Abortion vote delayed amid debate

Abortion vote delayed amid debate

Irish politicians will spend a second day debating divisive laws that will legislate for the first time for abortion in limited circumstances.

A vote on the landmark laws, which enshrine a woman’s right to a termination if her life is at risk, including from suicide, was expected to pass at around 5am this morning.

But as discussions rumbled into dawn with no sign of an end, the Dáil parliament was adjourned with plans for the debate to resume late this afternoon.

The laws will be supported by the vast majority of the country’s politicians, but they are likely to see the demise of a junior minister who has shown signs of joining a small backbench revolt.

Despite Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton’s widely anticipated rebellion, the laws are likely to pass comfortably with a large majority of the vote.

However in a surprise move at 4.50am this morning the Clare TD Michael McNamara in the dying seconds of a vote on fatal foetal abnormalities cast a vote against the Government.

Colleagues immediately questioned him and the Labour Whip is adamant that even though the vote cannot now be changed, no further action will be taken against the deputy.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 was drawn up following the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in an Irish hospital in October last year after being denied an abortion as she miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her widower Praveen claimed the couple had been told a termination was not allowed because “Ireland is a Catholic country”.

So fraught has debate around the legislation been that rebel members of Fine Gael, the senior coalition Government party, have been threatened with being barred from standing for the party at the next election.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has stood firm on his hard line, insisting his members are well aware of the consequences of breaking ranks.

“The rules of the Fine Gael party are not set by me,” Mr Kenny said.

“They are set by the supporters of the party at the Ard Fheis and those rules are very clear and everybody understands them.”

Six pro-choice TDs are to vote against the legislation, claiming it does not go far enough to protect the lives of women.

Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Luke Ming Flanagan, Joe Higgins and Joan Collins have claimed the bill is unnecessarily restrictive and criticised the fact it seeks to criminalise women who have an unlawful abortion.

Dramatic scenes in the run-up to the monumental vote have been set against a backdrop of vigils outside Leinster House, where a group of pro-life activists prayed beside pro-choice campaigners waving placards with Mrs Halappanavar’s face.

The suicide clause in the legislation has remained the most divisive aspect throughout.

Ms Creighton has refused to support the rule, which allows an expectant mother to seek an abortion on the grounds that she is prepared to take her own life and called for alternative therapies to be offered instead. Her demands were ignored.

In a clear signal that she is heading for the backbenches she even referred to herself as already outside the Government yesterday evening.

"Why are we insisting that abortion which has no medical grounding is going to be enshrined in our statute book as the only treatment for women who find themselves in that desperate place," she said.

"I really I am just lost for words because I cannot understand why this proposal is being insisted on by you and your government."

She is likely to be the fifth Fine Gael TD to be expelled over the contentious legislation, after four colleagues voted against the Government in an earlier round of votes.

Hate mail and death threats to politicians, and intimidation of campaigners have raged throughout the divisive abortion debate.

The legislation follows a 1992 judgment by the Supreme Court in Dublin, known as the X case, where judges ruled that abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother’s life, including suicide.

The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission by authorities to travel to the UK for an abortion.

Ireland was also under pressure after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a woman in remission with cancer was discriminated against because she was forced to travel overseas for a termination.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government is the first in the 21 years since the X case to attempt to pass legislation on abortion.

But the catalyst for action was worldwide outcry over Mrs Halappanavar’s death.

An inquiry found medics in University Hospital Galway missed an early opportunity to terminate her pregnancy on health grounds and unacceptable clinical practice.

The case sparked massive debate among obstetricians and politicians over whether the guidelines medics had been operating under were clear.

Previously, doctors based their decisions on advice from the Irish Medical Council and the X case.

Following the final vote by TDs, the bill will be considered by the Seanad - the upper house of parliament – where it will be passed.

After that, provided there are no demands for further amendments, the legislation will be brought to President Michael D Higgins who will sign off on it and enshrine it into Irish law.

The Government expects the law to be enacted before the Dáil breaks for summer on July 18.

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