Coveney concerned about unborn rights if amendment is repealed
Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting discusses abortion committee’s recommendations
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: accepted there was a need for some change but wanted protection for the unborn and the mother. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, has expressed concern about the rights of the unborn if the Eighth Amendment is repealed and abortion up to 12 weeks is permitted.
Mr Coveney was speaking at a special Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, which was convened to discuss the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment’s recommendations.
The meeting, which lasted for more than five hours, heard contributions from several members, with the majority expressing support for the committee’s recommendations.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar opened the meeting by outlining his belief that the committee’s recommendations were a “strong option” for Government.
By its conclusion, Mr Varadkar said he believed the majority of Fine Gael members did not want the Government to stray too far from those proposals.
He indicated any change to the committee recommendations would require a “very good reason” and would need the support of the other members of the minority Government.
Minister for Health Simon Harris told the meeting abortion was a reality in Ireland, citing the number of women who travelled to the United Kingdom for terminations. He listed the age brackets of the women and the gestational limits at which they procured an abortion.
Mr Harris said abortion pills were accessible to thousands of women across the State and the Government could not continue to turn a blind eye to it.
Those who spoke against changes to abortion legislation included Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, Waterford TD John Deasy, Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, Minister of State Seán Kyne and Senator Paul Coghlan.
Mr Deasy and Mr Cannon did, however, speak in favour of holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives the unborn and the mother an equal right to life.
Mr Coghlan told the meeting he would be seeking to protect the life of the unborn, who he said did not have a voice in this debate.
Former minister for finance Michael Noonan addressed the meeting and advised Government Ministers to be conscious of an upcoming Supreme Court case on the rights of the unborn.
The Supreme Court is to hear an appeal of a High Court ruling which found the unborn had rights beyond those expressed in the Eighth Amendment.
Mr Noonan did not express an opinion on the committee’s recommendations but said Government needed to be mindful of the legal realities.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan informed the meeting of the State’s request to have the case heard as soon as possible.
Fine Gael TD Seán Barrett also urged caution on proceeding with the proposals of the Oireachtas committee, claiming the Government must be mindful of the potential con sequences of its decision. Unless this is done correctly, there would be negative outcomes for the party and the minority Government, Mr Barrett said.
Mr Coveney told the parliamentary party he accepted there was a need for some change but wanted protection for the unborn and the mother. In a lengthy contribution, he said he hoped the meeting was the first step in a comprehensive discussion on the matter.
Those who indicated their support for the proposals included Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Laois-Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
Minister for Arts Josepha Madigan, Dún Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey and Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell also spoke in favour of the committee’s recommendations. Ms O’Connell said there was a need to regulate the availability of abortion pills, which she said were widely available.
The parliamentary party meeting was provided with documentation from chair of the Oireachtas committee Catherine Noone, which offered guidance on how members of that committee reached their decisions.
On the issue of repealing article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, Ms Noone said the committee’s legal adviser presented members with six options on how to proceed.
“Repeal simpliciter gave the highest level of certainty and flexibility.”
Ms Noone said the committee believed it should be lawful to terminate a pregnancy where a female becomes pregnant as a result of a rape or incest.
“It can be difficult to prove that a rape occurred, without going through a lengthy prosecution process, and the committee agreed that we should avoid any form of verification as this could result in further traumatisation of the victim,” she said. “We agreed to a general provision allowing termination up to 12 weeks in view of the complexities involved in legislating for rape and incest.”