News Roundup

State’s argument against unborn’s rights ‘extreme, startling and absolutist’ Supreme Court hears

Barrister Maurice Collins has said the ‘extreme’ nature of the State’s arguments in its Appeal against the recognition of unborn rights was ‘arresting’ and the refusal to recognise the “unborn” as an “unborn child” was ‘striking and startling’. He was addressing the Supreme Court in its second day of hearings of an appeal by the State to deny all Constitutional rights of the unborn child, apart from life, right up to the moment of birth. The Government want to remove the Constitutional right to life in the planned referendum.

Mr Colliins said the State was submitting that outside the right to life protected in the Eighth Amendment, the unborn child was a “constitutional nullity” and that if that amendment was repealed, the unborn had no rights at all. Mr Collins said the State was making this argument regardless of the stage of development, whether it was just after conception or just before delivery.

Mr Collins suggested the State’s “absolutist” position was not compatible with the Supreme Court’s previous decision in a case relating to frozen embryos which found that they were not entitled to the status “unborn” and hence, not due the protection of the Eighth Amendment, but they were nevertheless entitled to a measure of constitutional recognition and respect as a “form of human life”. Mr Collins said the State was suggesting that when the people voted for the Eighth Amendment they were unwittingly restricting the rights of the unborn, removing all but the right to life, and excluding them from the protection of any other constitutional provision.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear this appeal, under pressure from the Government, in the light of the planned referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

In his submissions, Mr Collins said the right to life was already implicitly protected by the Constitution, as an unenumerated right, referred to in various statements of the Supreme Court, before the enactment of the Eighth Amendment. That meant, he said, the unborn had a “legal personality” capable of asserting constitutional rights, which could not have been taken away by the Eighth Amendment.

He said those who voted for the Eighth Amendment did not intend to prevent the unborn from claiming other constitutional rights that it was already entitled to. He said the principle right he was relying on was the right of the unborn child to the care and company of its father who, in this particular case, was facing deportation to Nigeria. On the other hand, he said the State was claiming that, minus the Eighth Amendment, the foetus was a constitutional “non-person” from conception all the way to birth.

Lawyers for the State were pressed by the court about whether or not there was a right to life for the unborn in the Constitution before the Eighth Amendment but counsel for the State refused to say. Justice Liam McKechnie said it seemed almost remarkable that the Minister for Justice steadfastly refused to give his position on this matter.


Widespread abortion law ‘will affect surgery waiting lists in maternity units’

The proposed law to allow for widespread abortion in the State for the first time would affect maternity services and prolong waiting lists for gynaecological surgery, according to senior obstetricians and health officials speaking to the Oireachtas health committee yesterday.

Contrary to the widespread assumption that the new law would predominantly involve merely GPs prescribing abortion pills to women in the very early weeks of pregnancy, Dr Peter McKenna, clinical director of the HSE’s Women and Infant’s programme, said around 40pc of terminations would need to be done surgically rather than using an abortion pill and, he said, this will have resource implications. Dr Peter Boylan, chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added that waiting lists for women in need of surgery for benign gynaecology procedures are already far too long. “Benign gynaecology gets no mention in the national maternity strategy and this is a serious deficiency which needs to be addressed,” he said. The lack of medical staff in maternity services was also a cause of “serious concern”, he added.


Children’s Minister calls for LGBTI+ history, more sex education in schools

The Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, has called for ‘LGBTI+ history’ and ‘better sex education’ to be introduced into the school curriculum to combat ‘homophobia, transphobia and other bullying’ as part of the Government’s LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy. She was speaking at the launch of the launch of UCD Gender Identity and Expression Policy yesterday where she called the University’s decision to allow ‘trans and gender fluid’ employees and students to change their records without the requirement to produce a gender recognition certificate, not only ground-breaking, but “sets an example for others to follow”. She said the introduction of gender neutral toilets “leads the way not just for the education sector but for all public services and employers”.

Turning to young people, however, she said it is a sad reality that many still feel isolated and fear discrimination, intimidation and even hatred if they come out to family or friends, and because of this “the battle for equality is not over”.

Toward overcoming this, she as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has “set Ireland on a course to form and implement an LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy – it will be a world first”.


FF TD calls for Abortion referendum postponement due to Citizens’ Assembly scandal

Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Scanlon called for the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to be postponed because “the whole process is compromised” following the revelations that some participants in the Citizens’ Assembly were not recruited randomly. Mr Scanlon said he had raised the issue with the Taoiseach about the exclusion of some counties from the panel. He said two people should have been picked from each county and the 47 others from the 99-member assembly should then have been selected appropriately.

“I genuinely believe this referendum should be postponed, that the whole process is compromised and I would call for a full and immediate audit of the entire Citizens’ Assembly recruitment process over the last 18 months because I think it has been compromised,” the Sligo-Leitrim TD said.


Seven members of Citizens’ Assembly removed, PLC calls for investigation

Seven members of the Citizens’ Assembly have been removed from the process after it emerged they were brought on board due to their personal connections to a recruiter rather than being randomly selected. The issue was raised with RED C Research and Marketing, the firm responsible for the recruitment of members, which then conducted an extensive audit. The audit discovered that seven individuals had been contacted by phone rather than being recruited door-to-door, and were identified as potential members through friends and family of the recruiter.

