Clash among Fianna Fáil senators over graphic descriptions of abortion

Upset Labour senator describes comments as “absolutely disgraceful”

Fianna Fáil Senators clashed during heated exchanges over graphic remarks about abortion made by some members of the party.

The party's Seanad leader, Darragh O'Brien, said he distanced himself completely from comments by Wexford- based Jim Walsh and Donegal Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill.

Labour Senator Marie Moloney had made an emotional appeal for Senators to stop the "absolutely disgraceful" phraseology used during discussion of an amendment to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, calling for an anaesthetic to be used when a foetus was to be terminated.

A visibly upset Ms Moloney said: “I had a baby inside of me that didn’t live, that was dead. And that baby was taken from me but it was taken under anaesthetic and I think the carry-on in here in disgraceful.”

She said: “Every single person in this chamber knows what we’re talking about and we don’t need to have it vocalised in front of children and young adolescents” who were in the visitors’ gallery.

Mr Walsh had referred to abortion procedures “where the baby’s legs are pulled from the womb, with the head remaining inside the womb”.

Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke and a number of Senators intervened, but Mr Walsh continued: “A scissors is then jammed into the back of the skull and it is used so that a catheter can be inserted and the brains sucked out of the baby.”

After Ms Moloney’s remarks Mr Walsh apologised if he caused offence to Ms Moloney but said people might not be able to stomach the graphic nature of it but that was the reality. He said the issue was unlikely to come up again during the debate, but if it did he would give advance notice.

Senator O’Brien later said he disassociated himself completely from the remarks which he said “deeply, deeply upset” him. They were “graphic in the extreme” and showed a distinct lack of compassion.

No 'monopoly on morality'
Defending his remarks, Mr Walsh said nobody had a monopoly on compassion, conscience or morality. He said: "I would not want to offend anybody . . . but I do not retract one iota of what I said" in his description of the medical procedure in an abortion.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said every time somebody on the Opposition spoke with a viewpoint “we are challenged and castigated and called names by people who don’t agree with that viewpoint . . . The truth sometimes does hurt.”

The amendment was proposed by Fidelma Healy- Eames, the former Fine Gael Senator expelled from the parliamentary party. She said there should be an anaesthetist at every abortion to ensure the foetus did not feel pain.

Mary Ann O’Brien (Ind) said the amendment should be included because of medical evidence that babies felt pain from 17 weeks. The Minister did not want to be prescriptive but the Bill was “certainly prescribing what to do” in the case of a suicidal woman who sought a termination.

Minister for Health James Reilly said, however, he could not accept the amendment because "I cannot prescribe how doctors are to do their work". They had a clear duty to preserve the life of an unborn baby as far as possible, he said.