Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has told the Dáil that his decision to support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and access to abortion up to 12 weeks was "agonising and difficult".
Mr Cowen, an Offaly TD, said it would have been easier to make a decision if he had not read or studied the material and the legal evidence. He said that after reviewing the information, “I have to support repeal”.
He described the issue of abortion as a challenge “that has tortured the minds of this nation” and said the debate “has often portrayed women in a very negative light”. It was time for this to stop, to prevent the name calling, judgments and “to support and protect women”.
Speaking during a debate on the report of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, Mr Cowen said addressing the issue was a challenge that “I would rather I didn’t have to do it in my lifetime”.
He said that since becoming a TD seven years ago “ I’ve come to realise the horrors inflicted on women, particularly – and crucially, pregnant women”.
There was also a “dread fear of unregulated provision of abortion pills from the internet which could in time replicate the sort of trauma, reaction and terrible tragedy of the past”.
Mr Cowen said some women “were victims of the most heinous acts of rape and incest and... women and couples have received the most tragic diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality”.
He said “while every support should be offered to allow such pregnancies to continue I do not accept that it is my right or anyone else’s right, to be honest, to force those women to carry a pregnancy they do not want and where a baby will not survive outside the womb”.
He added: “I cannot stand by and allow similar mistakes be made as were made in the past.”
Éamon Ó Cuív, Mr Cowen’s Fianna Fáil colleague, said the referendum would be the first to seek to remove the fundamental right to life for so many and that he was on the side of protecting the right to human life.
Former Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath said that while he respected party leader Micheál Martin’s right to have a personal view on the matter, it seemed extraordinary to call for a respectful debate and then proceed to disrespect the majority view of his own ardfheis and parliamentary party.
Mr Martin last week said he supported the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which give an equal right to life to the unborn, as well as a recommendation from an Oireachtas committee that women be allowed terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
‘Step too far’
Independent TD Michael Lowry said the committee’s recommendations went “a step too far”.
More than 80 TDs have spoken in more than 17 hours of debate on the issue which sparked a procedural row on Thursday when Mr McGrath called for the debate to be extended into next week because other TDs not present in the House, including one attending a funeral, wished to speak.
The debate was scheduled to conclude on Thursday. Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien and Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith accused Mr McGrath of attempting to delay the introduction of legislation paving the way for a referendum.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said it would be a matter for the business committee to discuss next week.
Minister of State David Stanton said that if people wanted to contribute they should be in attendance.