Seanad votes 40 to 10 to pave way for May 25th abortion vote
Minister to ‘hold people to account’ for untrue claims in potentially divisive campaign
Minister for Health Simon Harris said nobody in either the Dáil or Seanad had suggested amendments to the legislation or come up with an alternative proposal. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
The Seanad has passed the legislation paving the way for a May 25th referendum on abortion by 40 votes to 10.
It follows the Dáil which passed the Thirty Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill last week.
During the debate Minister for Health Simon Harris warned that he would “hold people to account” for claims they made which turn out to be untrue, in the abortion referendum campaign.
Mr Harris said any time “we have referendum campaigns and debates in this House on social issues, people make accusations. When those social issues then get progressed and those accusations turn out not to be true, nobody ever goes back to an RTÉ studio or in this chamber and says ‘hey remember you said that last year.’ ”
He added: “I am worried that some of the same sort of accusations are being made in relation to the proposals that we’re going to put the people and I will be holding people to account for the statements they make and I look forward to having an opportunity to debate with them on that.”
Mr Harris also noted that nobody in either the Dáil or Seanad had suggested amendments to the legislation or come up with an alternative proposal. He believed this was “because it was not very easy to come up with an alternative”.
Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said that those on the anti-abortion side would also hold the Minister and other campaigners for repeal to account on what they said and he added that they should get equal coverage during the campaign.
Mr Mullen said it was not just about a human embryo but about a human being. He asked “do people who want to deny the humanity of the baby or are they interested in looking step by step at how the baby develops?”
He said there had been attempts to blame the Eighth Amendment for various complexities, but no attempt to look at its consistencies in saving thousands of unborn.
Independent Senator Michael McDowell said that if “we really actually believed that an ovum was a person” then whole swathes of legislation would have to be changed to deal with that.
Giving a detailed outline of the legal history in Ireland of abortion, Mr McDowell said “to elevate the unborn to a person and in doing so to say that the right to life of a zygote once implanted was equal to the right of the life of the foetus’s mother, that was a falsehood and over simplification”.
He said it was put into the Constitution in 1983 without working out precisely what it meant. He said the 1992 referendums adopting freedom of information and freedom to travel amendments “were qualifying the idea of equality at the time”.
Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson said that any Dáil could in the future increase the 12-week limit “to six months, seven months eight months”. He said “it will be a minimum of 12 weeks but what will the maximum be”.
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said the 12-week proposal was rooted in medical evidence. “For all sorts of reasons the 12 weeks is not plucked from the air.”
She said “it’s not a period that can be extended at a whim as other Senators appear to suggest. It is a very clear demarcation and there is no proposal anywhere to extend that in any way.”
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said women would put the limits on themselves. “We do not need politicians to say that seven months is too much.” She said women did not decide to have abortions at seven months it was “as early as possible but as late as necessary”.
Moreover, she told those against repeal that “if you don’t allow the early access, you force Irish women to have the late-term abortions you are so against”, in having to travel for a termination.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee said that even in the best of circumstances pregnancy can be difficult and stressful. She said that people spoke about the vulnerability of the unborn, “but the vulnerability of the pregnant woman is often forgotten”.
She referred to the 12-year-old girl who had been raped and travelled to Britain for an abortion and noted that some said the ideal would have been for her to have the child and give it up for adoption.
“But no reference is ever made to the physical damage that a pregnancy can do to a 12-year-old’s body.” And the adoption solution “would leave her with permanent damage compounding the damage already done to her”.
Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan said he believed he was the only one of eight Oireachtas members in Kerry voting for the legislation and for repeal. “It doesn’t mean there is a seven-to-one majority against repeal in the kingdom of Kerry. I detect a very significant hand.”
He said he got some obnoxious commentary including that he was a “baby murderer” and a picture of him put up against one of the Black and Tans, asking ‘what’s the difference’ ”.
“Some of the people who put that stuff on Facebook I know for a fact their antecedents were making tae for the Black and Tans.”