PBP abortion Bill ‘goes miles beyond what people voted for’, Stephen Donnelly says

Minister for Health one of a number of Government members who abstained from Dáil vote

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that a People Before Profit Bill calling for changes in Ireland’s abortion laws “goes miles beyond what people voted for”.

The Bill, which passed its second stage in the Dáil on Wednesday evening, provides that the three-day wait to access abortion medication would be removed, fully decriminalises abortion and removes the existing 14-year prison sentence that applies to medical professionals if they perform abortions outside the law.

Mr Donnelly was one of a number of Government members who abstained from the vote on the Bill put forward by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith.

Government TDs were given a free vote, with the Private Members’ Bill passing by 67-64. There were eight abstentions.


The Government had tabled a one-year timed amendment on it, effectively stalling its progress through the Oireachtas for 12 months, which was defeated. The PBP Bill will now be further examined at committee stage.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also sounded a note of caution about the Bill on Friday saying he would have voted with the Government amendment to have the matter considered by an Oireachtas committee before any legislative proposals were brought forward.

He highlighted that he campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. “But I also believe that when called for a Yes vote at the time we gave people certain assurances. Those assurances were set out at the time.”

Mr Varadkar said: “This is a sensitive issue, it’s an issue of conscience. It’s about the rights of woman and also about the rights of children.”

When asked why he had abstained from the vote, Mr Donnelly told Newstalk Breakfast on Friday that the Bill did not respect the vote of the people in the referendum on removing the Eighth Amendment in May 2018.

“I actually looked at the Bill in great detail. The Bill goes miles beyond what people voted for in repealing the Eighth. I made this point to Deputy Smith and to others who were supporting the Bill during the second stage debate.

“I campaigned very hard for Repeal, but the Bill does not respect that vote at all because it goes way beyond that vote.”

The chairwoman of the review into the State’s abortion law told the Oireachtas health committee this week that failing to implement the changes she has recommended could result in legal challenges.

In a report submitted last month, barrister Marie O’Shea called for the decriminalisation of doctors, the removal of the mandatory three-day waiting period to access termination medication, new guidelines on conscientious objection and the reconsideration of the rules around accessing an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Ms O’Shea also told the committee that “courage and leadership” were needed from the Coalition regarding the abortion laws.

On Friday, Mr Donnelly said: “I said as soon as the report was published and I referred it to the (Oireachtas) health committee, that I was going to keep my own views to myself to give the committee space to consider the report and they can come back to me and come back to Government. Abstaining was simply a manifestation of that.

“It is me who will have to bring through any new legislation and so I said right at the start I was going to wait, I was going to respect the process and give the committee the space that they need.”

Mr Donnelly said he did not want to be in a position where people could accuse him of “trying to influence the discussion of the health committee one way or the other”.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist