James Reilly move on draft abortion law divides Coalition
Labour unease over workability of Bill and lack of agreement prior to Cabinet talks
Minister for Health James Reilly: Acknowledged that there would be differences of opinion – an indication that agreement is unlikely today. Photographer: Dara Mac Donaill / THE IRISH TIMES
Labour is objecting to Minister for Health James Reilly’s plan to bring draft abortion legislation to Cabinet today without agreement between the Government parties on the content of the proposed law.
Dr Reilly confirmed yesterday that suicidal women seeking a termination of pregnancy would not have to be interviewed by six doctors, as reported at the weekend, but concerns remain within Labour about the workability of the Protection of Maternal Life Bill.
Normal practice in coalition governments is for provisional agreement to be reached by senior advisers before potentially contentious matters reach the Cabinet table, where they are signed off by Ministers following discussion.
However, a Fine Gael source accused Labour of attempting to “grandstand on social issues” and said there was no reason to delay the implementation when the political will existed to pass the legislation before the summer recess.
Differences of opinion
Dr Reilly yesterday insisted he would bring the heads of the Bill, which is the broad outline of the proposed legislation, to Cabinet this morning. He acknowledged that there would be differences of opinion – an indication that agreement is unlikely today.
Before the full Bill is drafted, the heads are due to go to the Oireachtas committee on health, chaired by Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, which is expected to hold public hearings similar to those which took place in January.
“I want to reassure people that there will be no question of a woman in distress with suicidal ideation being put through the sort of interviewing process that we have heard about on the television and the radio,” Dr Reilly said.
“At the heart of this is a need for legislation to clarify the situation for women who have to use the service and for doctors who have to provide it.”
He said the Government had to honour its obligation to bring clarity to the law so that women knew what services were available and medical practitioners “are clear on what’s legal and what is not”.
Earlier yesterday a perinatal psychiatrist said assembling six doctors to assess a pregnant woman’s request for abortion was a “sick joke” and would be “abusive”.
Dr Anthony McCarthy of Holles Street maternity hospital in Dublin said reports suggesting a new law on abortion could require two obstetricians and four psychiatrists, including one perinatal psychiatrist, to assess the suicidal risk of pregnant women was “completely unworkable”.
A small group of Fine Gael TDs and Senators remain firmly opposed to the Government’s expressed strategy of giving legal clarity on abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped the legislation would be passed before the Dáil rose for the summer recess. “It’s a sensitive issue, one that requires very careful consideration as you are talking about two lives, the life of the mother and the life of the unborn,” Mr Kenny said.
“Clearly what is to be done here must be in accordance with the Constitution but there is clearly a requirement to give legal clarity for medical personnel who have to make early decisions in the case where medical complexities arise, ” the Taoiseach said.