"A conference in the National University of Ireland intended to promote access to abortion as a human right didn’t entirely go according to plan Thursday when the audience gave speakers a rough ride.Comments on this blog? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
"The event, entitled Global and Local Human Rights Perspectives on Abortion was organised jointly by the Irish Family Planning Association and the university's Irish Centre for Human Rights.
"Roughly 100 people, mostly of student age, turned–up to listen to the five abortion advocates attack Ireland’s pro-life laws and call for access to abortion to be recognised and a human right. Each speaker made her presentation without interruption and received polite applause but once the floor was opened for questions, however, it was clear that a substantial section (if not most) of those attending the meeting was pro-life.
"The meeting began with Ms Eileen Fegan, a former law lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, outlining efforts of the pro-abortion lobby to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland. She argued that recent health department guidance on abortion lacked clarity and claimed the law could not be applied properly. The pro-abortion lobby had sought to have the Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland last year but had been blocked by the efforts of Northern Ireland politicians.
"Without explaining her assertion, Ms Fegan claimed that sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act were breaches of human rights standards. Speaking with frustration at the lack of progress, she asked: "How can one move forward in this situation?
"Natalie McDonnell, a legal consultant for the Irish Family Planning Association and a practising barrister, said that the IFPA had been calling for some time for guidelines on the law in the republic of Ireland. She said that there needed to be guidance on the application of recent court decisions to article 43.3.3 of the constitution that prohibits abortion.
"Ms McDonnell also cited the criticisms of Ireland by various UN human rights committees which have become notorious for pressuring states across the globe to liberalise abortion. However, she failed to point out that such bodies have no legal authority to pursue such an agenda and no international treaty recognises access to abortion as a human right. She concluded by speaking about the case of ABC v Ireland due to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights on 9th December. Three women with the assistance of the IFPA claim Ireland's prohibition on abortion breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Ms Joanna Erdman of the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme at Toronto University, Canada, compared grounds for abortion in various national laws. She too relied heavily upon statements from UN committees and said that Ireland was the only member of the Council of Europe which allowed abortion to protect a woman's life but not her health. She argued that life and health were indivisible rights but made it clear that she supported the complete decriminalisation of abortion.
"Ms Christina Zampas, senior regional adviser and legal adviser for Europe for the Center for Reproductive Rights, spoke of how human rights standards could be used to widen the accessibility of abortion. While Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the rights of all sections of the “human family” without any distinction and regardless of status, she asserted that it did not recognise the right to life before birth since Article 1 states refers to “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
"Most of her argument, however, was again draw treaty monitoring bodies such as the committee set-up to oversee the implementation of Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Such committees, she said, had repeatedly called for penalties for abortion to be removed from national laws. She complained that Ireland imposed some of the strictest penalties for abortion in Europe, if not in the world.
"The final speaker was Ms Aminata Touré, former chief on gender, culture and human rights for the United Nations Population Fund and a past director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in her native Senegal. Believing she was speaking to a friendly audience she spoke candidly about the importance of using the Maputo protocols and the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal number five on maternal mortality to widen access to abortion in Africa.
"In a departure from the scheduled programme time for questions was left to the very end of the meeting. Then one after another, members of the audience began to denounce the human rights centre for organising a biased event whilst pretending to be neutral on the issue of abortion. In an attempt to redress the obvious imbalance, Professor William Schabas, the centre’s director and chairman of the meeting, said that he would allow time for people to put opposing views but he soon became impatient. One member of the audience wanted to know if public money had been used to fund the event. Another, apparently a member of the university’s staff, felt compelled to apologise to the students present for having been subjected to a one-sided panel of speakers and wanted to know why representatives of post-abortion groups like Silent No More or Rachel’s Vineyard had not been invited to take part. A graduate from the NUI law faculty criticised the faulty reasoning of the speaker from the IFPA and argued that her comments where not representative of the opinion of constitutional lawyers in Ireland.
"With no visible support among the audience both the speakers and the conference organisers were clearly frustrated and sat uncomfortably as the points they raised were refuted.
"Despite his efforts to speak Professor Eamon O'Dwyer, the university's professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynaecology, had been passed over by the chairman. When Professor Schabas called and end to the questions and began his concluding remarks, Professor O'Dwyer interrupted him. At first Professor Schabas refused to give way becoming increasingly irritable. Finally when Prof O'Dwyer persisted he was allowed to speak. He began by explaining that he had been member of NUI for 33 years and had been part of the university’s governing body. He said that such a 'charade' would not have taken place during his time. He spoke about the 1983 referendum and Ireland's maternal mortality record which is recognised by the World health organisation as the best in the world and spoke of his experience working in as a doctor in Africa.
"Professor Schabas clearly stung by Professor O’Dwyer’s comments and was audibly emotional when he resumed his concluding remarks. When yet another pro-life member of the audience who hadn't been allowed to speak from the floor interrupted, Professor Schabas called the meeting to an abrupt halt."
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