Shatter describes abortion restrictions as ‘a great cruelty’

Minister expects referendum to extend abortion to cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality

Minister for Justice  Alan Shatter who said today it was  a ‘great cruelty’ thatwomen cannot have an abortion in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who said today it was a ‘great cruelty’ thatwomen cannot have an abortion in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Photograph: The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 15:52

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has described as a “great cruelty” the fact that women cannot have an abortion in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

He also said it was “an unacceptable cruelty” that abortion is not available to rape victims and said the State would ultimately have to “live up to its responsibility” in this area.

Speaking a day after the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was passed by the Seanad, bringing a long and acrimonious legislative process to an end, Mr Shatter said a future government may have to put more liberal abortion proposals to the people in a referendum.

Mr Shatter said it was “of major social importance” that the Oireachtas had finally put in place a legal architecture to ensure that women and medics had certainty about the law in cases where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman. But he added that the Government was constrained by the constitution from going further.

“I personally believe it is a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman in circumstances where she has a fatal foetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated, and that according to Irish law any woman in those circumstances is required to carry a child to full term knowing it has no real prospect of any nature of survival following birth,” he said.

“I think it’s unfortunate that this is an issue we cannot address. Clearly many women who find themselves in these circumstances address this issue by taking the plane or the boat to England. Despite what we have been able to do within this legislation, this will continue to be a British solution to an Irish problem.”

Mr Shatter, who was speaking at the publication of the Rape Crisis Centre’s annual report, said it was also an “unacceptable cruelty” that abortion was not available to rape victims unless there was a risk to their life.

“I think this is an issue on which the general public are a great deal more advanced than perhaps legislators are in their consideration and assessment of what should happen in these particular areas,” he said, adding that he expected a “continuing and ongoing debate” on this issue in the years to come.

“It’s not an issue that I anticipate is going to be dealt with within the lifetime of the current Government, but it is an issue I anticipate some future government may need to consider putting to the people... I do believe that as a State we have responsibilities we should live up to in this area.”