TDs are evenly split on 12-weeks abortion proposal
‘Irish Times’ survey raises doubt over whether such legislation would pass in Dáil
An Eighth Amendment sticker on the gates of Government Buildings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
TDs are deeply divided on the proposal to introduce abortion on request up to 12 weeks, an Irish Times survey has found, and there is significant doubt over whether proposed abortion legislation would command a majority in the Dáil.
The Government has said it will introduce legislation to give effect of the findings of the Oireachtas Committee on abortion if the forthcoming referendum to abolish the Eighth Amendment, which bans abortion is almost all circumstances, is passed.
Among the committee’s recommendations is that abortion on request up to 12 weeks should be legalised. The Government has said it will publish the general scheme of a Bill – laying out its intentions and principles – before the referendum in order to inform the debate.
Such a Bill could only be introduced to the Dáil if the amendment were abolished by the referendum, but today’s survey shows its passage through the House would be in doubt.
The Irish Times asked all TDs if they supported the Government’s proposal to legislate for abortion on request up to 12 weeks.
They were asked by email and followed up by text message if they had not replied. Many have also declared their position publicly.
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As of last night, 56 said that they were in favour of the proposal, while 51 said they were opposed. The remaining 51 TDs said either said they were undecided on the matter, or did not respond and have not declared their position publicly elsewhere.
Sinn Féin TDs, with the exceptions of Peadar Tóibín, who holds anti-abortion views, and Kathleen Funchion, who said she would definitely support the legislation, are marked as undeclared. Although most said they were in favour of the 12-weeks proposal personally, they said they would be bound by party policy.
Currently Sinn Féin policy is opposed to abortion on request. However, it is expected that an ardfheis will be asked to change this in the coming months. If Sinn Féin supported the Government proposal in the Dáil, it would significantly increase the chances of the legislation passing, increasing the number of votes by 21.
A large number of Fine Gael TDs – 22 out of the party’s 50 Dáil members – are currently undeclared. Nine Fine Gael TDs say they are opposed to the 12-weeks proposal, while 19 have said they support it.
Among Fianna Fáil TDs, the great majority are against the proposal. Just eight of the party’s TDs say they will support the 12-weeks measure (including leader Micheál Martin), while 32 say they are opposed. This includes those who say they are opposed to repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Four are undeclared, including the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Senior Government sources acknowledge that while the repeal of the amendment has widespread support in the Dáil and the referendum proposal will pass the Oireachtas easily, the subsequent legislation will encounter much stiffer opposition.
This week, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that while he backed repeal of the amendment, he would not support the 12-weeks proposal and would seek to amend the Bill if the referendum was passed and the Bill to legalise abortion came before the Oireachtas.
TDs in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will have a free vote on the legislation if it is brought before the House.