Joe McHugh concerned at abortion proposal

Government chief whip Joe McHugh has become the third senior Government member to publicly say he has “concerns” over plans to allow unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy and cannot yet support the potential law.

Mr McHugh joined Simon Coveney and Michael Creed by raising the issue last night amid ongoing silence from five ministers on the issue.

Speaking as Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that her party “will not be found wanting” when it comes to the proposed 12-week limit and as Health Minister Simon Harris said he plans to reveal the exact referendum wording on March 8 — International Women’s Day — Mr McHugh said he cannot support 12 weeks, with his spokesperson declining to say how Mr McHugh will campaign in the referendum.

“I will be supporting the holding of a referendum,” he said. “I retain concerns over the Oireachtas committee proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. I will examine Minister Harris’s proposals when they are published.”

Eight out of 15 Cabinet members — Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, Health Minister Simon Harris, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy — are in favour.

However, five more — Business Minister Heather Humphreys, Education Minister Richard Bruton, Transport Minister Shane Ross, Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring, and Communications Minister Denis Naughten — have yet to express a view.

Mr Varadkar stressed on Monday the referendum is about whether to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment and is not related to the 12 weeks limit.

However, Mr Harris told RTÉ Radio there is cabinet division over 12 weeks, while Ms Doherty later said the “rub” is “nobody can give a guarantee of any legislation being passed”.

The situation means there is an increasing possibility that ministers will campaign on both sides of the referendum debate, a situation likely to leave the Government needing extra opposition support to ensure both the referendum and the potential 12-week limit pass.

Noting the situation last night, Ms McDonald said while her party can only change its policy on abortion to allow 12 weeks at an ard fhéis, “compassion and trust in women must prevail” and that it “will not be found wanting” on the issue.

Solidarity-PBP TD Bríd Smith and Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, who were both members of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment that recommended repeal, said they intend to write to the referendum commission when it is formed asking it to ban the use of inaccurate or graphic abortion images during the campaign.

Speaking at a housing media briefing yesterday, Mr Donohoe said Government believes holding a referendum “is essential to deal with the anguish caused by our constitution”, while Mr Murphy confirmed he will campaign in favour of both repeal and the 12-week limit.


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