FG Senator claims anti-abortion campaign trying to trade votes

FF Senator hits out at bullying tactics by anti-Bill campaigners

Anti-abortion campaigners are offering to vote against the Seanad's abolition if Senators oppose the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Fine Gael Senator Imelda Henry has said.

“I am quite disturbed by the way the Pro-Life Campaign has behaved, particularly in the past two days,’’ she said. “They have been asking Senators not to support this Bill in return for voting to save the Seanad.’’

Ms Henry said that as a woman and mother she supported the legislation dealing with the X case. “I know personally it is not always possible to save both mother and baby, and I believe we must protect our doctors in the rare event that the mother’s life is at risk and a termination is required.”

Ms Henry, who was speaking during the Seanad debate on the Bill which began yesterday, said the language of suspicion surrounding suicidal ideation in pregnant women was doing a disservice to women. “It shames vulnerable women.’’

Ned O'Sullivan (FF) said he would support the Bill, adding that he had what was known in the Catholic Church as an informed conscience. "I say that because there seems to be a suggestion that possession of a conscience is the sole preserve of those who are opposed to the Bill,'' he added. "Conscience is an individual thing and it is up to each adult person to do what he perceives is right.''

Mr O'Sullivan said that while politicians knew about pressure, it became bullying when it was systematically targeted. He added that he was hitting back now at some of the activities he had witnessed and experienced in the anti-Bill campaign.

Some groups campaigning against the Bill had spent inordinate amounts of money getting their message across to TDs and Senators, with some reputed to receive their funding from fundamentalist organisations. Some were secret and located in Ireland and abroad, especially in America, he said.

“I think it is time that these organisations should come out of the closet and declare what they are spending in propagating their extreme fundamentalist views,’’ he added. “And they should also have to account for the source of this funding, just as we elected representatives are required to do.’’

Mr O’Sullivan said some statements by the Catholic Church during the debate had also come close to bullying. “And as a Catholic I regret to have to say that.’’

He added that it was former taoiseach Jack Lynch who had proposed the removal of article 44 of the Constitution giving special recognition to the position of the Catholic Church. “Some of our eminent churchmen do not seem to have got that message yet, because they are certainly not taking any cognisance of it.’’

Mr O’Sullivan said that veiled threats of excommunication and the like were ‘’redolent of a different Ireland which we have moved on from and to which we have no intention of returning’’. He added that “this is a Republic and there are clear lines of demarcation between church and State’’. He believed people had no wish to revert to the days when the infamous belt of a crozier put politicians in their place.

"If I had as clear a conscience about the rest of my life as I have about supporting this Bill, then I would be in very good terms with myself when I go to meet my maker.''

Labhras Ó Murchú (FF) said they had to keep reminding themselves, even though certain comments had been made about the church and religion and people being sanctimonious, that they were talking about the right to life.

“We have learned, and it is acknowledged widely, that Ireland has the safest medical environment for an expectant mother and that treatment is not withheld when the life of the mother is in danger.”