Government claims progress on abortion legislation

Draft Bill expected to be agreed before next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting

Minister of State for Health Alex White: “We are progressing very well.”

Minister of State for Health Alex White: “We are progressing very well.”

Fri, Apr 26, 2013, 06:32

There is growing confidence among the two Coalition parties that they can resolve deep differences on abortion legislation ahead of next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

A number of Government figures with knowledge of the process said that at a meeting yesterday between the key Ministers involved in the process, good progress was made on the problematic issue of how a suicide threat can be accommodated in the draft Bill.

No further meetings have been scheduled but further work will now take place on refining the heads of the Protection of Maternal Life Bill. Several sources expressed confidence that the draft would be agreed before next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting with at least one further meeting taking place.

Difficulties
The difficulties between Fine Gael and Labour have arisen over the nature of the assessment of a suicide threat.

While it is likely that neither party will disagree with a panel of three medical specialists – two psychiatrists and one obstetrician – making the initial assessment, there has been disagreement over the inclusion in drafts of the legislation of a second phase where a further three doctors certified the assessment of the panel.

“That is the space we are in at the moment. It will take a little time to consider proposals and changes,” said one source.

Minister of State for Health Alex White, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said there was a determination to agree to the heads of the Protection of Maternal Life Bill quickly.

Mr White said the legislation would still leave a “very restrictive regime” in Ireland with regard to abortion.

“We want to put in safeguards but we don’t want to put in any excessive or inordinate obstacle to the exercise of the woman to what is a constitutional right.

‘Good progress’
“So we are doing that. We are progressing very well. We have had very good discussions, very collegiate discussions with colleagues in both parties and we are making good progress.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday at a conference on “What We Owe Christianity” organised by the Iona Institute, former Fianna Fáil minister Dr Martin Mansergh said where the abortion debate was concerned, he felt “suicide is a complete side issue”.

He said the focus should be on preventing tragedies such as occurred in Galway recently, “by legislation or regulation”.

He noted that where this and other socio-moral issues were concerned, “the unused Article 27 of the Constitution allows for Bills to be directly submitted to the people in referendum.”