The Citizens Assembly Proposals: A Draft Bill

Lawyers for Choice has produced a draft bill that gives effect to the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations for abortion law reform. The purpose of the Bill is to codify the Assembly’s proposals, and to show how simply and easily that can be done. The provisions reflect the choices of the Assembly members’ and not those of Lawyers for Choice.

Regrettably, the Assembly’s deliberations on legislation were confined to grounds for accessing abortion only. Experience worldwide shows that, even where grounds are well-drafted, abortion can be difficult to access. The Oireachtas must pay attention to barriers to access such as obstructions outside of clinics, the circulation of misleading information on abortion, underfunding of services, and conscientious objection. Any final legislation must make provision for these matters.

In addition, we regret that the Assembly was unable to consider the decriminalisation of abortion, which is clearly required by international human rights law. Continue reading “The Citizens Assembly Proposals: A Draft Bill”

The Citizens Assembly Proposals: A Draft Bill

Why would any country put abortion in the Constitution?

by Mairead Enright. (@maireadenright)

In Ireland, the abortion debate is often conducted by reference to Britain. Conservatives associate the Abortion Act 1967 with the bogeyman of  ‘abortion on demand’. In the struggle to ‘be different from Britain’, we perhaps miss some of our commonalities with other countries which have taken a similar route to regulating abortion. Ireland is unusual in ‘writing abortion into the Constitution’, but it is not alone. It is very difficult to generalise across jurisdictions, especially because Constitutions perform different functions in different jurisdictions, and are subject to different procedures for amendment. However, a quick survey suggests that Ireland has only about 20 fellow travellers; a few in Europe (such as Hungary and the Czech Republic), more in South America, where the trend began (Chile, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador) and the rest in Africa (Swaziland, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe etc). I am not sure if this is an exhaustive list, and would be grateful for corrections and references. Constitutional abortion provisions take a variety of different forms. Some date to the 1980’s while others are very new.

  • The most common is a broad assertion that the right to life begins at conception or before birth: Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Paraguay. Madagascar has a similar ‘right to health’ provision.
  • Statements of the unborn’s right to life: Chile and statements of the unborn’s right to be treated legally as a born person: Honduras, Peru. Interestingly, like the 8th Amendment, these also date from the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.
  • Provisions which equate the right to life of the unborn with that of the mother: Only Ireland and the Philippines have done this.
  • Provisions which set out the grounds for access to abortion: Somalia, Swaziland and Kenya.
  • Provisions deferring to the legislature, stating that abortion is illegal except as provided by legislation: Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kenya and Swaziland have a similar provision, in addition to stating current specific grounds.

What have the results been?

A constitutional abortion provision is generally a mark of restrictive abortion laws. As shorthand, if you use the Center for Reproductive Rights well-known map of abortion laws, you will find most of these countries in the ‘red’ zone with Ireland; officially prohibiting abortion or allowing only life-saving abortions. These regimes are incompatible with women’s human rights to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, health, autonomy and so on. A few of our fellow-travellers are in the ‘yellow zone’, permitting access on grounds of physical and sometimes mental health and foetal impairment. Whatever the law says on paper, practical access to abortion is often poor, even for those women entitled to it in principle.

However, not all of these countries have such restrictive abortion laws. Hungary and the Slovak and Czech Republics have more liberal abortion laws than Ireland, at least on paper. A general statement of the obligation to protect unborn life does not in itself translate into either criminalisation, or restrictive grounds for abortion. The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic held in 2007 that a 12 week period of abortion on request was compatible with the constitutional provision on unborn life. Despite the Constitution’s foetal life provision, it was possible for the Slovak court to come to a similar position to that taken by constitutional courts elsewhere in Europe. Ireland’s Supreme Court has not be able to draw similar conclusions because the Supreme Court in X  held that the mother’s right to survival and the foetus’ right to be born are equal.

