Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said he will support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and most of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee which considered the State’s abortion regime.
Mr Martin said he supported the proposed legalisation of abortion on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy or a similar cut off point near the end of the first trimester.
In a highly significant intervention in the abortion debate, Mr Martin outlined his position to the Dáil on Thursday afternoon during statements on the committee’s report.
He said that after a long period of reflection he felt the Eighth Amendment should be repealed. He would express his opinion on whether the amendment needed to be replaced once the Government’s advice is known but he felt it may be necessary to prevent inevitable court cases.
Mr Martin said abortion is a present and permanent part of life.
“The Eighth Amendment does not mean that Ireland is a country without abortion,” he said. “Retaining the Eighth Amendment will not turn Ireland into a country without abortion... Nothing we say or do here could make Ireland a country without abortion.”
Previously, Mr Martin has always described himself as someone who came from a “pro-life” perspective. However, he has given indications in recent weeks that his thinking on the subject has evolved.
In his speech this afternoon, which was not circulated to the media in advance, Mr Martin said that his views had changed.
“If our views change, if the facts become clearer then we must be willing to act accordingly. No one can dispute the fact that thousands of Irish woman have an abortion each year.”
He said that for many travelling abroad for an abortion “a crisis can become a deep and hidden trauma”. These journeys can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of the women involved.
The Cork South-Central TD said the availability of pills which could cause an abortion in the first 70 days of a pregnancy was widespread and growing and was not going to change.
The adoption of the Eighth Amendment was intended to remove the issue from the courts and Oireachtas and to give certainty. “The growing list of cases in our courts and in international courts has shown that this never happened.”
He said “if we are sincere in our compassion for women and if we are sincere in respecting their choices we must act, because the Eighth Amendment has been shown to cause real damage to Irishwomen”, and it had forced women to carry a pregnancy to term when they were the victim of rape, incest or had received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.
Mr Martin said the reality of abortion pills meant “we are no longer talking about a procedure which involves the broader medical system during the early stages of pregnancy”. He believed there had to be a system in place which actively encouraged women to seek early medical support.
The comments represent a significant change in the Fianna Fáil leader’s position and put him at odds with most of his TDs, who have said they are not in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
You can check how each Oireachtas member is likely to vote here: irishtimes.com/news/politics/referendum-trackerAccording to the latest count on The Irish Times referendum tracker, which monitors TDs' and senators declared position on repeal, 22 Fianna Fáil TDs have said they are against repeal, while just six have said they are in favour. Sixteen are undecided.
What did the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment conclude?
The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment concluded in December 2017 that Article 40.3.3 should be removed from the Constitution and politicians should be allowed to legislate for abortion. After three months of evidence and a series of votes, the committee stated the current regime for the termination of pregnancy is unfit for purpose and that constitutional reform is necessary. Legislation should be prepared to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said.
It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in the cases of rape and incest would have presented significant challenges. It was the committee’s opinion that a verification process to prove someone was the victim of sexual assault, was likely to be complex or even unworkable and could have caused further trauma to a victim. These difficulties and the availability of abortion pills led the members to agree abortions should be allowed up to 12 weeks of gestation.
The committee’s final report also concludes abortions should be allowed when a mother’s life or health is at risk. Such a risk cannot be determined in legislation as it is dependent on individual circumstances and should be considered in a clinical setting.