Time for political focus on abortion not procrastination
“Let us cut to the net point. This is about the safety and care of women so that this episode or some tragic happening like this does not occur again,” she said, pointing out the HSE had a duty to find out if there were unsafe practices in Galway.
Further clarity emerged later in the day when HSE director-designate Tony O’Brien confirmed the inquiry, or “clinical review” to use the medical term, would go ahead despite Mr Halappanavar’s refusal to participate. He also revealed he had asked the Health Information and Quality Authority to undertake a statutory investigation.
In parallel with the emotions generated by the Halappanavar case, Dr Reilly was presented with the report of the expert group on how the Government should respond to the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights that the State had failed in its duty to deal with the implications of the X case. The report will be brought to Cabinet on Tuesday and published almost immediately.
While the report is set to provide a number of options, the most likely one to be followed involves the introduction of primary legislation to provide a framework for regulations that will give effect to the X case decision.
Under this scenario, the legislation itself would not detail the circumstances in which doctors should act to save the life of a mother or attempt to determine when threatened suicide could be interpreted as such a threat.
Instead, it would provide a legal framework to cover the guidelines devised by the medical experts.
Such an approach would be likely to command broad support in both Government parties. While a few Fine Gael TDs might be uneasy at legislating for abortion even in these very limited circumstances and some Labour TDs would favour a much more liberal regime, such an approach should provide a basis for consensus.
It would also be likely to get at least some support from the Opposition benches. The attitude of the majority of Fianna Fáil TDs mirrors that in Fine Gael, with the bulk of the party likely to accept the need for a legislative framework.
The reluctance of Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín to go along with his party’s line during the week showed that no party has a completely unified position on abortion and that makes a broad consensus on legislation an attainable objective.
To achieve it, though, the Government will have to act quickly. The Taoiseach was right to say during the week that he would not be rushed into a hasty decision by the Galway tragedy but, considering that the X case has been allowed to languish for 20 years, further procrastination is not an option.