Cabinet update on abortion law delayed

Coalition tensions over how to legislate on the X case ruling have led to a last-minute delay in the abortion law changes going to Cabinet.

Despite Health Minister James Reilly making it clear he intended to present a memorandum to Cabinet tomorrow outlining the proposed moves, the issue has now been dropped from the agenda.

Divisions on how to frame the law regarding the suicidal risk to the mother as grounds for a termination is believed to have provoked the delay.

Labour is keen for the provisions not to be too restrictive. Suggestions that up to five doctors may have to agree before a request for a termination is granted on grounds of suicidal risk have been called “unworkable”.

One Labour TD said: “That is just not feasible. We cannot be seen to give way to Fine Gael on this.”

The idea of multiple doctors having to agree on a woman’s suicidal risk was floated before Christmas by some Fine Gael members, but Labour believed they had blocked the move.

After being presented with evidence submissions given to the Oireachtas health committee on abortion law, Dr Reilly said last Thursday: “There’s a memo going to Government next week on the policy issues that have been raised. This body of work has helped inform us hugely on where we progress from here. I want it done as quickly as possible.”

However, a Government spokesperson said the delay in the memo going to Cabinet was because of the health committee report that Dr Reilly referred to as he signalled the memo would go to Cabinet this week.

Anti-abortion Fine Gael TDs have been particularly vocal over the suicide-risk issue, and have demanded the strictest interpretation be brought in as they fear such a clause will lead to a far wider availability of terminations than is currently foreseen.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is also facing fresh demands that TDs be given a free vote on the issue.

He has made it clear that he will impose a whip on his parliamentary party for the X case legislation, so may yet face a rebellion on the emotive issue.

The Government decided to legislate for the X case judgment 21 years after it was handed down by the Supreme Court following the recommendations of a special expert group.

Dr Reilly has said he hopes the measures will become law by July.

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