Coveney says he opposes unrestricted abortion but supports repeal

Tánaiste says he will not support abortion on request up to 12 weeks

Tánaiste Simon Coveney raised the prospect of altering the 12-week proposal, describing it as a “starting point”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tánaiste Simon Coveney raised the prospect of altering the 12-week proposal, describing it as a “starting point”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Tánaiste Simon Coveney has indicated he will seek to change the Government’s proposition to allow for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks.

Mr Coveney said yesterday that he was opposed to the introduction of abortion on request up to 12 weeks, but will back the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to enable some liberalisation of the law on abortion.

While he does not believe there should be unrestricted access to terminations up to 12 weeks, Mr Coveney said he favoured abortion in cases of rape beyond then.

The legislation is due to be brought to Cabinet on February 28th for consideration and will be published on March 6th.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney confirmed that when Minister for Health Simon Harris brings the general scheme of a Bill to Cabinet in the coming weeks, Mr Coveney will not object.

The Bill will set out the legislation the Government intends to introduce if the referendum is successful, and would be based on the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee, including the 12 weeks provision.

All-party committee

Mr Coveney’s spokesman said: “The Tánaiste recognises that it’s the Minister for Health’s job is to prepare the heads of legislation in line with the all-party committee’s recommendation.

“The Tánaiste is clear that he will vote yes in the referendum and encourages others to do the same if they want the status quo to change. We cannot change anything if people don’t vote repeal and enable.

“When it comes to his objection to unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation, the Tánaiste, like all members of the Oireachtas, will have the opportunity to input into the forming and direction of the proposed legislation.”

Speaking earlier on RTÉ radio, the Tánaiste indicated that one doctor, possibly a GP, could sanction a termination in the case of rape or sexual assault.

“I’m not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be. I think we have to trust doctors and women to do what’s right in very tragic circumstances like that.

“In cases of rape, which is also hugely traumatic for women, we need to be a lot more sensitive and compassionate than we currently are as a State.

“Some of the legal experts said it was difficult to legislate for this [rape]. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we go down a different route that makes it easier for everybody.”

A number of Cabinet Ministers have expressed concern about the proposals, including Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe and Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring. Three Ministers – Mr Coveney, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Government chief whip Joe McHugh – have confirmed their objection to them.

‘Starting point’

The Tánaiste has now raised the prospect of altering the 12-week proposal, describing it as a “starting point” and claiming it may develop into a different situation by the end of the debate.

Mr Coveney is the second Minister to raise such a prospect. Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has previously suggested gestational limits of 10 weeks could be more palatable to voters deciding on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

However, the majority of Cabinet Ministers are in favour of the current proposal for 12 weeks. Minister for Business Heather Humphreys said she still needed convincing on the current proposal.

The 12-week proposition has become a point of discontent for a large number of TDs, with Fianna Fáil TDs suggesting they would block its passage through the House.

Meanwhile, chair of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment Catherine Noone criticised the comments by Mr Coveney on the issue of rape.

All expert advice given to the committee, she said, had indicated rape is impossible to legislate for.

She added: “Yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem doesn’t make any sense in the context of women’s health.”