Fine Gael’s Timmins to oppose abortion Bill over suicide clause
Minister for Education says days of dominant Catholic Church dictating governent policy are over
Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins said today will not support the Government’s legislation on abortion.
The Wicklow TD is the third deputy in his party to publicly declare his opposition to the legislation, joining Dublin South TD Peter Mathews and Galway West TD Brian Walsh.
Mr Timmins said he could not support the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill while the provision for suicide remained in the legislation.
He cited the concerns of medical professions and listed the names of 12 gynaecologists expressing their opposition. He said “almost to a man and a woman they are totally opposed to section 9 of the Bill”, which provides for a termination where a woman is suicidal.
It is the first time he has publicly declared his opposition. Mr Timmins said he hoped the Minister for Health James Reilly would remove the section on suicide.
He quoted evidence by Master of the Rotunda hospital Dr Sam Coulter Smith to the Oireachtas hearings on abortion, who described this as an extraordinarily rare incident of about one in 500,000. He said there was no evidence to show it was a treatment for suidical ideation or intent.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar said a third referendum deleting suicide as a grounds for abortion would also have to include other issues.
He said he did not believe it would be possible to vote again on the issue without asking questions on allowing terminations on the grounds of rape, alleged rape, incest, the health of the mother, or in the case of a foetus incompatible with life. “People who are pro-life in this House, or outside of this House, who are calling for referendums, should be careful about what they wished for because they do not know, for example, how big a pandora’s box they may open.”
Mr Varadkar appealed to his Fine Gael colleagues thinking about voting against the Bill to reflect on the issue. “I would not like to see Fine Gael, my party, lose anyone from our ranks over legislation which I do not believe will substantially change what is happening now in Ireland relating to abortion.’’
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the legislation will give women “access to the rights they are entitled to by the Constitution”.
He said successive governments had dodged the issue for more than 20 years. “I am proud as a Labour TD, as a social democrat, as a feminist and as a father to be at last speaking on this Bill,” he told the House. “This Bill, when enacted, will still not be compulsory. People who abhor abortion in any form whatsoever, will not be compelled to avail of its provisions.”
He said the Constitution did not allow them to go beyond what the Bill proposed. “But that is no reason why it should not be supported.”
Mr Quinn said the cases of the three women who went to the European Court of Human Rights were “incredibly sad and damning, damning indictments” of the failure to legislate for the X case following the Supreme Court ruling in 1992.
“For too long, our democracy has been cowed into fear and submission by those vested interests that continuously pressurise politicians to not legislate for the constitutional rights of pregnant women to have their lives protected in a medical emergency,” he said.
He welcomed the fact the Dail was dealing with the issue not on strictly party lines but as legislators with one common goal, namely “to ensure the constitutional rights of women in Ireland are upheld and vindicated”.
The Minister said that in a republic, different faiths and moral points of view should be heard and respected but no faith should be allowed to prevail over the wishes of others. “The dominant church in this country held the view it could impose its belief system into the law of this land in the name of the republic. That day is over and the enactment of this legislation will ensure that we arrive to the point where women in the Republic of Ireland to have the right to choose.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was very strongly opposed to any attempt to criminalise or be judgemental of women who had abortions. “Who in this chamber, or indeed outside this chamber, has the right to judge these women?” he asked.
Mr Adams said it was a fact that the lives of some women were placed at real and substantial risk due to their pregnancy. “In these cases, only a termination of a pregnancy, as distinct from the termination of the life of the unborn, though that can be a consequence of the intervention, is going to save their lives.”
Party deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was worth remembering the precise circumstances of the X case where a 14-year-old child was raped and brutalised. She was pregnant and suicidal and the courts vindicated her right to a termination. “I view it as a barbaric notion that a raped, brutalised, pregnant, suicidal child would be forced by the State to carry that pregnancy to term,” she said. “That, for me, does not add up ethically, morally, and it does not add up legally, as the Supreme Court has so judged.’’
Fine Gael’s Michael Creed said it was very difficult to see how the appropriate clarity required could be provided outside of the legislation.
His party colleague Paschal Donohoe said the law must be absolutely clear, he said. “A woman faced with the risk of losing her life should not face the vista of the State making a choice for her,” he said. “It is our responsibility as legislators to create a framework within which those choices can be made but not to make them for her.”
Mr Mathews, a strong opponent of the legislation, said the Bill was not right. “I hope we are in a civilised society,’’ he added. “I hope everybody understands the gravity of what we are about.’’
He said that on last Thursday and Friday he had received well over 100 letters, texts, emails and phone calls from doctors who said the Bill was wrong. One consultant had said he was never curtailed by law from saving women’s lives, and he had added that while wars and famines came and went abortion came and stayed.
Supporting the Bill, Fianna Fail’s Barry Cowen recalled a conversation he had with a priest in his Laois-Offaly constituency. “I explained I felt compelled and torn by virtue of one’s obligation to adhere to the Supreme Court decision. That decision, whether we agree with it or not, or like it or not, obliges this House, and the members within it, to act on its instructions as legislators and provide legislation which reflects its interpretation of 40.33 of our Constitution.’’