Cabinet looks to remain split over bill to 'liberalise the abortion laws'

The Government looks set to remain split on supporting or opposing a TD’s proposals today to liberalise the abortion laws.

But Independent Alliance ministers backing proposals for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities are considering options, including abstaining from a vote or possible amendments to the Dáil motion.

According to the Department of health there were 26 terminations of pregnancy conducted in Ireland last year under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, according to the latest report on its operation, laid before the Oireachtas yester- day.

There were “14 terminations arising from a risk of physical illness, three arising from a risk from suicide and nine from emergencies arising from physical illness”. The same number of terminations in 2014.

As of last night, there was no agreed government position on Independent TD Mick Wallace’s bill which proposes terminations be allowed in such cases.

The Government say the bill is unconstitutional, according to the Attorney General.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has set in motion a citizen’s assembly which later this year will examine the issue of the Eighth Amendment, which protects the life of the unborn.

But many TDs want changes sooner rather than later in abortion laws, particularly for difficult cases where fatal foetal abnormalities may be identified.

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath and Shane Ross were engaged in a heated discussion at Cabinet earlier this week in a bid to get a free vote on the Bill.

But Fine Gael ministers are opposed to it, with Health Minister Simon Harris insisting he cannot accept it.

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath and Shane Ross
Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath and Shane Ross

He told a Fine Gael party meeting last night the bill was unconstitutional and did not deal with the Eighth, which needed a referendum. He said fatal foetal abnormality was “not a medical term” and there were problems with the bill’s reference to “compatible with life”.

While there had been suggestions of a second weekly cabinet meeting being called this morning to discuss differences on the Wallace bill, this was in doubt last night.

This means the differences in the Cabinet on the bill are unlikely to have been ironed out before it is debated in the Dail today. However, some Government sources suggest a compromise may be agreed before the vote on the bill is held next week.

Options being looked at to appease the Independent ministers include allowing them to abstain from the vote. Furthermore, amendments may be brought forward to the private motion.

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

Mr Ross and Mr McGrath are adamant they be given a free vote. The alliance itself also looks set to have differing views. The two Cabinet members as well as junior housing minister John Halligan want to support it, but Sean Canney and Kevin Moran want to oppose it.

In Brussels yesterday, Enda Kenny said Mr Harris would outline the Government position in the Dáil today.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe played down any row at Cabinet: “What is happening is we’re having a discussion in Cabinet in relation to a sensitive matter, we have a minority government situation here and we have a group of individual who are working with us in government and who have very strong views on the matter.”

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe andHealth Minister Simon Harris
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris

Mr Wallace’s proposals are that a perinatologist and obstetrician can certify if a foetus is incompatible with life and that a termination is then allowed.

More on this topic

How a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion tabooHow a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion taboo

UN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern IrelandUN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland

Women march in Poland to demand Abortion rightsWomen march in Poland to demand Abortion rights

Readers' Blog: Pro-abortion agenda affected 8th committeeReaders' Blog: Pro-abortion agenda affected 8th committee


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