Labour to seek assurance on limited abortion
Labour will this week press for an early Cabinet commitment to legislate for limited abortion amid party concerns about Minister for Health James Reilly’s ability to implement a new legal framework.
The expert group on abortion’s report will be brought to Cabinet tomorrow. It says legislation consistent with the Supreme Court ruling on the X case is required and this should be followed by ministerial regulations.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday said the Government would act “speedily” and insisted the Coalition would not be the seventh administration to fail to act on the 1992 judgment.
An early statement of intent by Cabinet this week would provide cover for Labour backbenchers who will come under pressure to vote for former Socialist TD Clare Daly’s revamped abortion Bill on Wednesday night.
A group of Fine Gael TDs opposed to what they regard as “liberalisation” of abortion laws is expected to lobby Dr Reilly with their concerns about cases involving threatened suicide. Cork deputy Jim Daly said he “would be concerned that that might lead to abortion on demand”.
There is widespread disgruntlement among Fine Gael TDs that the expert group’s report was leaked to media outlets before they saw it. Party chairman Charlie Flanagan said: “I find it very regrettable that the report has been leaked ... and the public representatives haven’t seen it yet.”
In addition, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Dr Reilly’s resignation over the weekend after The Irish Times disclosed that two locations in Dr Reilly’s North Dublin constituency were added to a list of places chosen for primary care centres the evening before the Government announcement.
There is also some doubt within Labour on Dr Reilly’s ability to steer legislation for limited abortion through the Oireachtas. However, Mr Howlin said he “absolutely” supported his Cabinet colleague, whom he said had one of the most difficult jobs in public life.
Mr Howlin said on RTÉ’s This Week he hoped a “calm, considered, comprehensive” debate would begin in the Dáil this week, “and very speedily thereafter the Government will come to its own decisions in terms of drafting legislation and presenting that to the Oireachtas”.
The expert group’s report says women who have been refused abortions should have access to an appeals process to seek a review. Particular centres where terminations can take place should be specified.
The group of medical and legal experts favour setting out the provision of abortion in primary legislation, with related operational matters delegated to the Minister to govern through regulations.
Abortions could take place only when a risk to the life of the mother could be averted by terminating a pregnancy.
The report was commissioned before the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in October. Ms Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, has said doctors refused a termination when she was miscarrying because a foetal heartbeat was still present.
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said: “It will be difficult to oppose Clare Daly’s Bill without some statement of intent to legislate.”