Rabbitte expresses 'surprise' at bishops' abortion statement


Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said he was "taken aback" by the intervention of the Catholic archbishops on the question of the Government decision to outline legislation and regulations for the circumstances in which abortions may take place here.

The four Catholic Archbishops last night called for TDs to be given a free vote on the Government’s proposed legislation on abortion which will be introduced next year.

Speaking today, Mr Rabbitte said he had been "a bit taken aback by the vigour of the language" in the statement.

"I’m also a bit surprised at the intervention at this stage because the legislation has not been published yet. So I’m not entirely sure how you can make that kind of strident intervention without seeing the legislation," he said.

With regard for the call for TDs to have a free vote on the issue, Mr Rabbitte said the Government had “made plain” that the whip system that had operated in our parliament since 1922 would continue to apply.

He said he had “no objection at all” to the archbishops making their input.

“What I do not want to see is the clergy dictating to legislators how to legislate. But I have no objection to the bishops making their input.”

In a strongly worded statement, the church leaders encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right”.

The archbishops said “public representatives must consider the profound moral questions that arise” in relation to the decision “by the Government to legislate for abortion”.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly this morning said he was concerned the Government’s plan would pave the way for a “liberal” abortion culture in the State.

"For the very first time in Ireland it would inevitably lead to the most liberal kind of abortion," he told RTÉ Morning Ireland. "This would be a radical change in the culture of life that we have had here in this country - and let's not make any mistake about it - it would be an irrevocable change, there would not be any going back."

The legislation would be the first step on the way "to a culture of death," Bishop O'Reilly said. He reiterated a call for a free vote on the matter.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his senior Ministers are planning to reassure worried Fine Gael TDs that legislating to allow the threat of suicide as a ground for termination will not lead to abortion on demand.

Minister for Health James Reilly last night emphasised that “legislation supported by regulations will inform us to ensure that suicide will not be abused as it is perceived to be in other jurisdictions”.

He said the legislation would have to cover suicide as the Supreme Court had been very clear in its judgment on the issue. He would try to create as much consensus as possible on the issue and hoped the legislation would be passed before next summer if not sooner.

Up to 20 Fine Gael TDs have raised doubts in recent months about the inclusion in any legislation of the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion. They include Minister of State Lucinda Creighton; John O’Mahony; James Bannon; John Paul Phelan; Regina Doherty and Patrick O’Donovan.

Most Fine Gael TDs who spoke to The Irish Times yesterday said they would await more details of the proposed legislation and regulation before making decisions but many warned they would adamantly oppose any move towards a liberal abortion regime.

Concerns of Fine Gael TDs were fanned by the Labour Party issuing six press statements from its TDs following the Government announcement, one of which claimed it represented a “victory” for the party. Fine Gael issued no statement.

‘Victory for women’

Dr Reilly dismissed the contention that it was a victory for Labour, asserting there had been consensus around the Cabinet table. “What we are looking for is a victory for the women of Ireland,” he said.

The Government decision was made after detailed consideration of the report of an expert group established to advise on how to respond to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on the abortion situation in Ireland.

The Cabinet decided its preferred option was a combination of legislation and regulation that would give effect to the 1992 X case judgment. That judgment held that abortion was permissible where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, as distinct to her health. Such a risk included the threat of suicide.

The first steps in the process of getting the legislation on to the statute book will take place early in January when the Oireachtas Committee on Health holds three days of hearings. After that the Government will publish draft legislation and then the Bill.

The husband of the late Savita Halappanavar says he would welcome any legislation that would prevent another death in the circumstances in which his wife died. Ms Halappanavar (31) died in Galway University Hospital in October. She was found to be miscarrying her 17-week pregnancy.

Praveen Halappanavar has said she was repeatedly refused a termination. She died on October 28th.

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