Eighth Amendment: Coveney backs repeal but not 12-week proposition

Tánaiste says a number of Ministers had agreed with his position on the 12 weeks

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. File photograph: EPA

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. File photograph: EPA

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has confirmed he will support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution but will not support terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Speaking to The Irish Times after a four-hour Cabinet meeting, Mr Coveney said the status quo in Ireland was no longer acceptable and changes to the Constitution were required.

However, he insisted he could not support the removal of the legal rights of the unborn in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and would not be supporting such a proposition.

The Tánaiste said: “The status quo is not acceptable in Ireland and women deserve a lot more support from the State than they are getting. Both women and doctors need a lot more clarity than they have in law.

“That is why it makes sense to take article 40.3.3 out of the Constitution because it has had very tragic, unintended consequences.”

Mr Coveney said thousands of women had been forced to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies, often on their own and with no assistance from the State.

Unrestricted abortions

That situation should not be allowed to continue, the deputy leader of Fine Gael said, but he could not support the proposal to allow for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks.

“The State has a responsibility towards an unborn child and that goes for pre-12 weeks and post 12-weeks. There is a minimum level of protection that the State should be providing in law,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he would support terminations in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities and when a woman’s life or health was at risk.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris arrive at Monday’s news referendum conference. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris arrive at Monday’s news referendum conference. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The Tánaiste accepted his views were in the minority at Cabinet but said a number of Ministers had agreed with his position on the 12 weeks.

However, he insisted there was a “unanimous” agreement on the approach to be taken to the referendum, which will ask the electorate to repeal the amendment and replace it with an enabling provision to give the Oireachtas the power to legislate for abortion.

Enabling provision

Attorney General Séamus Woulfe gave a 25-minute presentation to the Cabinet meeting about the necessity to include an enabling provision in the Constitution, in the event of repeal.

Mr Woulfe stressed this would provide legal certainty and protect the State from legal challenges.

It is understood every Minister spoke at the Cabinet meeting and supported the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, including Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh who previously spoke against repeal.

Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring expressed reservations about allowing abortion up to 12 weeks but supported repeal.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten was not able to attend.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe questioned how the Government could explain the position of 12 weeks in the course of a referendum campaign.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone spoke strongly in support of repealing article 40.3.3 and the 12-week proposition, as did Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty. They, along with Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, believed it was a campaign they could win.

Mr Varadkar said he believed it was time to trust women.