Fatal foetal abnormalities Bill is ‘flawed legislation’

Varadkar says Opposition cannot say with certainty what constitutes ‘incompatible with life’

Richard Boyd Barrett has given an impassioned speech to the Dáil about his personal experience with fatal foetal abnormalities.

 

Legislation on fatal foetal abnormalities should be considered by the constitutional convention, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

He described the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Amendment (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill as “flawed legislation” and hit out at opposition TDs, claiming they did not understand their legislation.

He said TDs were “clearly confused and clearly making different arguments and believe different things can arise from this Bill. This is a flawed piece of legislation,” and he claimed it was unconstitutional. The Minister listed two conditions where it was unclear if a baby could survive outside the womb.

Mr Varadkar said the Opposition could not say with certainty “what does incompatible with life actually mean”. Did it mean “life for a few hours, life for a few minutes, life for a few days, life for a few months. That’s not a Jesuitical issue, that’s something you have to define in legislation.”

But rounding on the Minister, Independent TD Clare Daly, who proposed the Bill, said she understood the legislation perfectly and “I won’t have you using comments by some people who spoke in favour of this legislation, to undermine what is a perfectly valid and legally sound” Bill.

She said it was an “incredibly limited” Bill. She recognised the “abortion reality” in Ireland and was a very specific piece of legislation, which provides that two suitably qualified medical professionals, a perinatologist and an obstetrician, to in good faith certify that the foetus has a fatal foetal abnormality incompatible with life.

“We’re dealing with narrow circumstances, a fatal, foetal abnormality.”

She said the Supreme Court had said someone should not have to continue a pregnancy “if it was an exercise in futility”.

Ms Daly told the Minister “you don’t know whether it (the Bill) is unconstitutional or not. The only way it can be determined whether something is constitutional or not is if our High Court or our Supreme Court adjudicate it and deem it to be so.”

She said “what you’re actually saying is the present Attorney General believes it to be unconstitutional. Now many other people believe that she is wrong, including the previous Attorney General.”

She said “if we’re right then we have a chance of alleviating the pressure heartache being experienced by people today, yesterday, last week, next week”.

50 TDs in favour of abortion

Ms Daly said 50 Government TDs, including “practically most of the Cabinet” were on the Dáil record as being in favour of abortion in fatal foetal abnormality cases.

She said it was an “affront” that 15 Labour TDs, who published an open letter to Minister James Reilly articulating the views expressed today by TDs in the Dáil “and yet we face the prospect of them coming in here on Tuesday and voting against this legislation”.

The Dublin North TD told the House that the law currently made the situation for parents in this situation “barbaric” and she compared it to torture.

But Labour’s Joanna Tuffy, the only member of her party to speak in the debate, believed the legislation was unconstitutional and said there should be a referendum, after the general election.

Mr Varadkar had told the Dáil the Government had no mandate to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

But he believed a Constitutional convention on the issue would be a good way to consider the issue. He said it should be dealt with by the next Dáil, the 32nd Dáil and he would advocate this to his party.

However Independent TD Mick Wallace rejected Mr Varadkar’s claim as “horseshit”. He said the Government didn’t have a mandate to pay bondholders but it went ahead and paid them all the same.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher called on the Government to be “brave and bold” on the issue and said his party would have a free vote on the legislation on Tuesday.

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said she supported the aspiration of Ms Daly’s Bill but she wished the solution were “that simple”.

The Dublin South TD said the Bill claimed constitutionality on the grounds that that the 8th amendment would not apply where the foetus could not be born alive. They were “back asking the courts to define ‘unborn’”.

She said the only way forward was to “take it out of the Constitution and provide doctors and women with a clear legislative framework”.

Her party colleague in Dublin South-Central Catherine Byrne said “if ever there was legislation I’d like to support, it is this one”.

Sinn Fein’s Brian Stanley said his party could not support the legislation as it had to be considered at its ardfheis next month and its 14 TDs will abstain in next Tuesday’s vote.