That said,  foetal life provisions are malleable, as are all constitutional rights. They operate in their particular context. Similar constitutional provisions are invoked to support regressive abortion policy in Hungary,and criminalisation of women in Ecuador. They can also ground extremely restrictive judgments by superior courts, as happened, for example, when an attempt to decriminalise abortion in the Dominican Republic was struck down, and when the Chilean constitutional tribunal blocked government efforts to distribute the morning after pill. Famously in El Salvador in 2013, the Supreme Court denied a seriously ill woman a termination even though her foetus could not survive birth.

The African provisions might catch the eye of those lobbying for ‘replacement’ rather than repeal. Some of these are indeed liberalising amendments by comparison with what preceded them. However, they are vulnerable to political intransigence. In Kenya, for example, lack of guidelines interpreting the constitutional provision has left doctors unwilling to provide legal abortion services. A case is forthcoming in the High Court. In Swaziland, although women’s groups welcomed the constitutional reform, no steps have been taken to legislate for abortion. Inconsistent interpretation of the abortion law has also been a problem in Uganda. As we know in Ireland, while abortion is in the constitution, legislators can (perhaps paradoxically) shirk their responsibility to legislate for it.

How does abortion end up in the Constitution?

It is impossible to answer that fascinating question fully for all of these very different countries, in all their complexity, in a single blog post.  In Ireland, constitutional abortion law has been a place to work through and make statements about national identity; abortion is the place where religious, post-conflict and post-colonial tensions meet. In 1983, PLAC capitalised on a period of political instability to place a near-permanent block in the way of women’s reproductive rights. It is an old adage that these tensions are worked out over women’s bodies, often with the assistance of powerful foreign lobbies.

Sometimes the identitarian nature of other countries’ law seems to appear on on the face of it. Somalia’s abortion provision, for example, explicitly references the shari’a. In other cases, we have to look to the context in which the provision was inserted into the Constitution.

Older constitutional abortion laws are associated with regimes which place a premium on national identity, whether as part of a process of self-definition after a prolonged period of violence, or as part of an ideology of ‘national security’ associated with military authoritarianism. Honduras’ provision is in a constitution passed in a period of instability after 10 years of military rule. One of the oldest constitutional abortion laws is Chile’s; passed by referendum in 1980 under Pinochet’s dictatorship. It is also interesting to note that many of the African countries mentioned, like Ireland, inherited their abortion law from the British in 1861. Abortion is tied up in postcolonialism, for them as for us.

Often the presence of an abortion provision reflects a religious backlash against what is perceived as unduly permissive abortion law. Zambia’s Constitution, for example, permits the government to legislate for abortion, and abortion is legal on narrow grounds. A new Zambian Constitution passed last year but a proposed constitutional provision – inserting a foetal right to life – has been deferred, pending the achievement of consensus. The new foetal life provision was intended to reflect the ‘Christian values’ underpinning the new Constitution. In Kenya, church leaders demanded a ‘no vote’ to the 2010 Constitution on the basis of its abortion provisions, even though they did not change the content of the pre-existing abortion law at all. Similar pressures succeeded in El Salvador, where in 1999 the Catholic church was a significant force in securing a foetal life amendment to the Constitution against feminist opposition. The involvement of the institutional Catholic church in repressing abortion reform is a theme across Latin America, where hostility to abortion has proved compatible with Leftist as well as with conservative government.

Conclusion

There is surprisingly little comparative work on constitutional abortion provisions. Ireland, however, would do well to pay attention to constitutional abortion provisions as a legal strategy; to ask what they have been used to do elsewhere; and to pass future laws which express, not a faith in Irish exceptionalism, but an awareness of the 8th Amendment’s global resonances. We tend to associate constitutional law with certainty and technicality, but a quick review of the history of constitutional abortion provisions suggests different associations; with stalled law-making, human rights abuse, and sacrifice of women’s interests in the pursuit of shared values.

Why would any country put abortion in the Constitution?

