Proposal on fatal foetal abnormality defeated

Minister says constitutional issue exists if ‘scintilla’ of possibility of life

Denis O’Donovan: said that if the Upper House continued at its present pace, it would take 22 12-hour days to get through all the amendments. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Debate about allowing abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormality sparked angry exchanges in the Seanad.

The amendment to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was debated for almost three hours in the Upper House.

There are 85 proposed amendments to the legislation and Denis O’Donovan (FF) said that if they continued at this pace it would take 22 12-hour days to get through them all.

Seanad leader Maurice Cummins (FG) said they had spent half an hour debating an amendment to change the title of the legislation, which Jim Walsh (FF) said should be called the Abortion Bill.


Mr Cummins said the Government was prepared to give as much time as necessary to the legislation and would sit through tomorrow and Saturday if necessary.

Marie Louise O'Donnell (Ind) and Fiach Mac Conghail (Ind) called for the Bill to include terminations in cases of fatal abnormality where a foetus cannot survive outside the womb.

European court
Ms O'Donnell said the Government had argued in the European Court of Human rights that in the case taken by Ms D on this issue, she "had a good prospect of succeeding had she brought an application to the Irish courts for legal abortion in Ireland".

The State had told the European court there was "at least a tenable argument" that the foetus was not an unborn under article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. Ms O'Donnell asked: "Why is the Government thinking one way in Ireland and arguing another way successfully in the European Court of Human Rights?"

Mr Mac Conghail asked why there was such a narrow definition of the unborn in the Bill when up to 1,500 Irish women had to travel to Britain every year because of this.

Averil Power (FF) said lack of political courage was the only thing preventing the Government from including the amendment in the Bill.

Her party colleague Brian Ó Domhnaill sparked heated exchanges when he linked the amendment to abortions in the UK on grounds of disability. He said 700 unborn children were aborted annually in the UK who if born would have Down syndrome. But Aideen Hayden (Ind) said, "You have suggested that every parent who has a disabled child is subjected to this amendment. I think that is just low."

There were further heated exchanges when Mr Walsh said of the estimated 150,000 Irish women who had had abortions in Britain in the past 20 years, 20 per cent had had more than one.

Minister of State for Health Alex White said the Government could not accept the amendment because if there was a "scintilla" of a possibility of survival outside the womb article 40.3.3 of the Constitution is engaged.

The amendment was defeated 42 votes to 10, supported by the two female Fianna Fáil Senators, Averil Power and Mary White, former Labour parliamentary party member James Heffernan, Independents David Norris and Sean Barrett and five Taoiseach nominees: Ms O'Donnell, Mr Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O'Brien, Katherine Zappone and Jillian van Turnhout.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times