FG TD Mathews will not support abortion Bill 'as it stands'

Family Planning Association criticises retention of criminal sanctions for termination

Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews has maintained his intention to vote against the abortion Bill and said he will put forward a motion for a free vote .Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews has maintained his intention to vote against the abortion Bill and said he will put forward a motion for a free vote .Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times


Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews has maintained his intention to vote against the abortion Bill and said he will put forward a motion for a free vote .

Mr Mathews told RTÉ Radio he would put forward a a motion for a “personal conscience vote” to be discussed at next Wednesday’s parliamentary party meeting.

The Dublin South TD would not support the Bill “as it stands”. He had “misgivings” about the final Bill which did “not really change things”. “An avalanche starts with one stone falling out of place,”he said .

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Mr Kenny today said the consequences were “very clear” from a “party point of view” for those who “may take it upon themselves to make statements about their intentions.”

Senator Paul Bradford: The Fine Gael senator said his concern over the Bill remained following publication, particularly about the “desirability or necessity of the section dealing with suicidal ideation”.

Mr Bradford told RTÉ Radio he was concerned that the proposal remained despite evidence presented at the abortion hearings. He feared that the suicide clause would “very quickly” become “abortion on demand”.

Mr Bradford said a free vote was “quite attractive” but a party also needed to “make a statement about its values and what it stands for”.

It was “ a bit early to say” if he would vote against the Bill. It had a “long way to go” with “lots of amendments” before it went to the Seanad. “I have major doubts and concerns at the moment” he said.

Pro-choice campaigners have criticised the bill for retaining the up to 14 year jail sentence for having or assisting in an abortion.

Jan O’Sullivan TD: The Labour Minister said today that she knew there were “a few people in Fine Gael that have difficulty” with the Bill.

However the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment told reporters that she was “confident it will get through“ and the “vast majority of Government deputies and senators will vote for it”.

Ms O’Sullivan said there had been “very strong solidarity between the two government parties in relation to the issue.” The Government had got the balance and the wording right, she said.

“It is a difficult issue for a lot of people but I think we have always been clear on what we were going to do in the legislation –it is to legislate for the X-case,” she said.

Clare Daly TD: The United Left Alliance TD said a lot of people will be very concerned that women who are victims of rape could face jail sentence of 14 years “where their perpetrator of that rape wouldn’t be given a sentence like that at all”.

The Bill was the “absolute minimum the Government could get away with” and was a “missed opportunity to provide medical treatment for many women who need it beyond the very limited circumstances that are being provided ”.

Families of some 1500 couples experiencing fatal foetal abnormalities every year would be “devastated” there was no provision for their situation in the legislation, she said on RTÉ Radio.

The Irish Family Planning Association: The association has criticised the retention of criminal sanctions in cases of unlawful abortions.

Association chief executive Niall Behan described the 14 year imprisonment maximum penalty for having or assisting in unlawful abortion as “ineffective, disproportionate and inconsistent” with human rights obligations.

It “reinforces the chilling effect” pointed out by the Ireland European Court of Human Rights when it criticised harsh criminal sanctions in the case of A, B and C vs Ireland , he said.

“To comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, the Oireachtas must exclude pregnant women from criminal liability under this legislation,” he said.

However, Mr Behan said the Bill contained “significant amendments” which help to “clarify and simplify issues” for women who may be impacted.

Anti-abortion campaigners have criticised the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill for retaining a provision for terminations for suicidal women.

Pro-Life Campaign: Caroline Simons, legal advisor to the Pro-Life Campaign, said the “overwhelming weight of evidence” given by psychiatrists during the hearings on the Bill was that “this is not an appropriate treatment and they do not prescribe it for women who are suicidal”.

She said Minister for Health James Reilly should “should listen to obstetricians” who are “very uncomfortable with suicide being included in this”.

Ms Simons also raised concern at the lack of time limits. “What we are talking about here is terminating the life of the unborn. there is nothing in this bill that prevents that and there are no time limits that prevent this.”

It could result in the “appalling scenario of partial birth abortions” she told RTÉ Radio.

Activating the legislation would allow “for the first time in our history, the direct intentional targeting of the life of the unborn child. There is no getting away from this awful reality. It is a million miles away from good medicine,” she said in a statement.

She criticised the language used by the Government in relation to the Bill such as “life-saving” . There was nothing “life-saving” about “two psychiatrists of like mind” signing away “an unborn child’s life on grounds that have nothing to do with bona fide medical treatment,” she said.

She also criticised this morning’s Irish Times IPSOS/MRBI opinion poll which found that 75 per cent of those polled supported the legislation while 52 per cent supported abortion where a woman was threatening suicide. “If you ask a question in a leading way you will illicit the answer you are looking for,” Ms Simons said.

Senator Ronan Mullen: The Independent Senator said the “Bill imports potential horrors” because of the suicide ground. He said the Government had been “dishonest” with the people in “pretending the bill is restrictive and pretending they are somehow legally obliged to do it,” he said.

Minister for Health James Reilly: The Minister said the Bill clarified the legislation women and professionals delivering services.

Dr Reilly said there was a “very sane and calm” discussion at the Fine Gael meeting on the Bill last night.

Some people feel it has not gone to far, others that it has not gone far enough, he told RTÉ Radio this morning. “We feel that what we have done here is a real advance in terms of clarifying the law for the women who need our health services and the professionals who must deliver it”, he said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore: The Labour leader last night welcomed the publication of the Bill. “If this Bill is passed, every one of the tens of thousands of pregnant women who are admitted to hospital every year will know that any action which may be needed to save her life in an emergency will be taken,” he said.

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