Reflections on the Citizen’s Assembly (3): The Presentation of Dr. Joan McCarthy

We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Donnchadh O’Conaill, of the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki. This is the third of a series of posts Donnchadh is writing on presentations of ethicists to the Citizens Assembly; the first can be found here, and the second here

While debates over the status of the foetus are central to ethical and philosophical discussions of abortion, the freedom of women to choose to have abortions is crucial to political debates on this subject. Dr. Joan McCarthy presented a defence of this freedom, taking as her starting point “the body and the life of the woman or girl who is pregnant”, considered as a moral agent, i.e., as making ethical choices in concrete situations.[1] In assessing the choices such women face, McCarthy draws on two principles: autonomy and justice. Continue reading “Reflections on the Citizen’s Assembly (3): The Presentation of Dr. Joan McCarthy”

Reflections on the Citizen’s Assembly (3): The Presentation of Dr. Joan McCarthy

Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (2): The Presentation of Bobbie Farsides

We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Donnchadh O’Conaill, of the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki. This is the second of a series of posts Donnchadh is writing on presentations of ethicists to the Citizens Assembly; the first can be found here.

Debates about abortion can often be traced back to disagreements about the status of the foetus, e.g., whether it is a being with any independent moral significance. All parties to this disagreement share two assumptions: that ethical debates over abortion are primarily a matter of the moral importance of the foetus, and that the nature of the foetus is what determines its moral status. Hence many opponents of abortion will appeal to the fact that the foetus is a human being, e.g. it has a soul or has the potential to become a rational being; many proponents of liberal abortion laws will counter that the foetus, at least early in its development, lacks certain capacities which are crucial to having moral status.[1] The arguments here are often complex and involve subtle points of metaphysics which are not easy to resolve. More generally, regardless of what one thinks about these issues, it might seem that such esoteric matters are not appropriate as a basis for legislation.

In her submission to the Citizen’s Assembly, Prof. Bobbie Farsides outlines an alternative approach: a way of justifying a pro-choice regime which seeks to avoid disputes about the nature or moral status of the foetus.[2] Continue reading “Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (2): The Presentation of Bobbie Farsides”

Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (2): The Presentation of Bobbie Farsides

Languishing in Direct Provision: Rights in ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Unreasonable’ Times

imagesThe length of time that asylum seekers reside within direct provision accommodation, continues to cause significant concern, as it has done so for almost seventeen years.  The practical impact of the implementation of the limited recommendations contained within the  McMahon Report still remains to be fully seen. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that 80% of all recommendations made by the McMahon Report are implemented or are being implemented. However, this claim has not to date been backed up with comprehensive assessment from the Department of Justice.  The commencement of the International Protection Act 2015 on 31 December 2016, will hopefully ensure that persons in the protection system receive a fair, procedurally proper and clear decisions on whether they qualify for protection in a timely manner. However, as noted by David Costello, Chief International Protection Officer at a seminar last week, there are 4,000 cases to hand in the International Protection Office (IPO) due to the commencement of the International Protection Act. [With thanks to Fiona Finn, CEO of NASC for making me aware of this]. Oldest cases will be decided first. Those already with a negative determination of refugee status by the now abolished Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner under the old law, will return to the IPO for determination of their subsidiary protection claim. If subsidiary protection is rejected by the IPO decision maker, then both refugee and subsidiary protection appeals will be considered by the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. Whether this impacts slightly or majorly on timely and fair delivery of protection decisions remains to be seen. A case decided last week may have significant impacts on the right to a timely decision on a protection claim. Continue reading “Languishing in Direct Provision: Rights in ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Unreasonable’ Times”

Languishing in Direct Provision: Rights in ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Unreasonable’ Times

A boon for parliament? An initial response to the decision in Kerins v McGuinness

We are pleased to welcome this post by Dr. Tom Hickey, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

Sometimes constitutional law has an ironic effect and one that perhaps goes against the intuitions of lawyers, and of people generally. It prevents one arm of government from doing justice in order to allow another arm of government to do its job well. In today’s High Court judgment in Kerins v McGuinness, we see something like that at play, although it is probably better to say that in this instance constitutional law prevented one institution (the courts) from considering whether to offer a remedy for alleged injustices done unto Angela Kerins in order to allow another institution (parliament) to freely carry out its functions.

