Coveney to seek clause to limit future abortion law changes

Support for 12-week proposal prompts shock and praise in parliamentary party

Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Brussels on Monday following a meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Brussels on Monday following a meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

 

The Government is to consider including a two-third majority lock in any legislation to replace the Eighth Amendment.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney is to ask his Cabinet colleagues to consider introducing the clause, which would make it extremely difficult for any future Dáil to change abortion laws in the Republic. A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Minister was amenable to introducing such a provision in law.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said: “The Tánaiste is looking for a two-third majority to be necessary if there was ever any attempt to alter the law in the future. To put that into context, that is more than the combined strength of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the current Dáil. The Tánaiste hopes this will go someway towards countering the reckless claims that our parliament can’t be trusted and to reassure voters that there will be no creeping change over time if they vote repeal.”

Those opposed to change have insisted politicians cannot be trusted not to change abortion laws into the future.

Introducing this clause would mean two-thirds of the Dáil would have to agree to any change.

As Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have free votes on this matter, such alterations would be impossible.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael members are divided on the decision of Mr Coveney to support the proposition to allow for terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Mr Coveney had said previously he would not be in a position to support access to abortion within the first trimester, but has altered his stance after several meetings with Mr Harris and a number of medical professionals.

Additional safeguards

Mr Coveney’s comments were welcomed by Mr Harris, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Bay South Kate O’Connell and Senator Catherine Noone. However, others including Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick and senators Paul Coghlan and Ray Butler expressed surprise at his remarks.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he would not criticise Mr Coveney, insisting he was welcome to his own view. However, he stated he was “taken back” by the decision to support “abortion on demand” within the first trimester. Mr Coghlan said he was “very disappointed”, while Mr Butler said he was “shocked” by the Tánaiste’s remarks.

One party member, who did not wish to be named but is a close supporter of Mr Coveney, told The Irish Times they were “shell-shocked” by the decision. The member said: “I will make my decision based on my own conviction and won’t be looking over my shoulder when I make mine. Simon [Coveney] should do likewise.”

Mr Coveney had last month stated his concerns regarding the proposition to allow for access to abortion up to 12 weeks, after the Cabinet agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. He had said he would support access to abortion when a mother’s life is at risk and in the cases of rape, where he stated no gestational limits should apply.