Two Fine Gael senators vote against whip on abortion
Government wins first vote on Protection of Life Bill in Seanad by 41 to 15
Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said ’with a heavy heart’ and aware of the impact on her future that she would not support the legislation.
There were no surprises in the first vote in the Seanad on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill when two Fine Gael senators Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford defied the party whip on the legislation.
Michael Mullins (FG) who it was reported had reservations about the legislation, voted with the Government.
The Government won the first vote by 41 to 15 rejecting Ms Healy-Eames’ ’reasoned amendment’. Taoiseach’s nominee Mary Ann O’Brien also voted against the Government as did ten of Fianna Fáil’s 14 senators, and Independents Feargal Quinn and Rónán Mullen.
Independent Senator David Norris was absent for the vote as was former member of the Labour parliamentary party James Heffernan.
The four Fianna Fáil senators who voted with the Government were Averil Power, Mary White, Darragh O’Brien and Ned O’Sullivan.
The three Sinn Féin Senators voted with the Government.
In a second vote to allow the Bill to go to committee stage tomorrow the Government won by 42 votes to 14, when Mr Bradford supported the Government to allow the committee stage vote go ahead.
During today’s debate Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames who said “with a heavy heart” and aware of the impact on her future, that she would not support the legislation. “I don’t want to lose the Fine Gael party whip,” she said.
However, she wanted to exercise her “human right to make a conscientious decision” and it saddened her “greatly” that Fine Gael had broken its promise on abortion.
She said if she thought it would save a life of a woman like Savita Halappanavar, she would support it. “It is disgraceful the way Savita’s death has been hijacked to get abortion over the line,” she said.
Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford said the Bill went against the fabric of the party. Fine Gael Senator Michael Mullins, whose support was uncertain, said he was taking a “huge leap of faith” and supporting the Bill because he trusted women not to try and circumvent legislation and trusted medical profession to provide appropriate medical treatment .
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly told the Seanad that suicide was “rare” in pregnancy but when it did happen it was a “tragedy”. Speaking ahead of the vote he said concerns about criminalisation of women “reflects the State’s constitutional obligation” and does not create a new offence but “brings it in line with current parameters”. He did not believe there would be a “young girl would ever find herself in jail” on the matter.
He said a leaflet issued by Fine Gael before the last election stated that abortion would not be legalised but this Bill was “clarifying” the law not legalising abortion.
Among other Senators speaking against the Bill was Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney. He was not supporting the legislation because section nine (the suicide clause) was the “rubicon” he “could not cross”. ”I cannot vote for legislation that will result in the “deliberate killing of the unborn” he said. Moving into the area of the mind was a “minefield”, he said.
Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leyden, who said he would be voting against the “blatant” abortion Bill. “No amendment could change my vote unless section nine (the suicide clause) was removed completely,” he said. Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne said he was opposing the Bill over the absence of time limits. The Bill was “not giving clarity required”, he said. Fianna Fáil senators Denis Donovan and Diarmuid Wilson said they would not be able to support the Bill because of the suicide clause.
However Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien said he would not inhibit the passage of the Bill at second stage but raised concerns about the suicide clause which he hoped to see the Government clarify or amend at committee stage.
Several Government senators spoke in favour of the Bill. Fine Gael Senator Cáit Keane said she would not be “whipped” on the abortion Bill but said she would vote for the legislation. “I am supporting this Bill of my own free will,” she said.
Labour Senator Jimmy Harte said he had received “terrible abuse” on the issue in Donegal. He was supporting the legislation for the “future health” of his and everyone else’s daughters. The issue had been “dodged” by Fianna Fáil in the past because it was “always looking down the road to see what the Church would say”, he said.
If Ireland is its people rather than a piece of land then abortion is a part of life here, Labour Senator Marie Moloney said. She said she was supporting the Bill but would never support “abortion on demand”.
Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said she would be voting “with her conscience” in favour of the Bill. She found people protesting outside politicians’ homes to be “disturbing” and the anti-abortion side was “often undermined by the actions of some”.
Independent Senator Mary-Ann O’Brien raised concern about the lack of time limits in the legislation. “I find it extraordinary that there are no limits....which week is it that the life becomes viable?” she asked.
Fine Gael Senator Eamonn Coughlan said he would support the legislation. “Laws against abortion do not stop abortion they just make it more dangerous” he said. He found it “most disturbing” to receive threats walking in and out of Leinster House, phone calls at home and “mid-twisting” emails on the issue.
Independent Senator Jillian Van Turnhout said separating physical and mental health in the public debate was a “retrograde step”. She said the section of the Bill containing the threat of a 14-year criminal conviction was an “onerous sanction”.