Continue reading “A boon for parliament? An initial response to the decision in Kerins v McGuinness”

A boon for parliament? An initial response to the decision in Kerins v McGuinness

Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (1): The presentation of Dr Helen Watt

We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Donnchadh O’Conaill, of the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies at the University of Helsinki. This is the first of a series of posts Donnchadh is writing on presentations of ethicists to the Citizens Assembly.

Regardless of what one thinks about the need for a Citizen’s Assembly, its deliberations have already thrown up a number of interesting approaches to thinking about ethical issues, particularly concerning abortion. What follows is a series of articles on the presentations by ethicists to the assembly, examining the arguments that they offer and their potential implications for a possible referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Dr. Helen Watt presented an argument against abortion which was of interest, particularly in the context of Irish debates about abortion, in not relying (at least not explicitly) on religious doctrine. Indeed, Watt’s arguments rest on certain assumptions which are difficult or impossible to reconcile with the beliefs of many religions, for instance the belief in an immortal soul. But as with more familiar religiously-motivated discussions, Watt’s argument appeals to the nature of the foetus to justify its having a certain moral status. By the ‘nature’ of the foetus I mean not just its physical or biological features but those features which might be thought to give it moral significance in and of itself, regardless of what anyone thinks about it. This kind of moral significance is what is usually meant when ethicists speak of the ‘moral status’ of the foetus. Continue reading “Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (1): The presentation of Dr Helen Watt”

Reflections on the Citizens Assembly (1): The presentation of Dr Helen Watt

Is the United States in Breach of the Air Transport Preclearance Agreement 2008?

This post is authored by Dr Darren O’Donovan, Senior Lecturer in International Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights, in  LaTrobe Law School, Melbourne. 

A lot of Irish media discussion in the preclearance debate has begun to feature rhetoric such as Ireland can’t “let the United States operate preclearance given the new executive order”, or that “Ireland should make a statement and close preclearance”. Opponents (they would call themselves realists) would argue that as a small country with a small economy this is far too dramatic a foreign policy step. To debate the legality of preclearance fully however, we need to emphasise that United States obliged, under international law, to operate its preclearance in line with the bilateral agreement between Ireland and the United States signed in 2008.

In this post I want to therefore frame questions for the United States government, and for use by United State citizens. The big one is of course simply: Is the United States in breach of its international legal agreements with Ireland by applying the executive order in Irish airports? The key provision of the 2008 Agreement Article II (1) which states that:

“Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed as diminishing the rights enjoyed by individuals under the Constitution and laws of Ireland and, where applicable, the United States.”

As we have discussed in an earlier blogpost there are a range of potential, to be explored, arguments as to why the application of the executive order within Ireland’s jurisdiction may be unlawful under Irish law. What is significant however, is that we in Ireland cannot simply say that US law is a matter for US authorities. US law in fact sets the scope of their international legal obligations towards us, and it may even require us to give redress to some individuals (see question 4 below). We need to fold the United States’ bilateral obligations into the debates about preclearance.

Questions for the US Embassy/State Department:

  • As under the Article II of the 2008 Agreement, the scope of your authorisation under Article V to carry out preclearance cannot extend to actions which diminish the rights of individuals under Irish law, what steps have you taken to ensure that the application of the executive order does not exceed the terms of the 2008 Agreement?
  • As under Article II of the Agreement, the scope of your authorisation under Article V to carry out preclearance cannot extend to actions which diminish the rights of individuals under United States law, can you confirms what steps you have taken to confirm that the provisions of the executive order are compliant with United States law?
  • In the event you determine the executive order is not compliant with Irish law, are you willing to commit to not applying the executive order in preclearance areas at Dublin and Shannon Airport?
  • Given the close and abiding bilateral ties between the United States and Ireland, is it appropriate for the executive order to be applied in Irish airports while it is currently before the United States courts? We refer you in particular to Article IV(2) which appears to require Ireland to provide a system of redress in event of the “unlawful exercise of powers associated with the administration of preclearance“. This Article is not limited in its express terms to the unlawful administration of Irish law . Can you provide your view of the extent to which the Government of Ireland may be liable to provide redress for the actions of US government officials under this Article?

