FG seeks abortion Bill change to win over rebel TDs
Bill to include explicit duty to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable
Move is unlikely to appease Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton.
Fine Gael is pressing for an amendment to the abortion legislation in the hope that it can still prevent the defection of another two or more TDs in crucial Dáil votes next week.
The move is unlikely to appease Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton, who is preparing to vote against the Bill and faces the immediate loss of her ministerial post and expulsion from Fine Gael.
“She will never, ever be somebody who will just climb up the ranks, climb the greasy pole, at any price. She believes in decency in public life,” said a source close to Ms Creighton.
It is anticipated in Government circles, however, that the amendment under discussion with Labour might be enough to bring on board doubters such as Mayo TDs Michelle Mulherin and John O’Mahony and Longford TD James Bannon.
The mood is tense within Fine Gael after four backbench TDs defied Taoiseach Enda Kenny to vote against the legislation on Tuesday, the biggest revolt against his authority since he took office in 2011.
Mr Kenny and Ms Creighton have had a number of long meetings during which Taoiseach attempted to convince her to back the Bill. With other TDs and Senators wavering, the Taoiseach is anxious to avoid any further slippage.
The change to the Bill would set out explicitly the clearly implied requirement to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable when doctors assess whether a termination is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.
Minister for Health James Reilly told the Oireachtas health committee two days ago that he was working on amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which returns to the Dáil next Wednesday for two more votes. Although Dr Reilly would not be drawn on the nature of the amendments, he will give TDs the opportunity to scrutinise them before the debates.
Talks between the Coalition partners are at a sensitive stage but the Labour camp has indicated its willingness to accept “tweaks or adjustments” so long as the overall effect, shape and meaning of the legislation is not altered.
As it stands, the Bill says medical practitioners or a review committee examining a pregnant woman must have regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable when forming a “reasonable opinion” in good faith about her condition. It is on the basis of such a “reasonable opinion” that a decision can be made to terminate the pregnancy if that is the only action that can avert a real and substantial risk to the woman’s life from a physical illness, a medical emergency or suicide.
While the need to preserve unborn human life is not at present mentioned directly in the sections of the Bill on illness, emergencies and suicide, the amendment would introduce a direct reference in each section.
It remains unclear whether such a move would be enough to satisfy Ms Mulherin or Mr O’Mahony. Each has deep reservations about the suicide clause and there is no prospect of its removal. Although Mr Bannon has called for a referendum, he is believed to be amenable to supporting the law next week.
However, sources with direct knowledge of the thinking within Government believe there is little prospect of Ms Creighton coming on board. Uncertainty also surrounds the attitude of Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan.
Ms Creighton, the most senior internal critic of the legislation, will table three or four amendments to the draft law when it returns to the Dáil for fourth or “report” stage debate and will restate strong criticism of the Bill.