New abortion legislation is ‘premature’, junior minister says

The Dáil debates a Bill to reduce the penalty for having a termination to a €1 fine

 Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy has rejected a new Bill on abortion. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fine Gael’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy has rejected a new Bill on abortion. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A Bill to reduce the penalty for having or helping to procure an abortion from up to 14 years in prison to a €1 fine is “premature”, Fine Gael Minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy has said.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday during a debate on the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP)’s Protection of Life during Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, she said she understood the sentiment behind the Bill.

“The inclusion of Article 40.3.3 in our Constitution has caused much hardship and uncertainty for women, but we do have a process in place to review this provision.

Rejecting the Bill, Ms Corcoran Kennedy said the Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth Amendment, which bans abortion, should be allowed to conclude its deliberations “prior to further consideration of potential legislative change”.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher claimed “this Bill would fall at the first hurdle in terms of a constitutional test”.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the only way the criminalisation of women who seek abortion services could be dealt with was through the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

She said Ms Smith’s bill “could have unintended consequences, such as reducing the penalty for those who intentionally harm a woman who is pregnant”.

She said Sinn Féin could not support the legislation, but that the party would abstain in a vote.

Introducing the Bill, AAA-PBP TD Bríd Smith said that for too long there had been a “coherent enterprise’’ between the Catholic Church and the State to dominate and control women’s lives.

“In particular, that control has manifested itself as a kind of war on the poor in the past and working-class women in particular,’’ she said.

Ms Smith said the Eight Amendment was denying women control over their own fertility.

“What we are trying to do is begin the process of decriminalising women’s choices,’’ she said.

She said in the recent past three women had appeared before the courts in Northern Ireland for procuring the abortion pill.

The pill was used as a backstreet abortion in Ireland, she said.

Ms Smith said the pill was safe, according to the World Health Organisation, and was increasingly being sought by young women.

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said his party supported the legislation.

The Eighth Amendment should never have been placed in the Constitution, he said. “It was stupid.”

“Abortion is a matter for a woman and her doctor, supported by her family,” he said.

Mr Kelly said 12 women a day travel from Ireland to procure an abortion.

Citizens’ Assembly

Mr Kelleher said: “We will be very soon examining the report of the Citizens’ Assembly.”

He said they would have to think about the criminal sanction surrounding someone seeking an abortion or a friend who might assist them when they were debating the issue in the future.

“I would hope that this Bill will keep that to the fore. But we have to be honest with ourselves and cannot accept the Bill while the Citizens’ Assembly is still deliberating.”

His party colleague Éamon Ó Cuív said the main question about abortion was: “Do you believe an unborn baby is human or not? Do you believe it is an independent human being or separate, even though it’s in the womb, or do you believe it is the sole property of the mother?”

He said there was a great “slagging match” going on against those who believed in the protection of all human life.

He said opponents believed people hold those views because of the Catholic Church.

“I hold the view, not because any church tells me, but reason tells me that it is a person and therefore entitled to human protection,” he said.

He called on campaigners for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to “stop trying to impugn people’s integrity because they don’t agree with you.

“We’re talking about little humans.”