Cabinet clear way for vote; Coveney ‘cannot support unrestricted access to abortion’

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has told cabinet colleagues he cannot support unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks pregnancy if the Eighth Amendment is removed, widening a ministerial split on the issue.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney says unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy goes too far.

The Foreign Affairs Minister told yesterday’s lengthy special cabinet meeting that while he is broadly in favour of liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws he feels the proposed post-referendum 12- week law goes too far — a view he repeated to the Irish Examiner last night.

Noting he is “untied with my cabinet colleagues”, Mr Coveney said there is an ongoing disagreement within Cabinet over “the content of the legislation” that would replace the Eighth Amendment.

Richard Bruton has expressed reservations.

He said while he remains supportive of holding a referendum and on the need to liberalise Ireland’s abortion laws, he cannot support plans to allow unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Mr Coveney is one of six government ministers who have yet to express their views publicly, with others including Michael Creed, Denis Naughten, Michael Ring, Heather Humphreys, and Richard Bruton also understood to have raised concerns.

Michael Creed has expressed reservations.

And while Cabinet last night formally agreed to allow a referendum on the Eighth Amendment with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying he will campaign for the liberalisation of the law, Mr Coveney’s concerns and the silence from others has indicated an ongoing rift over the key 12-week limit.

The Irish Examiner understands that at last night’s Cabinet meeting Mr Coveney was one of a number of ministers who said while they accept a referendum and liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws is needed, they have concerns over the 12- week limit.

Leo Varadkar announced his support for the proposals last week.

While not specifically saying they will oppose the 12- week limit, Mr Coveney, chief whip Joe McHugh, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring, Education Minister Richard Bruton, Business Minister Heather Humphreys, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, and Communications Minister Denis Naughten are all believe to have raised questions over the new law.

Heather Humhreys expressed concerns, and said she had to discuss the matter with constituents.

The six ministers are still in the minority at Cabinet, with nine other cabinet members including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar supportive to various degrees of the 12-week limit.

Among the two-thirds in favour of both repealing the Eighth Amendment and the 12-week limit at last night’s cabinet meeting included Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, Health Minister Simon Harris, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

However, the fact that a third of Cabinet is not fully supportive of the potential new abortion law should a referendum be passed has underlined the divisive nature of the debate, and again raised the possibility of ministers campaigning on either side of the abortion debate.

Denis Naughten has expressed reservations.

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