SF motion on X case defeated
The government has tonight comfortably voted down a Sinn Féin private member’s motion calling for the immediate introduction of legislation to deal with the Supreme Court judgment in the X case.
The Government’s amendment to await the publication of the expert group’s report and a Dáil debate was carried by 88 votes to 53. Sinn Féin’s Peadar Toibin who refused to sign his party’s private member’s motion, voted with his party. Former Labour minister of State Róisín Shortall abstained, while former Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten voted with the Government.
During the debate Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds said that if Britain was not on its doorstep, Ireland would have had to introduce abortion legislation years ago to avoid women dying in back street abortions, the Dáil has heard.
The Labour TD said that while he regarded himself as pro-life, he took it to mean that he was pro-life, first and foremost, for the mother.
“If her life is a risk, then the mother should be entitled to whatever treatment she needs, including abortion,’’ he added.
“And we must, and I stress must, provide legislation to reflect this. And the House has failed to do this for 20 years.’’
He was convinced that very few Irish people would insist on a woman who was raped having to bear the child of a rapist.
“What parent or husband would not support a daughter or wife if she was confronted with such an appalling scenario...to whatever she felt was for the best ?’’
He said it was first and foremost a women’s issue. “They should lead the discussion. In fact, if it were constitutionally possible, I think the decision should be left entirely in women’s hands.’’
United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly welcomed the Government’s decision that it would publish the expert group’s report, which she said every citizen would be interested in.
Ms Daly will reintroduce legislation on abortion that was rejected in the Dáil in April with a correction she said Minister for Health James Reilly had recommended. She said the debate had really highlighted how “inappropriate it is to have in our Constitution a clause that equates the life of the unborn with the life of the woman. That is the root of this problem.” It was inappropriate that women’s health was in the Constitution, she said.
She also supported call by the family of Savita Halappanavar for her case to be dealt with in the public domain. The debate follows Ms Halappanavar’s death in hospital last month, 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Her husband Praveen said doctors had refused an abortion when she was miscarrying, because a foetal heartbeat was still present.
Ms Daly said however “you have to ask the question after four expert groups already deliberating, what expertise is really going to astound us when we do get to see the report”.
She said other jurisdictions “manage to deal with it quite simply without the quagmire that the Irish State has created for itself”.
Labour TD Ann Phelan said she was not prepared to wait another 20 years for clarity on the issue. “No longer can we deny basic human rights to women in difficulty. We are prepared to legislate as soon as we have all the recommendations before us.” The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said she had voted against Ms Daly’s abortion Bill motion in the absence of information from the expert group.
Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy who supported the Sinn Fein motion described the HSE inquiry as a complete shambles. He described the health authority as an arrogant organisation, out of touch with reality. This Dáil must legislate without delay for the X case. He said there was no need to wait for the outcome of the inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar.
Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherrin said “we have to park the emotions of this case” and focus on the expert group’s report. Legislation would not provide the absolute clarity needed. “The real problem seems to be who signs off on the medical decision,” the Mayo TD said. “What is really needed is a decision making mechanism to be put in place for these life threatening cases.”
Sinn Féin’s Pádraig MacLochlainn said he did not disregard the divisiveness of abortion rights and access. He reiterated his party’s policy as not in favour of abortion, but all possible means of education and support services should be in place. “However in cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse or in which a woman’s life and mental health are at risk or in grave danger Sinn Féin accepts the final decision should rest with the woman concerned.”
Mr MacLochlainn acknowledged those who opposed abortion on the grounds of rape and he understood for them it was an issue of conscience. But he said “rape and sexual crimes are one of the greatest violations a man can commit against a woman. Short of actually killing her there is possibly nothing worse a person could do to a woman. It is a heinous crime. I could not and would not ask any woman to bear the child of a rapist.” The Donegal North-East TD said the Rape Crisis Network said 75 women who were pregnant as a result of rape, in 2010, used their services.
Sandra McLellan (SF, Cork East) said the “Irish State has since its foundation acted, not in the interests of women, but in the interests of powerful organisations like the Catholic church and the medical profession”.
Concluding the debate for Sinn Féin, party spokesman on health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said he wanted to refute the “spurious accusations’’ that people who had come on to the streets, in the wake of the Galway tragedy, were opportunist.
He said the same accusation had been made against Sinn Féin relating to the motion.
“I think it is a most insensitive accusation. There is no party political advantage in this for anyone. And there is certainly none in it for Sinn Féin. Far from it.’’
Mr Ó Caoláin said he wanted to restate Sinn Féin’s position for the sake of clarity. “Sinn Fein is not in favour of abortion. We believe all possible means of education and support services should be in place,’’ he added.
“However, in cases of rape or incest, or where a woman’s life or mental health are at risk or in grave danger, Sinn Fein argues that the final decision should rest with the woman concerned.’’
Defending the Government’s record, Jerry Buttimer (FG) said it would act on the report of an expert group it had set up. He added that the House should be focusing on that rather than “engaging in cheap political gamesmanship’’.