UL lecturer addresses hearings on abortion law

David Hurley

Reporter:

David Hurley

A UNIVERSITY of Limerick lecturer has told an Oireachtas committee that no time limits should be placed on the availability of a termination of a pregnancy where the woman’s life is at risk.

A UNIVERSITY of Limerick lecturer has told an Oireachtas committee that no time limits should be placed on the availability of a termination of a pregnancy where the woman’s life is at risk.

Jennifer Schweppe, who is a lecturer in constitutional law, was giving evidence this Wednesday before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, which this week heard submissions on the Government decision to legislate for the X Case.

Addressing the committee, Ms Schweppe argued that the decision of what constitutes real and substantial risk (to the mother’s life) should be left to doctors.

“Where a woman disagrees with the outcome or decision of medical practitioners, I argue that she should have an automatic right of referral to an independent practitioner,” she said.

Regarding the threat of suicide, Ms Schweppe told members of the committee that she does not believe there is any “room for debate” given the X Case ruling.

“Only the people, through a referendum, or the Supreme Court, on appeal, can change this position. Further, it is insulting to women to suggest that they will flock to doctors and assert suicide in an effort to pull the wool over their doctors’ eyes simply to get an abortion. Furthermore, it is insulting to the medical profession to suggest that the wool would be pulled over its eyes,” she said.

Ms Schweppe added that the threat of suicide “must be linked to the pregnancy” and that being suicidal in itself would not justify a termination.

Ms Schweppe, who has written a number of academic papers on abortion, told the hearing she believes that terminations should be allowed if there is no chance of the unborn foetus surviving after birth.

“I argue that where medical professionals agree that as a matter of probability there is no prospect of life outside the womb, termination of pregnancies should be permissible,” she said.

However, answering a question from committee member, Deputy Billy Kelleher she said difficulties can arise if the unborn child has a limited life expectancy.

“The problem arises where doctors are of the opinion the foetus has the capacity to be born but will survive only for a short period, be it a matter of days or weeks. Tragically, in circumstances such as the that, the Constitution does not permit termination of pregnancy and, unfortunately, women in that position do currently need to travel to terminate those pregnancies. I do not agree with this position,” she said.

Ms Schweppe urged the members of the committee to “take a proactive rather than a reactive approach” when drawing up the legislation.

“We need to try to envisage all the possible scenarios which are not directly covered by the X case but which have emerged following the X case,” she told the committee.