Government opposes disability amendments in abortion Bill

‘Disability is not a ground for abortion under the draft law and will not become one’

Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to table the Bill in early July and the first debate is likely to take place before the Dáil rises for the summer recess. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to table the Bill in early July and the first debate is likely to take place before the Dáil rises for the summer recess. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

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The Government will not accept amendments to the forthcoming abortion legislation which seek to stipulate that disability is prohibited as a ground for abortion.

Senior Government figures insist that disability is “absolutely” not a ground for terminations in the draft proposals, and attempts to alter the legislation published before the referendum will be resisted.

Anti-abortion TDs said at the weekend that they intended to table amendments when the Bill to legalise abortion is debated in the Dáil which would explicitly prevent disability being used as grounds for abortion.

But one Minister described the plans as “an effort by some to re-run the referendum debate” and “disingenuous at best”.

The Government insists that disability is not a ground for abortion under the draft law and will not become one.

The draft heads – or summary of the Bill’s objectives – say that abortion will be legalised on request up to 12 weeks in pregnancy and in limited circumstances thereafter, including where there is a serious risk to a woman’s life, her physical or mental health, and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Clinical guidelines

The Government has always said that disability of the foetus will not be accepted as a threat to the mother’s health. It is intended to set this out in clinical guidelines, rather than in primary legislation.

Sources suggested strongly yesterday that the Government would not accept any interference in the 12-week proposals.

“The people have spoken clearly,” said one senior Government source. “Disability is absolutely not a ground for termination in Ireland in the draft law. This is clear and was a conscious decision taken by the cross-party committee and the Government . . . For people to try to suggest anything to the contrary is disingenuous, misleading and failing to accept the Irish people’s very careful deliberation and adjudication on all these matters.

“It is simply wrong to suggest in any way, shape or form that there is any need for an amendment on disability as it is already excluded as a ground,” the source said.

Anti-abortion TDs told The Sunday Times that they intended to table amendments on disability when the Bill is debated in the Oireachtas, either at committee stage, or when it returns to the house for report and final stages.

The Save the 8th group confirmed that it would lobby TDs to table and support amendments on the disability issue.

Minister for Health Simon Harris is expected to table the Bill in early July and the first debate – known as the second stage debate (the first stage of a Bill is its publication) – is likely to take place before the Dáil rises for the summer recess. The debate may be held on two special all-day Friday sittings on July 6th and July 13th, although this timetable will have to be agreed by the Dáil business committee, which contains representatives of all parties and groups.

Committee stage is likely to take place in early September, with the Bill returning to the Dáil after the summer recess later that month. The Yes side’s winning margin size has prompted Government to seek to accelerate passing the legislation.

Although the Government does not command a majority in the House, the Bill is very likely to pass comfortably.

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