Abortion legislation to go to the President after Seanad vote

Legislation passed by 39 votes to 14

Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh at the counting of votes in the Seanad election.  Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh at the counting of votes in the Seanad election. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 10:19

Controversial abortion legislation will now go to the President for consideration after its passage through the Seanad by 39 votes to 14.

As expected Fine Gael and Labour Senators supported the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which legislates for the 1992 X case Supreme Court judgment on suicidality in pregnancy.

Just three of Fianna Fáil’s Senators – Ned O’Sullivan, Averil Power and Mary White – supported the Bill. Mr O’Sullivan was alone among the party’s 12 male Senators to support the legislation and overall just 25 per cent of the 33 members of the parliamentary party, including 19 TDs supported the Bill.

Thomas Byrne (FF) was one of six Senators absent for the vote. They also included Michael D’Arcy (FG), Marie Moloney (Lab), Sean Barrett (Ind), James Heffernan (Ind Lab) and Feargal Quinn (Ind).

The most debated piece of legislation in living memory, taking months to go through the Oireachtas, the Bill provoked serious division and bitter exchanges throughout its passage in the Seanad.

Before last night’s final vote there were stormy scenes and repeated interruptions as a number of amendments rejected at committee stage were reintroduced for the report and final stages.

They included a proposal from Fine Gael rebel Fidelma Healy-Eames and Mary Ann O’Brien, calling for anaesthetics to be given to a foetus to be terminated, so that it would not feel pain.

New evidence
Ms Healy-Eames said there was new evidence emerging that the foetus felt pain from 16 weeks onwards. “Surely it’s the humane and compassionate thing to do, to provide for relief at that moment at the ending of life of the unborn baby.”

Rejecting the amendment Minister of State for Health Alex White said decisions including on pain relief would be made by the clinical team involved in line with international best practice.

Rónán Mullen (Ind) said, “We are introducing an abortion regime here.” Jim Walsh (FF) said, “It’s all very fine for the pseudo liberals and pseudo feminists to argue the woman’s right to choose . . . She’s exercising her right to choose whether her baby lives or dies.”

John Crown (Ind), who supported the Bill, hit out at the 14-year jail sentence for an illegal abortion and said many men received suspended sentences for rape and other serious sexual crimes.

He said: “Somebody who rapes a woman will get a shorter sentence than his 15-year-old sister might get because she has an abortion . . . Now if somebody is really pro-life they wouldn’t want that to happen to their sister, their daughter, their wife or anyone they even casually knew.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said it would be unconstitutional to delete the suicide section of the legislation because it would give insufficient regard to the life of the pregnant woman. “It would not implement the X-case judgment.”

She reiterated that abortion was not a treatment for suicide “but it may sometimes be necessary to prevent the risk of suicide in a young woman or girl as we saw in the X case”.