Remarks by Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D Higgins, about abortion and fatal foetal abnormalities have been described as "regrettable".
Mrs Higgins had said it was an “outrage” against women that in the case of “foetal abnormality” a person should be “made carry” the baby.
Fatal foetal abnormalities, such as anencephaly, can be diagnosed before the birth of a baby, and women who wish not to continue with the pregnancy cannot have an abortion in Ireland and must travel to the UK if they want the procedure.
Speaking after a debate organised by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland in Trinity College last week, Mrs Higgins referred to “the whole thing of the choice in abortion and health”.
She said there had to be a choice for women when it came to foetal abnormalities and that cases where the “person or persons” were “made carry” were “really outrages against women and outrages against the world and nature.”
While there are some constitutional restraints on what a president can say publicly, there are no such impediments on his or her spouse.
Tracy Harkin of Every Life Counts, a support and advocacy group for parents of children with life-limiting conditions, said the remarks showed little understanding of the issues involved or of the immense love and joy these babies brought to their families.
“It is really appalling that, in an age where we expect our commentators to be cognisant of harmful language and of the rights of people with disabilities, that the President’s wife has made these remarks.” Intervention Senator Rónán Mullen said Mrs Higgins’s intervention in the abortion debate was regrettable. “Many of those who voted for her husband in the 2011 presidential election would have done so on the understanding that there would be no inappropriate interference from the presidential household in political matters.”
Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign described the comments as calculated and inappropriate and said Mrs Higgins had been "a well-known campaigner for a much more permissive abortion law",
Gerry Edwards of the Termination for Medical Reasons Campaign said Mrs Higgins was “completely correct”.
“It’s an outrage against women that when faced with a pregnancy that can’t result in a living child they’re forced against their will to continue to term.”
A spokesman for Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed when Mrs Higgins referred to “foetal abnormalities” she meant “fatal foetal abnormalities”.
He made no further comment.