In response, the Pro Life Campaign has called for a full and immediate audit of the recruitment processes of the Citizens’ Assembly. PLC spokesperson Dr. Ruth Cullen said: “These developments are deeply worrying and warrant full and immediate investigation. Given the importance of the topics that the Assembly was charged with deliberating on, there can be no delay in bringing this about.”

She continued: “The latest revelations are not the first time that concerns of this nature have arisen.  On the very first day of the Assembly, the Chairperson had to issue a statement when it became public that a pro-choice activist had been selected as a member of the Assembly contrary to the guidelines issued to the recruitment company.”

She concluded: “What has transpired brings the entire Citizen’s Assembly process into serious disrepute.”


Don’t get ‘hung up on age’ Minister Flanagan tells committee on digital age of consent

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has rejected criticism of the Government’s decision to set the digital age of consent at 13 years, the minimum possible for the European Union. Other countries such as France and Germany have set it at the maximum allowable of 16. Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, Mr Flanagan said the Government had chosen 13 as the age of digital consent after consulting with experts. The aim was to achieve a balance, given the different levels of maturity among teenagers. “People shouldn’t be getting hung up on age. They should be looking at the protections available and the threats associated with cyberbullying and grooming.”


UCD to re-designate more than 170 toilets as ‘gender neutral’

UCD is to re-designate more than 170 toilets across the entire campus as “gender neutral” and introduce transgender changing facilities at its sport centre. The move is part of a new university policy to provide a welcoming campus for transgender and gender-fluid students and employees. In addition, UCD is to allow transgender students to change their names on official university award documents and other material without the need for gender recognition certificates.

Minister for Children and equality campaigner Katherine Zappone, who is due to launch the new policy on Thursday, has welcomed the move as another step towards “full equality for all”.

“Our universities are drivers of change, promoters of equality and champions of justice,” she said. “UCD is continuing that proud tradition by providing a welcoming campus for trans and gender-fluid students and employees.”


Wording for abortion referendum passed by Cabinet

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, draft plans for a referendum to repeal the Eighth amendment and legislation providing for abortion were passed by the Government.

The referendum would delete article 40.3.3 and replace it with a text affirming the authority of the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

The proposed abortion legislation at present would allow for abortions “without specific indication” up to 12 weeks. It will also allow for abortion after 12 weeks where there is a “serious threat” to the life, health or mental health of a mother or where the baby is suffering from a life limiting condition. In those cases, reports the Irish Times, “it is expected no gestational limits will be applied” meaning they may be carried out at any time up to birth.

In the UK, well over 90pc of the almost 200,000 abortions that are performed annually take place under the ‘mental health’ ground.


State’s appeal to Supreme Court to erase all unborn rights, beyond life, begins today

The State is to argue today that the High Court erred in deciding the unborn has constitutionally protected, personal rights beyond article 40.3.3. Any other legal entitlements of the unborn are dependent, the State is expected to argue, on being born alive. The case will involve potentially the widest consideration by the Supreme Court of the extent of the constitutional rights of the unborn and it will be argued before a seven judge court on Wednesday, presided over by the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke. The appeal is scheduled to run for two days and the Court’s judgement may affect the wording of the planned referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

The High Court’s Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, a one-time Labour councillor and adviser to former Minister Mervyn Taylor, had found that the unborn has constitutional rights in addition to the right to life and is a “child” within the meaning of Article 42A, with constitutional rights the State is required to protect and vindicate. The State, represented by the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice, however, is asking the Court to declare that the unborn child has no rights other than the explicit right to life recognised in article 40.3.3. The State will be represented by a team of no less than six barristers – senior counsel Mary O’Toole, Nuala Butler and Denise Brett, and junior counsel, Simon Mills, Silvia Martinez Garcia and Andrea Mulligan.


Court grants custody of 13 children born via surrogacy to sperm-donor father

A Bangkok court has granted sole custody of 13 children born via surrogacy to a wealthy Japanese heir. Mitsutoki Shigeta, now 28, had hired Thai women in a so-called ‘rent a womb’ scheme to gestate embryos conceived using donor eggs and his own sperm, paying them between €7,500 and €10,100 each. Most of the babies, now around four years of age, were found in a luxury apartment by police in 2014 sparking an international furore, dubbed the “baby factory” scandal. The babies were taken into care, but this week a Thai court awarded paternity rights to their biological father.

“For the happiness and opportunities which the 13 children will receive from their biological father, who does not have a history of bad behaviour, the court rules that all 13 born from surrogacy to be legal children of the plaintiff,” Bangkok’s Central Juvenile Court said in a statement.

Mr Shigeta was deemed the “sole parent” of the children after the Thai surrogates had signed away their rights, the court said.

In Ireland there are legislative plans to enable the practice of surrogacy in this country. While they would outlaw commercial surrogacy, there are no restrictions on those who bring babies into the country acquired through commercial arrangements abroad. Currently, such parents must go to court to sue for parentage rights based on a genetic link to the child. However, a recent court case involved a couple who brought back a baby for whom they had no genetic link. The ruling in that case was never published.

The forthcoming Irish legislation would also not prohibit single men from arranging the creation and surrogate gestation of babies. Likewise, there would not be a prohibition on someone ordering multiple so-called altruistic surrogacies in a move akin to Mr Shigeta’s commercial endeavours, with the sole difference that only “reasonable expenses” could be paid.


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