Ireland under legal obligation to select sites for abortion says expert group

Irish women campaign for a change to abortion laws in Ireland after Savita Halappanavar's death

An expert group report has told Ireland that it is under a legal obligation to establish "effective and accessible" procedures so that women who are "legitimately entitled" can have an abortion.

The State must select locations where abortions may take place and taking into account "standards, geographical access and the need to have due regard to the right to the life of the unborn."  These centers should be certified by the Health Minister.

The report was commissioned from an expert group after the European Court of Human Rights found that Irish citizens' rights were being violated because there were no procedures to establish if one qualified for a lawful abortion. According to the Irish Independent, the report, which was given to the Cabinet last week, will be published on Tuesday.

The report was compiled before the death of Savita Halappanavar, which has caused a political and public uproar.

Compiled by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, the report suggests that the 1861 statute governing abortion should be repealed.

It notes that while the government "is entitled to and indeed obliged to regulate and monitor" the rights of the unborn, it must ensure that "measures that are introduced to give effect to this constitutional right should not act as an obstacle to any woman who is legitimately entitled to seek a termination on lawful grounds."

The Irish Independent reports that the report finds that, "In the case of a risk to the mother it must establish criteria or procedures by which a doctor is to assess that risk; and set up an independent review system where a patient disputes her doctor's refusal to certify that she is entitled to a lawful abortion and where there is a disagreement between doctors as to whether one is necessary."

The report states, "Ultimately, the most politically contentious aspect of the report is likely to be its analysis of whether non-statutory guidelines on the rights of a woman to an abortion in Irish hospitals, or a legislative response, will meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights."

The Irish Independent reports that "consideration was given to the possibility of implementing the judgement without recourse to legislation," but the report states is unlikely that "guidelines in isolation" or "some non-statutory protocols" would "fulfil all the requirements set by the European Court of Human Rights judgement."

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