Reilly insists proposed abortion Bill brings legal clarity

Minister tells Dáil he would ‘not be afraid’ to use his powers to suspend a service if Bill is abused

Speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Health James Reilly said he was ’fully aware of the sensitive nature’ of the issue.

Speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Health James Reilly said he was ’fully aware of the sensitive nature’ of the issue.

Thu, Jun 20, 2013, 14:27

The debate on the abortion Bill has been adjourned in Dáil, with Minister for Health James Reilly insisting it brings legal clarity on the issue.

Speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Health James Reilly said if the Bill was abused he would have the “power to suspend” a service and would “not be afraid” to exercise that power.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 brought “no new substantive rights for the termination of pregnancy”, he said.

The debate on the Bill - which will allow abortion in limited circumstances, including a risk to life from suicide – began this morning. The first vote is expected at the conclusion of the second stage next week. Last night, Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews failed in his bid to get a free vote on the issue.

The Dáil is also concluding its debate on the Abolition of Seanad Éireann Bill 2013 today,

In his address, Dr Reilly said he was he was “fully aware of the sensitive nature” of the issue. For the first time, information on abortions in Ireland would become available and it would become clear if certain professionals were carrying out a disproportionate number of them. Dr Reilly said “any attempt to abuse this legislation will be thwarted”.

He believed the legislation provided the right balance and legal clarity, he said. The Bill means Irish women can be assured that everything possible would be done to save their lives, he said.

Dr Reilly said the law was interpreted by some as allowing for abortion when it was the “best treatment” but the “law is clear” that it allows abortion when it is the only treatment option, he said. Dr Reilly noted there were over 50 drafts proposed on the Bill.

Fianna Fail TD Billy Kelleher outlined his personal support for the Bill. Mr Kelleher did not believe the legislation was “cast in stone forever and a day” as if there were issues with it and it was moving towards a more liberal form of abortion, it could be changed. The Party will allow a free vote.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said his party would support the “flawed” Bill, which offers greater protection for women and clarity for frontline practitioners.“We have stated consistently that legislation in line with the X case judgement, and in compliance with the ABC case judgement and the expert group recommendations, is required,’’ he added. “In fact, it is long overdue.”

The party had concerns with the Bill such as fatal foetal abnormalities, the criminalisation of women who have terminations outside the scope of the legislation was a “serious concern”, he said.

United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly said the Bill did not provide legal clarity nor did it make the situation safer for women. It is the “absolute minimum” the Government could “get away with”, she said.

Ms Daly said there were serious problems with Bill as it “criminalises women and doctors” and the restrictions would put the lives of women at risk. She said the Government could have done a lot more within the confines of the Constitution. She added that the eighth amendment of the Constitution should be repealed.

Abortion was not the divisive issue it once was and many Irish people would support abortion in the case of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities, she said.

Independent TD Mick Wallace described the provision on abortions for suicidal women as “barbaric” and “tantamount to torture” in which women must “prove themselves not to be liars”.

Mr Wallace said no more than two practitioners should be required in such cases. He said criminal penalties in the Bill would “make women afraid” and the section “must be removed”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Bill would still leave the “disgraceful situation” where a 14-year-old girl who had been raped but was not suicidal would be denied an abortion and would have to travel abroad.

There was no reason the legislation should not contain right for abortion in case of fatal foetal abnormalities, he said, adding that he was speaking as someone with a daughter who had fatal foetal abnormalities. A woman in this situation who received an abortion could be jailed. “Do you really believe such a woman is a criminal?” he asked.

Last night, Dublin South TD Peter Mathews failed to get a motion through the parliamentary party meeting to allow Fine Gael members have a free vote according to their consciences. He was unable to get a seconder for his motion and subsequently withdrew it.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes said this morning a free vote for the party’s TDs and senators would see them “picked off one by one because of the campaign that has been launched by some people”.

The “great great majority” of the parliamentary party supported the issue and there was “no provision” for a free vote, Mr Hayes told RTÉ Radio.

The failure to get the motion put to the meeting represented a serious setback for the group of TDs and Senators within Fine Gael who are opposed to the Bill. They have sought a relaxing of the three-line whip - compulsory support for the legislation with serious consequences for not doing so - imposed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

So far, three Fine Gael parliamentarians have indicated they will vote against the Bill in the Dáil. They are Mr Mathews, Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames and her Galway West colleague Brian Walsh who yesterday formally declared his intention to oppose the Bill – something he already strongly indicated three months ago.

Mr Walsh said yesterday he believed at least eight and perhaps more than 10 Fine Gael TDs and Senators would not support the Bill’s passage.

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