Oral Questions – Health – Fatal Foetal Abnormalities and Human Rights

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Critical issues which the State must address in relation to the findings in the UN Human Rights Committee that a woman who was forced to either carry on with her pregnancy or travel for a termination in a case of a fatal foetal abnormality had her human rights violated, and the chilling effect on her medical team regarding the limits on their ability to give her information.

QUESTION NO: 31

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister of State at the Department of Health (Marcella Corcoran Kennedy T.D.)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL ANSWER on 12/07/2016

To ask the Minister for Health to amend the terms of the Treatment Abroad Scheme to include medical treatment in relation to termination of pregnancy, reasonable travel, accommodation and subsistence for the woman and a travel companion, particularly as the State’s forcing of a woman to rely on their own financial resources entirely outside the public healthcare system in a case (details supplied) constituted discrimination and a violation of human rights.

Clare Daly T.D.

Details Supplied: (Mellett v. Ireland)

REPLY.
Entitlement to travel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment in an EU/EEA Member State or Switzerland is provided for by EC Regulation 883/2004, which has as its objective the coordination of national social security systems within the EU/EEA and Switzerland. One of the conditions set out in this Regulation is that authorisation for treatment in another Member State will be allowed ” where the treatment in question is among the benefits provided for by the legislation in the Member State where the person concerned resides…”

In Ireland, fatal foetal abnormality is not a lawful ground for termination of pregnancy; terminations are lawful only in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman which may only be averted by termination of the pregnancy.

EU Regulations are binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States. This means that a Regulation becomes part of each Member State’s national legal system at the same time and without the need for transposition, thus ensuring uniformity of law throughout the EU. The Regulation has legal effect in each of the Member States simultaneously and independently of any national law. A Member State cannot unilaterally amend or ignore the provisions of an EU Regulation without breaching its obligations under EU law. Such a breach may lead to the State being liable in damages before the courts.
QUESTION NOS: 66, 549 & 550

DÁIL QUESTIONS addressed to the Minister for Health (Simon Harris T.D.)
by Deputies
for ORAL ANSWER on 12/07/2016

66. To ask the Minister for Health his plans to repeal the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995, particularly in view of the United Nations Human Rights Commission finding (details supplied), in order to enable the medical profession to advise their patients on all medical options available to them, including those currently only available outside Ireland.

– Clare Daly T.D.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 12th July, 2016.

Details Supplied: in the Mellett case

* 549. To ask the Minister for Health his views regarding whether women’s rights are being vindicated, given the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee in regard to Ireland’s abortion laws; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Richard Boyd Barrett T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 12th July, 2016.

* 550. To ask the Minister for Health if she believes that the recent United Nations condemnation of Ireland’s treatment of pregnant woman in need of abortions, shows that this and previous Governments’ failure to legislate or to seek to repeal the Eighth Amendment, proves that Ireland may indeed be guilty of cruelty and inhumane treatment of all female citizens..

– Bríd Smith T.D.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 12th July, 2016.

REPLY.
My Department is studying the Views of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on complaints brought by Ms Amanda Mellet against the State, and assessing their findings.

The complaint relates to the inability of Ms Mellet, who was carrying an unborn child with Edwards Syndrome (a fatal foetal abnormality), to access a termination of pregnancy within the State.

As I previously stated, I find the Committee’s description of Ms Mellet’s experience outlined in the Views deeply lacking in compassion and I want to see the issue addressed.

The Deputies will be aware that termination of pregnancy is regulated in Ireland by constitutional and statute law and in particular the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (Article 40.3.3) which acknowledges and guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, to defend and vindicate that right, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.

I believe that the Government’s commitment to develop a consensus approach on the Eighth Amendment within a Citizen’s Assembly is the way to move forward. The issue of fatal foetal abnormalities can be examined as part of this process and I would expect the views of the UN Human Rights Committee will also be considered.

Aside from the constitutional issue of the Eighth Amendment I am also considering within the law what other services and supports can be put in place to help women in these circumstances.

In this regard, the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act, 1995 defines the conditions under which information relating to abortion services lawfully available in another state might be made available in Ireland. Medical professionals are not precluded under the Act from giving a pregnant woman all the information necessary to enable her to make an informed decision provided a termination of pregnancy is not advocated or promoted. The Act does not prevent a doctor communicating in the normal way with another medical professional in regard to his/her patient’s care nor does the Act prevent the woman receiving a copy of any medical, surgical, clinical or other records relating to her case.

I intend to ask the HSE to ensure that the medical profession have clarity about what they can do under the Act to support women in these circumstances.