Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton has told the Dáil that she will vote in accordance with her conscience on the Government's abortion Bill.
Ms Creighton is the most high-profile member of the party to have expressed uneasiness about the suicide clause and has called for a free vote. She is scheduled to meet Minister for health James Reilly today to discuss the prospect of amendments and is expected to speak during the debate.
Without saying which way she would vote on the legislation, the Minister of State said she would vote with her conscience.
“My personal view is that all I can do when making a decision on life and death is vote on my conscience.”
She said the suicide clause should be omitted completely and said the legislation should impose term limits for abortion, as in all other jurisdictions.
Ms Creighton said an amendment clarifying the legal term limit for a termination was necessary and it would provide a “firm legal basis” to what is already the interpretation of the Government; that viability outside the womb was the limit for carrying out a termination.
Speaking during the resumed debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill Ms Creighton also said she was "perplexed" at why legal representation for the unborn was not included.
Ms Creighton pointed out that “a baby one day old can be represented in the courts” and said she was “entirely perplexed” that legal representation for the unborn child is not in the legislation.
“If this Bill is genuinely to live up to its title... then it should simply aspire to do just that - provide protection to all lives. No more, no less,” she said.
“It must protect women whose lives may be in danger during pregnancy. We expect and demand that this be the case. It must also protect lives of babies in pregnancy, otherwise the title will simply be misleading.
She told the Dáil Dr Reilly had said there would be amendments to the legislation. She said took him at his word that the changes would be substantive and not procedural.
She said the legislation would be passed but she had stepped outside the "group think" which she genuinely believed had taken over in the debate on this legislation. "We saw it in the Haughey issue, we saw it in the Celtic Tiger and we see it on this issue"
She also told the Dáil this morning that abortion is not a Catholic issue, “it’s a human rights issue”.
Fine Gael backbencher Regina Doherty, who supports the Bill, sharply criticised Ms Creighton's speech.
Ms Doherty, who represents Meath East, said the Bill was about providing legal and medical clarity for existing rights for pregnant women.
She believed, she said, that life was bestowed on people by a God she very much believed in. She believed in it from conception to natural end.
“And it is because of that I genuinely reject some of the comments made by my colleague earlier on with regard to group think,’’ she added.
“And I also absolutely and fundamentally reject the view that just because I think differently makes me a lesser person, a lesser Christian, having a lesser moral or ethical code.”
The second stage debate will continue as long as TDs wish to speak and it is not clear whether it will conclude today or tomorrow.
Fianna Fáil's Sean O Fearghail said much had been written and said about the 1992 Supreme Court decision on the X case. It was his opinion, he added, that the decision was wrong.
“At the end of the day, no court or legislator can turn something that is fundamentally wrong into something that is right,” he added.
Fine Gael deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the Bill required legislators to be rigorous in argument and thinking. “But it also, quite properly, requires us to have faith, first of all in women,’’ she added. “The language of suspicion that surrounds suicidal ideation in pregnant women is doing a disservice to the women of the State.”
His party colleague Damien English said he was glad the Bill restated the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland.
“But I have some concerns with certain details of the Bill as it stands,’’ he added. He said he accepted that the thrust of the Bill was to save lives of the mother and the unborn.
Fianna Fáil's Eamon O Cuiv said he could not accept the section dealing with suicidal ideation.
Last night Dublin North East TD Terence Flanagan became the fourth Fine Gael TD to say they would vote against the Bill when the second stage is put to the Dáil.
His colleagues; Wicklow TD Billy Timmins, Peter Mathews from Dublin South and Brian Walsh of Galway West, have also said they will oppose the legislation due to the suicide clause.
A series of votes on the Bill 2013 are expected to begin in the Dáil tomorrow with the Government committed to passing the reforms into law before the summer recess.