of Wednesday's committee hearing, Ms Noone said the potential witnesses who declined invites were of the view that their attendance was "not worthwhile" given the committee's vote.

She stressed that the committee had not voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, only that it should not be retained in full.

"It is a pity that we have not heard legal and medical argument that would be different from what we have heard to date," she said.

"The opportunity is still there to suggest particular witnesses to come before us but there is a struggle in getting certain sides of the argument to attend this committee and I think that that is regrettable - very, very regrettable."

There were heated exchanges around the committee table after Ms Noone made her remarks.

Independent senator Ronan Mullen claimed the committee had "impugned its own credibility" with the vote.

"I think there is a clear question mark in the public mind as to why this committee didn't wait to hear from all witnesses before moving ahead with a very substantial recommendation about what the future of Ireland's abortion law should be," he said.

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