By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Juno McEnroe
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan has claimed that more pregnancies involving Down Syndrome and disability diagnoses will be terminated if abortion is allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Mr O’Callaghan made the claim as an Irish Examiner survey of Fianna Fáil’s 23-person front bench found that five favour unrestricted abortion access up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, nine have concerns or are opposed, and nine — including leader Micheál Martin — have yet to express a view.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet formally discussed the Oireachtas committee’s cross-party recommendations that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed and replaced with legislation allowing unrestricted abortion access in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the recommendations — which will be debated in the Dáil and Seanad next week — may be “a step too far” for the country.
However, he noted: “But also having read the committee report, I understand the logic behind that [12-week limit], why they came to that decision, particularly given the widespread availability now of the abortion pill and the fact that people are getting that over the internet and are using it without medical supervision all over Ireland every day.”
And, in a sign of the sensitive nature of the recommendations, Fianna Fáil front bench TDs said they are similarly divided — with Mr O’Callaghan among those most vocally opposed to the 12-weeks proposal.
“I do not support the proposal for abortion up to 12 weeks as I am concerned it would significantly increase the number of pregnancies with Down Syndrome or other disabilities that are terminated,” Mr O’Callaghan said, although he added that the current system is “too restrictive and should be amended”.
The other seven Fianna Fáil frontbench TDs with concerns about the 12-week option are housing spokesman Barry Cowen, foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien, transport spokesman Robert Troy, rural affairs spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív, disability spokeswoman Margaret O’Mahony Murphy, children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte, and mental health spokesman James Browne.
Those in favour are Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly, communications spokesman Timmy Dooley, the party’s Seanad leader, Catherine Ardagh, and defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers and health spokesman Billy Kelleher, both of whom sat on the Oireachtas committee.
Asked about Mr O’Callaghan’s claims yesterday, Mr Kelleher said the committee recommendations specifically ruled out abortion in these circumstances and that tests for most genetic conditions are only possible at 20 weeks, not 12 weeks.
Fianna Fáil TD's have mixed views on abortion referendum
The Irish Examiner contacted all front-bench members and while there are mixed views about implementing recommendations for the abortion referendum, most TDs who spoke oppose the current plans.
Many Fianna Fáil TDs also said there is confusion and a “vacuum” as the Government has yet to decide on how to proceed, with ministers having mixed views on the abortion referendum.
An Oireachtas committee recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment — the part of the Constitution which recognises the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child — and instead allowing women access abortion without restrictions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will lead a meeting of the front bench on Tuesday, where the report will be discussed, ahead of the larger parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday. While some front-bench members have yet to decide their position, many are reluctant to accept the committee’s recommendations.
Some prominent party TDs also want to wait until the Government reveals what legislation is being planned — if the Constitution is changed.
A number of FF TDs who did not return calls, including finance spokesman Michael McGrath, are also known to oppose liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws.
Where Fianna Fáil TDs stand
This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.