Divisions within Fine Gael on whether to offer a vote on repealing the eighth amendment
in its general election manifesto came to the fore yesterday as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald revealed she had suffered two miscarriages.
Ms Fitzgerald, a probable future leadership contender, said she did not think the Constitution was the best place for abortion laws to be decided.
The intervention comes as Fine Gael prepares its election platform, with traditionalists and liberals clashing over holding a referendum on removing the amendment which places the life of the mother and the foetus on equal terms.
Speaking at the weekend, Ms Fitzgerald said the issue was one of the most sensitive in Government.
“I think this is a most sensitive and difficult issue for every individual and also for Government and it needs to be handled with the utmost care and, you know, as somebody who has had five pregnancies myself, two that I lost in miscarriage,” she said.
Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe has indicated that he would not be keen on a vote to repeal the amendment, a view in line with many in the more conservative base of the party.
However, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has insisted that the amendment needs to be swept away as it creates a “chilling” effect on doctors.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has refused to commit to a national poll unless there is a decision on what would replace the amendment.
Labour has said it will include a vote on repealing the amendment in its election manifesto, but party leader Joan Burton has said such a move would not be a red-line issue in negotiations for a programme for government.
In a landmark speech to the Dáil last December, Mr Varadkar said he would push for repeal of the amendment.
“While it protects the right to life of the mother, it has no regard for her long-term health,” he said. “If a stroke, heart attack, epileptic seizure happens, perhaps resulting in permanent disability as a result, then that is acceptable under our laws. I don’t think that’s right.
“The eighth amendment continues to exert a chilling effect on doctors. Difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple or the next-of-kin where there is no capacity, and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now made on foot of legal advice. That isn’t how it should be.”
A poll of Fine Gael TDs in the summer found a majority were in favour of a vote on repealing the amendment.
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