Ireland: The Supporters of the Preclearance System

What this post attempts to show is that being a supporter of preclearance means actually enforcing the agreement we made in 2008, and exploring potential United States’ breaches of it. It is difficult to imagine Irish parliamentarians not supporting the principle that preclearance only extends to the scope of the 2008 Agreement. Any Irish legislation which implements this principle does not ground any United States entitlement to immediately modify or withdraw from the 2008 Agreement. It would enjoy only its usual right to withdraw after one year. It should, however, be noted that in the event the United States is in material breach of the treaty, Ireland enjoys the right to suspend or withdraw from the 2008 Agreement after a brief period of consultation (as per Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties).

Is the United States in Breach of the Air Transport Preclearance Agreement 2008?

The Right to Legal Advice in the Garda Station: DPP v Doyle

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled (6 agreeing, though for different reasons, and 1 dissenting) that the constitutional right to reasonable access to a lawyer does not extend to a right to have a solicitor present during Garda interviews. In May 2014 the DPP had instructed gardaí to permit solicitors to attend interviews where requested, stemming from the fact that Irish and European jurisprudence and regulation was moving in that direction. There had not, at that point, been a ruling that there was such a right under the Irish Constitution, and Ireland has not opted into the EU Directive on Right of Access to a Lawyer in Criminal Proceedings. However, it had been strongly indicated in obiter statements in the case of DPP v Gormley and White that this was possible. The decision in Doyle indicates that Irish constitutional law has not reached that point, not yet at least. Continue reading “The Right to Legal Advice in the Garda Station: DPP v Doyle”

The Right to Legal Advice in the Garda Station: DPP v Doyle

Amanda Jane Mellet v. Ireland – The Key Points

As readers will know by now, the UN Human Rights Committee today held that Ireland’s abortion law violated Amanda Mellet’s human rights under the ICCPR. The foetus she was carrying was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. Irish law criminalises abortion except as a last resort to save the pregnant woman’s life, and  thus compelled her to travel to Liverpool for an abortion. This is the first time that any international court or human rights body has found that the criminalisation of abortion is in itself a violation of women’s human rights. The Committee held that the Irish law:

