Last thing Coalition wants is divisive debate on abortion
The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway could be the catalyst for agreement between the Coalition parties on legislation to deal with the consequences of the X case, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the matter.
Until recent days there appeared to be a gulf between a significant group of Fine Gael TDs and their Coalition partners in Labour as they awaited a report of an expert group on abortion.
The group was established to advise the Government how to respond to the European Court of Human Rights decision in 2010 that Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to life of the mother set out in 1992.
Last month a number of Fine Gael TDs expressed reservations at a parliamentary party meeting about proceeding by way of legislation to define the circumstances in which abortion might be legally carried out.
With the Labour Party committed to legislation rather than another referendum as the best way of dealing with the issue, it appeared that abortion could come back to bedevil the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition in a repeat of the political nightmare that caused so much trauma in the 1980s.
The publicity surrounding the events in Galway, whatever the circumstances of the tragedy, has galvanised public opinion and that, in turn, has had a direct impact on the political system.
A number of Fine Gael TDs who had expressed worries about legislating for the X case have modified their views and now accept that legislation is urgently required to clarify the constitutional position that abortion is justified if there is a threat to the life of the mother.
Meath East TD Regina Doherty summed up the mood of the group by saying: “I am anti-abortion and pro-life, but I am pro my life and the lives of my children.”
While wide differences remain between those Fine Gael TDs who identify themselves as “pro-life” and some Labour TDs who are adamantly pro-choice, a broad consensus is emerging in both parties that the recommendations of the expert group should be implemented through legislation.
Whether that legislation will require a formal Bill to be enacted by the Oireachtas or whether it can be done by way of a statutory instrument is not yet clear.
What is clear is that there is no appetite in the political system for another referendum on abortion. Two attempts by government to deal with the X case by way of referendum in 1992 and 2001 were defeated, and there is a growing acceptance by TDs that as legislators they will have to deal with the issue.
The last thing most Government TDs want is to get embroiled in an emotive and divisive debate on abortion. There are a range of views in both Coalition parties but there appears to be broad support for legislation to define the limited circumstances, identified by the Supreme Court, in which abortion is legal.