On Wednesday 13 December, the Joint Oireachtas Committee voted on what they wanted to recommend to the government. The voting process was a bit complicated, and there was some confusion after it finished as to what had been voted on and what had been passed.
The draft report was leaked yesterday (14 December), and it more or less summarises the outcome of the votes below.
Here is an outline of the votes:
1. Repeal Simpliciter (PASSED)
First up was a vote on whether the committee would recommend a simple repeal of the 8th amendment, or if they would vote to replace the 8th with a different amendment allowing abortion on specific grounds. The motion was passed, which effectively meant that the Committee voted to remove article 40.3.3 of the constitution (which is the same as “repeal the 8th”)
2. No term limits if risk to health (PASSED)
This motion began the discussion on the specific grounds on which abortion would be accessible and legal in Ireland. It addressed the issue of risk to life and health, and stated that no distinction be drawn between mental and physical health. This motion also stated that the committee would not recommend specific gestation limits (time limits, like 12 weeks, 22 weeks etc) but would rely on best medical practice to guide legislation, reflecting the difficulties in being able to change laws to catch up to changes in medical technology.
It also stated that assessments for abortion in this case should be carried out by at least 2 specialist doctors.
This motion was passed. This effectively meant that the Committee had adopted the first 8 recommendation of the citizens assembly, without stating a gestational time limit.
3. Removal of risk of suicide as grounds (FAILED)
This was a proposed amendment to the above vote. It proposed removing the risk of suicide as a grounds for accessing abortion. This failed by a large majority. The Irish state has twice asked the Irish public to vote on the issue, and both time the public voted to recognise the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion. By defeating this motion, the Committee voted to uphold the will of the Irish public
4. If serious risk to mental health (PASSED)
There was a separate vote on the earlier “risk to health” vote, focusing on the “risk to mental health” part, as some members wished to vote on this issue separately. The motion was passed.
5. Risk to health to include socio-economic reasons (FAILED)
This motion was to include socio-economic reasons under the health ground voted on in motion 2. This was not the vote on the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation to allow abortion for socio-economic reason, but rather was a proposed amendment that would specifically state that doctors could consider a woman’s socio-economic situation when considering her health and wellbeing.
This motion narrowly failed. The matter was discussed again as its own separate ground later in the day.
6. If any risk to health (PASSED)
Like vote 4, this was a separate vote on the earlier “risk to health” vote, as some members wished to vote on this issue separately. The motion was passed.
7. Up to 12 weeks unrestricted (PASSED)
This motion was an amendment to the citizens assembly recommendation that abortion should be available to those who were pregnant as a result of rape. This confused many people, because they did not know if the Committee were voting to allow abortion up to 12 weeks ONLY in cases of rape, or if they were voting for abortion up to 12 weeks, without restriction as to reason, for anyone who requests an abortion.
This motion acknowledged that the best way to ensure that victims of rape and incest can access abortion in reality, is to allow abortion up to 12 weeks, unrestricted for all women.
When discussing the delivery of these services, Deputy Lisa Chambers (FF) said that allowing GPs to prescribe abortion pills would ensure that those who used them have access to medical support and oversight. It was also agreed that abortion pills should be used in other clinical settings.
It is important to note, that while rape and incest were central to the decision to allow abortion up to 12 weeks, this motion is to recommend abortion to be available to all pregnant people up to 12 weeks, without restriction. This is not a “rape exemption”. This is access for all women on request up to 12 weeks.
8. In case of fatal foetal abnormality without term limits (PASSED)
The committee discussed the Citizens Assembly recommendation for allowing access to abortion in cases of foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth. This would mean that those families that receive a fatal foetal diagnosis during a pregnancy would be able to access abortion, without a gestational limit (weeks of pregnancy).
The testimony of members of TFMR, who spoke to the Committee, was very impactful in this case.
The motion passed with a large majority, including the Chair, who abstained from many other votes.
9. In case of non fatal abnormality (without limits) (FAILED)
10. In case of non fatal abnormality (FAILED)
The committee next discussed the Citizens Assembly recommendation that abortion be available in cases of “significant foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth”, without gestational limits, and subsequently discussed it again with limits.
Neither motion passed, and it was the first time that the Committee significantly moved from the recommendation of the Citizens Assembly.
11. Socio-economic reasons, after consulting a doctor (FAILED)
12. Socio-economic reasons (FAILED)
The committee moved on to the recommendation that socio-economic grounds be a stand alone reason to access abortion care, as determined by a woman and her doctor. As discussed above, this was narrowly defeated when a motion was put forward to consider it under health grounds. This motion also did not pass.
This was the second major point where the Committee deviated from the Citizens Assembly recommendations.
13. Up to 22 Weeks, unrestricted (FAILED)
This motion proposed that abortion should be available without restriction up to 22 weeks, to encompass all those who are not provided for in the 12-week time frame and will now not be able to access abortion care for non-fatal foetal abnormalities or socio-economic reasons. This motion did not pass.
14. Decriminalisation if self procured or administered by a doctor (PASSED)
With all of the Citizens Assembly recommendations voted on, the Committee moved on the ancillary recommendations of the Citizens Assembly report. These were issues that were not addressed in the initial vote but that the citizens felt strongly needed to be addressed.
On the subject of decriminalisation, the Committee made two recommendations:
- That licensed medical professionals carrying out terminations or prescribing abortion pills according to medical regulations not be criminalised.
- That any woman who has an abortion will not be criminalised, no matter the circumstances.
There were discussions about the rest of the ancillary recommendations, generally approving free access to contraception and improvement of sex education in schools.
Issues with the draft report
While we welcome many of the recommendations, we have some issues with others. These are outlined in our press release. Additionally, we have identified some other problems with the details of the recommendations. These include:
- In motion 2, assessment of risk to life or health must be made by 2 specialist physicians, but this does not make practical allowance for emergency situations where there may not be time for two assessments or where there might not be 2 specialist physicians available (e.g. rural hospitals at night).
- In motion 7, there is no provision for victims of rape / incest / assault beyond 12 weeks. This is a roll-back of the Citizens Assembly recommendations (22 weeks). Many victims may not realise they are pregnant or they may face other barriers to access during the first 12 weeks.
- The draft report suggests that socio-economic reasons is not required beyond 12 weeks and it appears to be assumed that the 12 weeks with no restrictions should cover this point. This is blatant disregard for the additional barriers to access likely to be faced by marginalised groups, and of course anyone who is unaware of their pregnancy for a number of weeks.
- Under decriminalisation (motion 14), reference is made to “hospitals and licensed clinics”. No further detail is given as to what will be considered a licensed clinic and who will provide the licensing/regulation. It is important that any licensing be issued by an independent medical body, not by any political institution that could be influenced by anti-choice lobbying or rhetoric.
Overall, the developments of the Joint Oireachtas Committee represent a significant development and it has been heartening to see many politicians coming to more evolved positions after exposure to the reality of pregnant people’s lived experiences and the testimony of experts. More work needs to be done but this is a good starting point.
The final report will be launched on Wednesday 20 December.