Politicians have “colluded in making this country inhumane for women” for more than 20 years, Labour TD Ciara Conway said during last night’s emotive Dáil debate on abortion.
The Waterford TD, who had threatened to vote against the Government on an opposition private motion legislating for abortion in certain cases, indicated she would vote with the Coalition as it had promised action on the issue.
A Government amendment to the motion — promising to publish the long-awaited expert group report on abortion next week — appears to have averted any threat of revolt by Labour backbenchers.
The Dáil will today vote on the Sinn Féin’s private members’ bill, which would legislate for the 1992 X case ruling to allow women to have an abortion when their life is at risk during pregnancy.
The motion is being rejected by Health Minister James Reilly, who said the question of abortion has divided the country and families for 20 years.
He said the report by an expert group established to examine the Government’s options, has been presented to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and will be published next Tuesday.
No timeline has been provided for Government action on the issue after that.
Last night’s debate took place as an investigation began into the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar following a miscarriage in University Hospital Galway.
Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said there was a desire to blame someone for the death, but that “the only truly culpable people in this whole debate are us, we here in the Oireachtas now, and those who went before us”.
Ms Mitchell said that if the account given by Mrs Halappanavar’s husband — that she was refused an abortion — is correct, then “her death is at our door, nobody else’s”.
The Dublin South TD said: “I don’t want any more deaths at my door.”
Ms Conway said legislators have spent two decades “colluding in making already difficult circumstances unbearable.”
She said: “We have colluded in taking the dignity and limiting the access of safe healthcare for women in this country.”
Ms Conway said she welcomed the Government amendment and, “for the first time, we have seen a government committed to dealing with this issue”.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he was not in favour of abortion, but he was not mandated to legislate for himself.
His deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said pregnant women and the medical profession were being “failed by politics” and it was “cowardly” to allow such a situation to persist.
Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch appealed to Sinn Féin and other TDs supporting its motion to be calm about the issue, so that the right thing was done.
“My worry is that we would rush into something that would provide us with greater problems. That’s what happened in the past,” said Ms Lynch.
“I would appeal to people to be calm about this and, now that we have a solution in our sights, to do this properly.”
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