Abortion Bill goes to committee stage today
Two Fine Gael senators defy the party whip, as expected
Fidelma Healy-Eames was one of two Fine Gael senators to defy the party whip on the legislation
The Government had an overwhelming majority of 41 to 15 in the first Seanad vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
Two Fine Gael senators, Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford defied the party whip on the legislation, as expected. Michael Mullins (FG) who it was reported had reservations about the Bill, voted with the Government.
Taoiseach’s nominee Mary Ann O’Brien also voted against the Coalition as did 10 of Fianna Fáil’s 14 Senators, along with Independents Feargal Quinn and Rónán Mullen. Senator David Norris (Ind) was absent for the vote as was former Labour parliamentary party member James Heffernan.
Four Fianna Fáil Senators voted with the Government – Averil Power, Mary White, Darragh O’Brien and Ned O’Sullivan along with the three Sinn Féin Senators. In a second vote to allow the committee stage debate start today, Mr Bradford supported the Government and it won the vote by 42 to 14.
During the debate Ms O’Brien who rejected the legislation, spoke of losing a baby at 38 weeks and of having a baby diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities who lived for 18 months. She was suicidal when he was six months old, feeling she could not take care of him but she received psychiatric treatment and was “put back on an even plateau and saw that baby’s life through to 18 months. They were probably the best 18 months of my life and I will treasure them forever.”
Michael Mullins (FG), whose voting intentions had been unclear, said “I genuinely feel there is a real commitment by the Minister for Health to confine this legislation and keep it within the terms of the Constitution”.
Paul Coghlan (FG) hoped the President would call in the Council of State and refer the Bill to the Supreme Court. He said a number of people and institutions planned to challenge certain aspects of the legislation. “I think it would be preferable given all that has happened, that we would have a full test, but only the President can institute that.”
Averil Power (FF) said abortion was never desirable “but sometimes the consequences of unavailability are worse” and situations occurred where continuing a pregnancy might cost the mother her own life.
Difficulties and dilemmas
Thomas Byrne (FF) did not believe the legislation would open the floodgates to abortion but said he could not support a Bill which would not bring clarity for doctors but cause difficulties and dilemmas.
Marie Moloney (Lab) said abortion is an everyday occurrence in Ireland. “It is a reality for the 4,000 Irish women who make the long and lonely journey to the UK each year to avail of abortions there.”
Paschal Mooney (FF) said the suicide clause “is the Rubicon I cannot cross” and his party colleague Diarmuid Wilson said the Bill owed more to political expediency and power broking than to medical evidence.
But John Crown (Ind) said interminable arguments in the Oireachtas about what constituted evidence-based medicine were irrelevant, the right way to treat something now could be made obsolete in five weeks’ time by the next prospective randomised trial.