Minister suggests 10-week abortion limit at FG meeting
Mary Mitchell O’Connor said proposal could be more palatable to voters
Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Sources insist she had no difficulty with the 12 weeks but questioned whether 10 weeks may be easier for others to accept. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
A Government Minister has suggested that legislation allowing for abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, rather than the 12 weeks recommended by an Oireachtas committee, could be more palatable to voters deciding on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called a meeting of women Fine Gael TDs and Senators this week to assess their positions on the proposed referendum on Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which places the life of the unborn and the mother in an equal footing.
The meeting, held in Government Buildings, heard strong support for the Oireachtas committee recommendation to provide for terminations up to 12 weeks.
However, The Irish Times understands Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor raised the prospect of reducing the gestational limits to 10 weeks.
Ms O’Connor, who is in favour of repeal, is believed to have made the point that such a proposition could be more likely to pass in a referendum campaign.
Sources insist Ms O’Connor had no difficulty with the 12 weeks but questioned whether 10 weeks may be easier for others to accept.
A spokeswoman for the Minister declined to comment on her remarks stating she attended a private meeting with the Taoiseach and her colleagues and would not be commenting on it.
It is understood TDs and Senators at the meeting questioned how the committee had reached its conclusion to allow for abortions up to 12 weeks.
Senator Catherine Noone and Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who were members of the committee, are said to have outlined the thinking behind the matter pointing to the situation in other countries and the accessibility of the abortion pill.
The Government will formally consider the Oireachtas committee recommendations at a special Cabinet meeting on Monday.
Mr Varadkar has declined to give his position on the proposals until the Cabinet discusses the matter. Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Minister for Jobs Heather Humphreys have also yet to state their position.
There is growing concern within the pro-choice side that the Government may move to alter the Oireachtas committee recommendations to bring as many Ministers and party members with them as possible.
Mr Varadkar will make a public statement on Monday evening outlining how the Government intends to proceed.
At the Fine Gael meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Minister of State for Health Catherine Byrne expressed her concerns about the proposals stating she was a practising Catholic, who attended Mass.
Ms Byrne is understood to have said she was “not there” referencing the Oireachtas committee recommendations and was offered assurance by Mr Varadkar, who insisted she was entitled to her opinion on this issue.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has outlined his motivation for supporting repealing the Eighth Amendment and to allow unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.
Mr Martin added: “What I am picking up is that people want change. They don’t like the absolutism of the current situation, particularly as it applies to people with fatal foetal abnormality and victims of incest and rape who become pregnant and where the serious health of the mother is involved as well - they want to trust doctors more and they want to trust women more - that is my sense of what’s happening in the public mood.
“Obviously there will be differences of opinion. There are very sincerely held views on both sides that I respect fully.”