Senior Ministers meet after Cabinet disagreement on abortion

Row over number of doctors required remains unresolved, Labour sources say

Minister for Health  James Reilly  at Leinster House, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Health James Reilly at Leinster House, Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke


A crisis meeting on draft abortion legislation involving senior Government Ministers took place last night after Cabinet discussions ended in disagreement over the detail of the proposed new law.

Further information emerged about the complex process being put forward to assess suicidal women seeking a termination of pregnancy with Labour sources claiming that up to 12 doctors could be involved in an appeals process.

The row between the Coalition partners over the number of doctors that should be involved remains unresolved.

Minister for Health James Reilly of Fine Gael gave fellow Cabinet members a verbal briefing on the broad outline of the proposed Protection of Maternal Life Bill yesterday morning. His briefing failed to satisfy some of his colleagues and the ensuing discussion between Ministers ended with “some concerns raised in a forthright fashion”, according to a source.

As a result, a further meeting was scheduled for 7pm involving Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Dr Reilly, along with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

Suicide ideation
Dr Reilly said on Monday that women expressing suicide ideation would not have to be interviewed by six doctors, but Labour sources last night insisted he was continuing to propose a two-stage process involving a total of six doctors.

This was characterised as an “entrenched position in Fine Gael” by Labour sources, who insisted the proposed legislation was not workable. The first stage would involve an obstetrician and two psychiatrists, including a perinatal specialist.

Joint certification
They would have to jointly certify that in their reasonable opinion there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman through the threat of self destruction which could only be averted by a medical procedure

that would result in the loss of the unborn human life.

Their conclusion would be reviewed and certified by another panel of three, one obstetrician and two psychiatrists. There would not be a requirement for a perinatal psychiatrist in the second panel. If the ruling of the second panel was appealed, the case would be assessed by another six doctors.

“There isn’t a breakdown. It’s just it’s not yet resolved. Both parties are still very committed to doing this,” a Labour source said. On the issue of the number of doctors involved, the source said, “We haven’t resolved that.”

At the post-Cabinet briefing, the Government spokesman said it was likely that the heads of the Bill would be brought to Cabinet next week for further discussion.

Earlier Mr Kenny told the Dáil it would take some time for the Government to deal with the matter sensitively and compassionately. “It is an issue where there are two lives involved here: the life of the mother and the life of the unborn,” he said. Mr Kenny was responding to Independent TD Clare Daly, who said abortion was a “health issue” and a “human rights issue”.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who did not attend yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, said the law must not place barriers before women whose lives are at risk.