Fine Gael TDs and Senators shifting towards supporting abortion legislation
Parliamentary party holds key meeting on proposed legislation
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton at a press event in Dublin today. Up to 30 members of FG are understood to have misgivings about the suicide clause in the proposed abortion Bill. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
The mood of the Fine Gael parliamentary party moved firmly behind Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the leadership in its support of abortion legislation at the meeting of its TDs and Senators tonight.
According to those who were present at the meeting, there was no major rancour although a number of those deputies who have expressed public concern over the inclusion in the legislation of a suicide ground again reiterated their fears.
“The tide and momentum are moving steadily with the reality of the need to do this,” said one deputy who did not wish to be named.
He was referring to strong support expressed for the assurance of the Taoiseach that the legislation would not expand the existing laws on abortion.
The meeting started just before 6pm and continued until almost 9pm, long after it was scheduled to conclude. Over 20 of the 100-strong parliamentary party spoke during the meeting, including Mr Kenny and Minister for Health James Reilly.
The Galway West TD Brian Walsh, who met privately with the Taoiseach before the meeting, apologised to colleagues for having put them under pressure or in an invidious position with lobby groups following his announcement on Sunday that he would not support the legislation because of it included a threat of suicide as a ground for obtaining a termination.
However, he said he was maintaining his position and would not support the Bill.
There has been a mixed political response to the draft legislation on abortion published late last night.
Fianna Fáil has welcomed the publication of the Bill and hinted that it may support it as has Sinn Féin.
However, while the leadership of the Government parties are committed to it there are 30, and possibly more, Fine Gael parliamentarians who are uneasy about the suicide clause.
It is expected that some of these concerns will become more apparent at the party’s key weekly meeting this evening where it will become apparent how many of those TDs and senators have had their concerns assuaged by the published draft.
Speaking earlier today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped all TDs would support the legislation.
“I can’t speak for everybody obviously but hope can take everybody with us on an issue that I know is sensitive and in respect of which people have a range of views.”
Mr Kenny and Minister for Health James Reilly warned that there would not be a free vote on the Government’s abortion legislation.
He said members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party would have to vote in accordance with procedures, which in this case required a whip vote, Mr Kenny told a press conference this morning.
Mr Kenny also made it clear that he expects Fine Gael TDs to toe the line. “Conscientious objection in the Bill doesn’t absolve people from responsibility.”
Arguing that the Bill did not change Ireland’s abortion law or create any new rights, Mr Kenny said the new legislation was strictly within the parameters of the Constitution and the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. “It will cover existing constitutional rights, it will not create any new rights,” he said.
“The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed. Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth and the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will continue in law to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and that will apply for the future.”
Dr Reilly also said he believe women’s lives would have been saved if the X case had been legislated for over 20 years ago in the way now proposed. The legislation would have provided certainty where there was uncertainty about the right to a termination, as well as faster action.
Mr Kenny stressed the law on abortion was not being altered as the Government sought to give further detail on the proposed Bill for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy 2013.
He said aim of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was to protect women and their unborn babies by “clarifying the circumstances” where medical practitioners can intervene where a woman’s life is at risk.
He said the proposed legislation “will at last bring certainty to pregnant women and legal clarity to medical personnel”.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he was “pleased that today, we are finally legislating for the X case”.
“What we are doing here is legislating for X. We are doing no more and we are doing no less. We are doing so because it is our duty as legislators to vindicate the rights of tens of thousands of women and their families.”
Mr Gilmore acknowledged that this was “a sensitive and difficult issue” and one which had “evoked strong emotions across Irish society and within all political parties on both sides of the debate”.
He said the Bill was a “sensible and workable solution that respects the right of children and assures that a woman’s voice will be heard”.
Dr Reilly said the publishing of heads of the Bill was a “real step forward” which would bring “enormous clarity” for pregnant women and medical practitioners.
“I believe we have struck the right balance,” he said, adding that the public could be assured that the Bill was in line with the Constitution.
Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch said the Bill was about “clarity and certainty” on the matter of protecting children’s lives. She said in the very rare occasions where such difficulties arise during pregnancy, doctors needed to have “clarity and legal certainty around the decisions they are making”.