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Latest: More than 3,000 women a year travel to UK for abortions, committee told

Latest: The Oireachtas Abortion Committee has agreed to vote on its crucial findings on December 13th.

It has until December 20th to provide the Dail with its full report.

Update 3.29pm: More than 3,000 women a year are travelling from Ireland to England and Wales for an abortion, the Eighth Amendment Committee has been told.

Last year 141 of the 3,000-plus terminations were cases where the foetus was at a substantial risk of significant disability, the Oireachtas committee debating the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution heard today.

The committee was discussing termination in cases of foetal abnormality.

Dr Peter Thompson, a consultant in foetal medicine at Birmingham Women and Children's Hospital, warned the committee against making a list of foetal abnormalities that might be permitted grounds for an abortion.

He said that due to the ever changing progress in medicine, "conditions would need to be added and removed from the list on a regular basis".

Dr Thompson strongly advised the committee against "being prescriptive and using the term lethal abnormality".

"The problem is there is no agreed definition as to what lethal actually means," he said.

"Is it all foetuses with that condition die before birth, that they die either before birth or in the neonatal period despite supportive therapy, a baby that usually dies in one of these two periods of time or is it that it has been noted that there is an association between the condition and death?" he asked.

Dr Thompson added that counselling women whose pregnancy is complicated by a foetus with a severe abnormality "is not a binary state of affairs but rather a complex discussion that requires a description of risk and probability".

Eamonn Moran, principal officer in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Unit in the Department of Education and Skills, told the committee that access to sexual and health education is an important right for students.

"Schools have a responsibility to provide for this, in consultation with parents, having regard to the ethos of the school.

"Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and in post-primary junior cycle," said Mr Moran.

He added that Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is required at all levels, from primary through to senior cycle, and that the department has set out the content for each of these programmes in SPHE syllabuses and guidelines.

Update 2.40pm: An expert in foetal medicine has urged the Abortion Committee not to legislate specifically for fatal foetal abnormalities, saying the term is almost impossible to define.

One of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly was to allow abortions in the case of foetal abnormalities that are likely to result in death.

Consultant at Birmingham Women’s Hospital Peter Thompson says he would advise against using the terms lethal or fatal when deciding on allowing for abortion in the case of severe anomalies.

"The problem is there is no really agreed definition as to what lethal actually means," he said.

"Is it that all foetus' with that condition will die before birth? Is it that foetus' will die either before birth or in the neonatal period, despite supportive therapy?

"Or is it that a baby will usually die, in these two periods of time."

Ealrier: The Oireachtas abortion committee has agreed to vote on its crucial findings on Wednesday, December 13 and to potentially have its "short, concise" report concluded by the following evening, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Fine Gael senator and committee chair Catherine Noone confirmed the move after a 20-minute public discussion with members at the start of the cross-party group's meeting today.

After initially raising the prospect of voting next Tuesday, a number of committee members including Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer and Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan, said they would not be available.

While Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smith called for a vote to take place tomorrow, Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien said it is vital for the credibility of the committee's report that as much time as possible is given to members to ensure "we have full attendance" on the vote.

Mr O'Brien also said there is a need for a "conversation next week" about the information that has been provided to the committee, and was supported by Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.

After Ms Murphy said "we could end up with quite a short report that could be effective" and that "we're not trying to write the legislation", Ms Noone agreed and said "I don't think we'd be doing our job well if we gave [the Oireachtas] reams of information".

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick said no votes should take place "until the very end" of witness evidence to the committee as this is the process that took place during the Citizens Assembly earlier this year.

After the discussion, Ms Noone confirmed the committee will vote on its findings on Wednesday December 13 and will potentially have a "short, concise" report available by the following day.

The committee - which has already agreed to "not retain the eighth amendment in full", which means the law will change but gives no information to what extent - must provide the Dáil with its report by December 20.

In a nod to the recent concerns the eighth amendment committee could collapse due to a snap winter election, Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan joked: "Can I just say it's probably good we're back here."