Abortion Bill to attract resubmitted amendments by TDs
Both sides to continue with efforts to modify legislation at report stage later in November
Michael Healy-Rae said TDs would not seek to filibuster but would “do our jobs as TDs” to debate and scrutinise the legislation. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Both anti-abortion and pro-choice TDs will continue their attempts to amend the abortion legislation when it returns to the Dáil for report stage later this month.
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which will legalise abortion following the referendum on the constitutional amendment in May, passed its committee stage this week after three days of sometimes fractious hearings.
TDs opposed to abortion, who are seeking several changes to the Bill, and TDs who wish to see fewer restrictions on abortion, tabled 180 amendments to the Bill.
However, Minister for Health Simon Harris accepted just one of the amendments, insisting that voters had backed the referendum on the basis of the draft legislation he published in the spring and that he did not wish to deviate from that.
But TDs on both sides of the debate say they will seek to reintroduce many of the amendments at report stage, when the Bill is considered for the final time by the Dáil before moving on to the Seanad, if passed.
Several anti-abortion TDs, who are not members of the health committee but attended its sessions this week, were among the TDs who spoke at length on the report stage of the Road Traffic Bill which introduced tougher penalties for drink-driving, leading to accusations that they were filibustering.
However, one of their number, Michael Healy-Rae, told The Irish Times they would not seek to filibuster or delay the abortion legislation, but that they would “do our jobs as TDs” to debate and scrutinise the legislation.
“We won’t be doing anything to hold up or hinder the legislation. But we will do our job diligently. This is how legislation works,” he said.
Another anti-abortion TD, Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, also confirmed he intended with colleagues to recast some of the amendments and resubmit them at report stage.
“They will go back in redrafted form,” he said.
Mr Tóibín said that he and other pro-life TDs were seeking to speak for “the 34 per cent who voted against the referendum and the 20 per cent of Yes voters who voted only for the difficult cases and not for abortion on request,” he said.
Pro-choice TDs will also resubmit many of their amendments, including a proposal to eliminate the three-day waiting period for abortions, according to Richard Boyd-Barrett, the People Before Profit TD who sponsored many of the pro-choice amendments this week.
A People Before Profit spokeswoman also said that pro-choice TDs would also seek to have the requirement for there to be “a serious risk” to the health of the woman after 12 weeks of pregnancy before she can have an abortion amended to just “a risk”.
They will also seek the full decriminalisation of abortion.
A large number of report-stage amendments could delay the passage of the Bill, which the Government wants to see on the statute books as soon as possible in order to have a functioning abortion service up and running by the new year.
Although there is little doubt that the Government will have a majority in the Dáil to pass the Bill, a protracted report stage will put pressure on many Fianna Fáil TDs who advocated a No vote in the referendum to vote for restrictions on abortion in the Bill.
Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs have a free vote on the Bill. It is expected that the report stage will take place in the Dáil in the last week of November.
Meanwhile, talks between the Department of Health and the Irish Medical Organisation on the resources needed for GPs to deliver abortion services are likely to conclude early this week, sources say. The package will include payments to GPs for providing abortions by means of the abortion pill in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.