Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has revealed that he cannot support unrestricted abortion and that in his opinion the unborn deserves protection in law where the health of the mother is not at risk.
Breaking his silence on the proposed abortion referendum, Mr Creed told the Irish Examiner that he supported amending the Constitution but could not back proposals to terminate pregnancies without reservation up to 12 weeks.
The proposed referendum is expected to be discussed by TDs, senators, and MEPs at the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil party meetings this evening. The Government has also begun the process of setting up the referendum commission for the planned vote in late May.
However, there is division at Cabinet — not on repealing the Eighth Amendment, which equates the life of the unborn with the mother — but over subsequent legislation to allow for unrestricted abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
Mr Creed said: “I cannot fully endorse all of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, specifically the assertion that the termination of pregnancy should be available without restriction up to 12 weeks of gestation.
“While I don’t believe the Article 40.3.3 aspiration of holding the right of the mother and the unborn in parity as a realistic one, I do nonetheless believe the unborn child deserves protection in law in circumstances where the health of the mother is not at risk.”
He believes that where the health of the mother is at risk, the matter should be in the hands of clinicians. Furthermore, he believes this should be the arrangement in cases of rape, incest, and pregnancies deemed not be compatible with life outside the womb.
His echoing of concerns raised by Tánaiste Simon Coveney over the 12-week proposal came as Chief Whip Joe McHugh became the third Government figure to publicly say he is not in favour of unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner last night, Mr McHugh said that although he is in favour of holding a referendum, he continues to have “concerns” over the proposed 12-week limit.
“I retain concerns over the Oireachtas committee proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks,” said Mr McHugh. “I will examine Minister Harris’s proposals when they are published.”
It means, in addition to Mr McHugh’s view, two Cabinet members are opposed to 12 weeks, eight are in favour, and five have yet to say where they stand. Those who remain silent are Business Minister Heather Humphreys, Communications Minister Denis Naughten, Transport Minister Shane Ross, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring, and Education Minister Richard Bruton.
The division within Government on the issue, which was acknowledged yesterday by Health Minister Simon Harris, means the Coalition will need more opposition support than normal to ensure the 12-week limit law is passed in the event of a referendum yes vote.
Acknowledging the situation last night, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that while her party is not currently in favour of the 12-week proposal and must hold an ard fheis to change its policy, she believes it will “not be found wanting”.
Meanwhile, opposition parties are no longer concerned about plans to include a clause in the Constitution saying the Oireachtas can legislate for abortion if the repeal referendum is passed after receiving a summary of the reason why Attorney General Seamus Woulfe said it is needed.
The advice — which is republished in today’s Irish Examiner — was shared during meetings with opposition parties by Mr Harris, who separately confirmed that he intends to reveal the exact wording of the referendum question on March 8, a date that coincides with International Women’s Day.
The Government is also preparing to set up the referendum commission, which Solidarity-PBP Bríd Smith believes should ban the use of graphic imagery during the campaign.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved