Independents defend right to support abortion bill

Independent Alliance ministers are standing over their right to vote against the Government this week and back proposals — said to be unconstitutional — to liberalise Ireland’s abortion laws.

Pressure is mounting on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to give members a free vote when Independent Wexford TD Mick Wallace’s bill is voted on on Thursday.

Health Minister Simon Harris indicated there is still no agreed position about the bill at Cabinet, which is expected to have another heated discussion on the matter tomorrow.

Junior jobs minister and alliance member John Halligan yesterday insisted his group “can vote against” the Government on the bill. Two senior alliance members at Cabinet, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, at the weekend told supporters there was nothing in the programme for government which prohibits a free vote on the issue

Not getting a free vote was “unacceptable”, Mr Halligan told RTÉ yesterday.

Following a meeting with supporters in Athlone on the weekend, he said: “We have the backing of our supporters to vote against the Government, absolutely.”

Pressure is growing on Mr Kenny to grant this free vote to Cabinet members.

Public Accounts Committee chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said it was “morally wrong” for a party leader to impose their views on others.

Mr Kenny should allow Government TDs have a free vote, insisted Mr Fleming.

Fianna Fáil is giving its TDs have a free vote on the bill, which proposes allowing abortions here in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. The Government say the bill is unconstitutional, would not withstand a legal challenge, and has been questioned by medical experts.

A Cabinet discussion on an agreed position regarding the bill ended unsuccessfully last week. It is understood a compromise is being looked at, which could include allowing Independent Alliance ministers to abstain from the vote.

Health Minister Simon Harris conceded that there was still no agreed Government position yesterday.

The Government promised an assembly in the autumn will examine changes to abortion laws and specifically whether the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal weighting to the foetus and the mother, should be repealed.

Mr Harris said he supported Mr Wallace’s principles in the bill, but stressed it was against the law and would “not make a medical difference” for women seeking terminations. he added that his generation had not had an opportunity to actually vote on abortion laws.

He insisted a referendum was needed on the Eighth Amendment before any legislation on terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities can be agreed.

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