  • Violated her right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment because it exacerbated the anguish associated with a pregnancy affected by fatal foetal abnormality. By compelling her to travel, the law deprived her of material and emotional support and appropriate care during and after her abortion. Criminalisation, in particular, compounded the shame and stigma associated with abortion in Ireland. The chilling effects of the Abortion Information Act, which meant that she could not obtain adequate information about terminating the pregnancy abroad,  were a source of further distress during the decision-making process. The process of travel also disrupted her recovery and worsened the grieving process: the Committee focused on her experience of receiving the foetus’ remains by courier, after she had returned to Ireland. The Committee here is providing us with resources to upset that prevailing public discourse which suggests that a pregnancy affected by fatal foetal abnormality is a tragedy; a trial which good mothers must bear with serene nobility. Committee Member Sarah Cleveland described this as “a stereotypical idea that a pregnant woman should let nature run its course, regardless of the suffering involved for her.” The Committee says that, even though the state did not directly inflict harm on Amanda Mellet, its neglect and abandonment of women in this situation  – who are left “isolated and defenceless” – moves situations like hers out of the realm of guiltless tragedy, and into that of state responsibility.
  • Violated her rights to privacy and bodily integrity. The Committee held that the Irish abortion law amounted to an unjustifiable interference with Amanda Mellet’s decision-making around her pregnancy. The State had argued, following the Irish constitutional test, that the interference was proportionate to its aim of balancing the rights of the pregnant woman against those of the foetus. The legality of the interference under domestic law is not important in this context. In addition, the Committee notes that because the law violates the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment, the restrictions it places on the right to privacy and bodily integrity could not be considered compatible with international law. Irish law, in its zeal to protect the foetus, has gone too far. In particular, the Committee emphasises that the treatment of Amanda Mellet under law was especially unreasonable because her pregnancy was not viable. Sarah Cleveland wrote: “Requiring the author to carry a fatally impaired pregnancy to term only underscores the extent to which the State party has prioritized (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the reproductive role of women as mothers, and exposes its claimed justification in this context as a reductio ad absurdum.”
  • Violated her right to freedom from discrimination. Amanda Mellet pointed out that women who choose to continue their pregnancies after a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and deliver a stillborn baby in Ireland receive state-funded care, while those who choose to travel for termination must bear the expense of doing so by themselves. Similarly-situated women are treated differently, with real financial and medical consequences. The Committee accepted that this difference in treatment amounted to discrimination in two ways.
    • First, the law discriminates against women as women. The State had made the facile argument that gender discrimination is confined to circumstances where men and women are similarly situated but men are better treated: by definition, they maintained, it cannot occur in respect of pregnancy because only women can become pregnant. Sarah Cleveland emphasises that the criminalisation of abortion is gender discrimination, because it affects a health service that only women need, and places no equivalent burden on men. In addition, the Committee reminds the state that gender stereotyping of women is in itself a form of gender discrimination.  In this respect, an interesting point from a feminist perspective is the Committee’s observation that the difference in treatment between those women who carry to term, and those who terminate the pregnancy is rooted in stereotypes of women as ‘reproductive instruments’. This point has been canvassed in Irish feminist scholarship for decades. Yad Ben Achour elaborated: “The prohibition of abortion in Ireland, owing to its binding effect, which is indirectly punitive and stigmatizing, targets women because they are women and puts them in a specific situation of vulnerability, which is discriminatory in relation to men. Under this legislation, the author has in effect been the victim of the sexist stereotype, whereby women’s pregnancy must, except where the life of the mother is at risk, continue, irrespective of the circumstances, as they are limited exclusively to their reproductive role as mothers. Reducing the author to a reproductive instrument constitutes discrimination and infringes her rights both to self-determination and to gender equality.”
    • Second the law failed to take into account the socio-economic effects of this differential treatment; in particular the costs of travel and seeking treatment abroad. Several Committee members maintained that the discrimination was not only between women who carried their pregnancies to term and those who travelled, but between those who could more easily afford to travel abroad for abortions and those who like Amanda Mellet, struggled to pay for the travel and the procedure. Sarah Cleveland noted that Article 26 ICCPR “prohibits the unequal access to reproductive health care for low-income and vulnerable populations that results from Ireland’s legal restrictions on reproductive health services.”
  • Violated her right to seek and receive information. Three Committee members held that the Abortion Information Act encourages medical personnel to withhold clear and timely information that women like Amanda Mellet could use to make decisions about their pregnancy and health, and that this in itself is a violation of rights under the ICCPR.

The Committee’s emphasis  on the woman’s entitlement to expect a certain level of compassion, care and attention from the state is very welcome. Amanda Mellet, Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland, their legal advisors and the Center for Reproductive Rights must be commended for their work in bringing this case to the Committee.The government is required to respond to the Committee’s decision within 180 days, outlining the concrete steps which it will take to remedy the identified human rights abuses, and to prevent future similar harm to other women. The ruling will contribute significantly to the existing moral pressure on the government to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment (see further discussion by Fiona de Londras here). The Health Minister, Simon Harris, has indicated that he wants to see law reform in this area. However, the government of which he is a member has continued to drag its heels on the issue of abortion law reform.

This post is by Mairead Enright of Kent Law School – m.enright@kent.ac.uk

Amanda Jane Mellet v. Ireland – The Key Points