Michael McGrath says abortion recommendations are ‘step too far’

FF spokesman on finance at odds with leader on Eighth Amendment

Fianna Fáil TD   Michael McGrath. File photograph: Alan Betson

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Fianna Fáil spokesman on finance Michael McGrath has confirmed he will not support repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing for abortions up to 12 weeks without restriction.

Mr McGrath, who is seen as a leadership contender, said he believed the proposal made by the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment was a step too far.

Fianna Fáil TDs were left stunned on Thursday by an unexpected declaration by party leader Micheál Martin that he would vote for the proposal to legalise abortion on request in the early months of pregnancy. In a dramatic intervention in the debate on changing Ireland’s abortion laws, the Fianna Fáil leader pledged to support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the promised legislation to introduce abortion on request in the first three months of pregnancy and in specific circumstances thereafter.

Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ radio, Mr McGrath indicated he would support amending the Constitution to allow for terminations in certain cases but insisted the rights of the unborn should not be removed.

He added: “I think it is inevitable now that there will be a referendum and I support the holding a referendum.

“But if the referendum is asking the question that there should be a straight forward repeal of the Eighth Amendment with the intention of replacing with legislation providing for unrestricted access to abortion up to twelve weeks, then that is not something that I can personally support. I think it is a step too far.”

Mr McGrath joins a large number of Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators who have confirmed their opposition to repealing the Eighth Amendment, which rules out abortion in Ireland is almost all cases.

A referendum will be held on the Eighth Amendment this year. It follows the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on Eighth Amendment. It recommended the amendment should be removed and legislation introduced to all for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

Carlow/Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward is considering forming a group within the party to articulate their anti-abortion views. A meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday and eight members of the parliamentary party have confirmed their attendance.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, the party’s housing spokesman Barry Cowen said he would make his position on the Oireachtas committee recommendations known this week. Mr Cowen said he would not be attending any meeting of pro-life TDs scheduled for this week insisting the best place to deal with these issues is at the parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday.

Mr McGrath also said he would not attend the meeting and would not be part of any group within the party.

While he did not agree with Mr Martin, Mr McGrath said Fianna Fáil cannot “have a situation where the party agrees there is a freedom of conscience vote, but that freedom doesn’t apply to the leader”.

Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party will meet on Wednesday to consider this matter.

Mr Martin is expected to address criticism of him for failing to inform TDs and Senators of his decision to support the Oireachtas committee recommendations.

Speaking on Cork’s Red FM, Mr Martin defended his decision to support repealing the Eighth Amendment and abortions up to 12 weeks. He said he had been contacted by women across the country praising for him for his speech.

However he acknowledged some people have contacted him expressing disappointment for his comments. The Cork South Central TD said he “fully respected” people’s right to disagree with his comments but urged them to accepted the bona fide of his approach.

Mr Martin urged people to avoid labelling and pigeon-holing insisting it does not help the debate.

Asked about the threats to his leadership over his stance on this matter, Mr Martin said he is “fully committed to leading Fianna Fail back into Government” after the next general election.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. It guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother, thereby prohibiting abortion almost all cases. It states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This Article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March, 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.

What did the committee recommend?

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment concluded in December 2017 that Article 40.3.3 should be removed from the Constitution and politicians should be allowed to legislate for abortion. After three months of evidence and a series of votes, the committee stated the current regime for the termination of pregnancy is unfit for purpose and that constitutional reform is necessary. Legislation should be prepared to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said. It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in the cases of rape and incest would have presented significant challenges. It was the committee’s opinion that a verification process to prove someone was the victim of sexual assault, was likely to be complex or even unworkable and could have caused further trauma to a victim. These difficulties and the availability of abortion pills led the members to agree abortions should be allowed up to 12 weeks of gestation. The committee’s final report concludes abortions should be allowed when a mother’s life or health is at risk. Such a risk cannot be determined in legislation as it is dependent on individual circumstances and should be considered in a clinical setting.