Ministers express concerns about 12-week abortion proposal

Simon Coveney among those to voice reservations over removing protection for the unborn

A ‘Save the 8th’ billboard campaign, featuring Joseph Cronin, a boy with Down syndrome, has been launched in opposition to repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Video: Bryan O'Brien


A number of Cabinet Ministers have raised concerns about the Government’s proposal to legislate for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Government chief whip Joe McHugh and Minister for Communications Denis Naughten confirmed their reservations regarding the proposition, which was made by an all-party Oireachtas committee.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys are also understood to have similar concerns regarding the proposal to allow for terminations up to 12 weeks and are expected to outline their position on Wednesday.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has confirmed he supports repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing abortions up to 12 weeks.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe have not stated their position.

While all Ministers favour repealing the Eighth Amendment, it is understood a number will raise their objections to the 12-week aspect at the Cabinet meeting when Minister for Health Simon Harris brings forward the general scheme of a Bill.

Mr Coveney has told The Irish Times he has a “principled difficulty” with there being no legal protection for the unborn in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Mr McHugh said he retained concerns with the 12 weeks, while Mr Naughten said he had “issues” with that particular aspect. Two Ministers of State – Brendan Griffin and Ciaran Cannon – also raised similar concerns.

Enabling provision

The Cabinet has agreed to hold a referendum in May to repeal and replace the Eighth Amendment with an enabling provision stating the Oireachtas may provide for the termination of pregnancy in accordance with the law.

The advice of the Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe, was published outlining the rationale behind the insertion of a new clause into the Constitution should the amendment, which gives an equal right to life to the unborn and the mother, be repealed.

Mr Woulfe told the Government that no approach to the abortion issue “can be completely free of risk” but he stressed the legally safer option would be to insert such a provision.

Such an amendment, he said, would make it clear that it will primarily be a legislative function for the Oireachtas to determine how best to guarantee and balance proportionately the related rights, interests and values.

The Attorney General also insisted any such amendment would maintain the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution and would not “oust” the judicial review of the courts or restrict their rights.

Speaking at a meeting with opposition leaders yesterday, Mr Harris said he would be bringing the heads of a Referendum Bill to Cabinet on February 28th. He expected it to be published on March 6th and introduced in the Dáil on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day.

Termination decriminalised

A detailed policy paper will also be produced on March 6th, outlining the Government’s legislative intentions in the event of a repeal vote in the referendum.

The Minister confirmed women who procure a termination will be decriminalised in all circumstances, even if the abortion is carried out outside the scope of the legislation. However, he said that doctors who perform abortions contrary to the law would face sanctions.

Mr Harris said the legislation, which he called the “Health Bill”, would replace the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act and allow for terminations in line with the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

Those present at the meeting questioned the delay in progressing the legislation and asked if it was connected to an upcoming Supreme Court judgment on the rights of the unborn. The court is to hear an appeal to a High Court ruling, which found the unborn had significant legal rights.

While Mr Harris and his legal adviser assured the meeting they were aware of the impending ruling, he insisted this was not the cause of any delay.