Fianna Fail TD to vote against repeal Bill

Mary Butler not in favour of referendum providing for ‘regulation of terminations’

Mary Butler is the first Fianna Fail speaker in the debate on the Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill to oppose the holding of a referendum on abortion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/THE IRISH TIMES

Mary Butler is the first Fianna Fail speaker in the debate on the Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill to oppose the holding of a referendum on abortion. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/THE IRISH TIMES


Fianna Fail TD Mary Butler has said she will vote against legislation for a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Ms Butler said was on the record as supporting a referendum, adding: “I do accept it is 35 years since people got the opportunity to vote”.

Ms Butler added that if she was asked clearly “are you in favour of a referendum ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ I would be able to answer that question, ‘Yes’”.

But “am I in favour of a referendum where provision may be made by law for the regulation of a termination of pregnancy? Well I won’t be able to vote Yes to that.”

The Waterford TD said “that is my clear position.”

Ms Butler is the first Fianna Fail speaker in the debate on the Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill to oppose the holding of a referendum on abortion.

The Bill paves the way for a vote by the electorate about whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

Ms Butler said “I cannot understand how anybody could propose with no restriction as to reason to end a 12-week-old baby being carried by a mother”.

She said “I would never be in favour of stopping a beating heart”.

Earlier her party colleague Lisa Chambers said that Ireland would probably have dealt with the issue of abortion long ago if women had not been able to travel to Britain for terminations.

Ms Chambers said the Eighth Amendment had not stopped abortion.

The status quo means Irish women will continue to travel to Britain to access abortion services or will access abortion pills online without medical oversight, the Mayo TD said.

Women were travelling to Britain and, probably, without the support of Ireland’s neighbour, the State would probably have had to deal with the issue a long time ago.

She hit out at arguments by those opposed to repeal who claimed it would lead to abortions in cases of disability. “That is a deeply disappointing argument to take,” she said, adding that it was also untrue.

Ms Chambers was a member of the Oireachtas committee that reviewed the report of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion.

“We voted categorically against disability being a ground for abortion,” she said. “Disability is not a ground for abortion and should not be part of this debate. It is totally wrong.”

She also hit out at arguments that abortion rates would increase exponentially and women would be “queuing around the corner” for abortions and that they had been before this “too lazy to travel”.

This argument “is deeply insulting to women”, she said. “I don’t think any woman makes her decision lightly.”

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said repeal was essential to ensure Irish women had access to proper and appropriate healthcare.

Ms O’Reilly said the anti-choice side had hired a company with close ties to Cambridge Analytica which combines data mining and analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process.

This company had been accused of “harvesting and using the personal data of millions of Facebook users and are under suspicion as to whether that data was used to influence the outcome of the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum”.

“This is who the anti-abortion and anti-choice groups who will be party to the debate on this referendum have turned to, maintaining the current status quo - organisations who don’t deal in facts but who no doubt help to disseminate fake news and propaganda.”

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said “the majority of people in the State are women and we should acknowledge that women are perfectly capable of looking after their own health and wellbeing”.

He described the Eighth Amendment as “completely inflexible” and pointed out that no citizen under 53 years of age had had a vote on the issue.

Fine Gael TD Sean Barrett said while he agreed with holding a referendum, he was in favour of retaining the amendment in the Constitution.

Mr Barrett, who was chief whip in the then Fine Gael-Labour coalition when the amendment was introduced, recalled it was a controversial issue at the time and a very unpleasant period.

“Let it now be decided by the people,’’ said Mr Barrett.

“I am saying to the people, keep what we have because the right to life of the unborn to me is important.’’

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said Irish women went to England for terminations, many of them for medical reasons.

“There are two beating hearts in every pregnancy,’’ he added.

He said he would trust women in the case of terminations, adding abortion should be rare and safe.

Fianna Fail TD Bobby Aylward said he was pro-life and he believed people should think long and hard before making a decision on the matter in a referendum.

Removing the amendment, without any protection for the unborn, was a step too far, he added.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said he had a different view from his party on the issue.

“I believe strongly we need to fight for every single living human being,’’ he added.

He said the debate now was about whether there should be abortion on request in Ireland.

“Twelve weeks is around the time mothers and fathers get to see the child for the first time in a scan,’’ he added.

Fianna Fail TD Eamon Scanlon said by repealing the Eighth Amendment, it would be the first time in history a modern society would be removing a human right from its Constitution.

Fianna Fail TD Dara Calleary said the Supreme Court had stated that the only right to life for the unborn was in the Eighth Amendment and to now remove that only right to life was “a step too far for me”.

He added that whatever the outcome of the referendum “the Government must accept it regardless of what some Ministers have suggested over the past week and whatever result it is I will accept it, the result of the Irish people”.

His party colleague Michael Moynihan said the Eighth Amendment had “by and large served us well” and he believed it should not be repealed.

He said it was not acceptable to repeal the amendment and then allow the Oireachtas or any future Oireachtas to legislate. “I believe that the Irish people should be consulted at all times in relation to what should be in Bunreacht na hÉireann in relation to the right to life of the unborn.”

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said “we have to trust women to make choices about their lives and bodies and we need to trust the choices they make”.

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