Ministers finally discuss abortion bill

Deeply divided views among the Coalition on abortion are likely to see a Cabinet decision on draft legislation on the issue postponed until next week.

Ministers will discuss liberalising the laws for the first time today. The legislation has been in preparation for months and the matter must be dealt with shortly under a deadline agreed with the EU.

The meeting comes after Health Minister James Reilly yesterday denied there was any plan for women who are suicidal and want an abortion to have to face a panel of medical interviewers.

Senior government figures yesterday said there was agreement among Labour and Fine Gael that the Protection of Maternal Life Bill will be brought into law before the Dáil breaks in July.

However, there was no commitment from either side yesterday that the legislation would be agreed today and ministers had not seen advanced copies of the draft bill.

Dr Reilly earlier ruled out weekend reports that six doctors would be required to assess if a threat of suicide by a pregnant woman represented a real risk to her life.

“It is not the case, nor was it ever going to be the case that a woman who is in a distressed state with suicidal ideation would be subjected to an interview by six different medical people, either simultaneously or individually. That was never going to be the case,” said Dr Reilly.

He admitted there was disagreement among ministers on legislating for the X case, but added: “There are differences of opinion now. There will be when the heads are at committee; there will be when the bill is drafted and I have no doubt that when the legislation is passed there may still be still be some differences of opinion.”

A senior Government source confirmed the heads of bill on abortion would be discussed at Cabinet today. However, government sources would not say whether Dr Reilly would give ministers the actual heads of the bill.

The source said “significant agreement” had been reached on the legislation and final agreement would be secured on the new law before the summer. This is in line with a commitment given to Brussels following a 2010 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against Ireland on abortion.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday said the Government was intent on the legislation being dealt with by July.

Changes would provide “certainty to women and their medical practitioners”.

Labour parliamentary figures yesterday urged the Government to legislate for the X case without delay.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said she had yet to see the draft legislation.

Many Fine Gael TDs oppose passing legislation to allow abortion on the grounds of a threat of suicide. European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton said: “I do not support suicide as a reason for abortion, I do not think it is backed up by the evidence. I am thinking long and hard about all aspects and I can not make a judgment until I study the document.”

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