Kenny acts to keep consensus on abortion

 

ANALYSIS:The commitment by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Fine Gael will impose the whip to ensure the passage of legislation covering abortion in limited circumstances is a clear signal that there will not be any serious conflict between the Coalition parties on the issue.

Kenny’s comments yesterday reflect the broad consensus in both Government parties about the need to deal clearly and decisively with the abortion issue in the light of the European Court of Human Rights judgment and the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital.

The vast majority of TDs from both parties have been guarded in their comments since the Savita case. They were determined not to say anything to inflame the situation as they feared being dragged back into the kind of bitterness that characterised debate on the abortion issue in previous decades.

While a number of Fine Gael TDs had expressed reservations at a parliamentary party meeting last October about legislating for abortion, the mood in the party has been tempered by the tragic event in Galway and by the emerging shape of the Government response to the European Court judgment.

The party’s TDs have been reassured by the indications that the legislation is likely to provide a legal framework for existing medical practice in situations where a mother’s life is in danger rather than providing for a wider abortion regime.

No abortion on demand

Kenny summed up the position by stating: “The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done here, but they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country.”

The kind of legislation to emerge as a result of the expert group report on the issue will certainly not amount to a provision for abortion on demand and that should be enough to deal with the concerns of almost all Fine Gael TDs.

Kenny’s insistence that the party whip will be applied is a sign of his determination to ensure that outside groups will not be able to control the situation by applying pressure on individual TDs.

His commitment to produce legislation as soon as is practicable will be reassuring to his Labour colleagues in Government, who are equally determined not to allow the issue to sour relations between the two parties.

While some Labour TDs would certainly prefer a somewhat more liberal abortion regime than the one that is likely to emerge, the general mood in the party is to proceed on the basis of the expert group’s report.

Labour Minister Pat Rabbitte also spoke yesterday in support of legislation based on the expert group report.

“It seems to me that there isn’t any point in bringing together a number of eminent people under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Seán Ryan to produce a report unless you’re minded to act on its conclusions.

Rabbitte also said he was “encouraged” by recent statements he had heard from TDs across the political divide.

While a broad political consensus may be developing, the process of drafting legislation and getting the appropriate regulations drawn up in conjunction with the appropriate medical authorities could take time.

Desire for consensus

The Cabinet will get the process under way today when it considers the expert group report and proceeds to publish the widely leaked document.

There is every chance that Fianna Fáil will support the Government if the legislation it produces is accepted by the professional medical bodies.

The Taoiseach’s insistence that it was necessary to get the views of qualified medical personnel and constitutional law experts showed his desire to build the widest possible consensus. Whether it will be able to move quickly enough to preserve this consensus is the Government’s major challenge.