Kenny avoids abortion revolt by TDs

The risk of a Fine Gael backbench revolt receded after plans to legislate for abortion in limited circumstances — 21 years after the X case ruling on the issue — were unveiled by the Government.

While some Fine Gael TDs and senators have reservations about the draft outline of the legislation, the party leadership was confident of avoiding a significant backbench revolt.

There was “no war” at a parliamentary party meeting last night, sources said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier said he was hopeful the Coalition could “bring everybody with us on this issue” and emphasised that the bill did not fundamentally change the current legal position.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, he said, would at last bring certainty to pregnant women and legal clarity to medical personnel.

“We are a compassionate people,” he said, adding that the bill was “about savings lives: the life of the mother and the life of the unborn”.

Fine Gael sources described last night’s party meeting as “respectful”. Several ministers addressed the meeting.

Galway West TD Brian Walsh apologised to colleagues after earlier this week openly threatening to oppose the bill. His apology came after a meeting with Mr Kenny earlier in the day. Mr Walsh felt strongly about the bill but would “engage for the next few weeks”, a source said.

Dublin North East’s Terence Flanagan expressed opposition to the bill.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told them he understood their opposition to abortion in the case of a threat of suicide but that the wording of the bill was the “best way to go”.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who is also a doctor, said he was pro-life and that he supported the bill, particularly the need for three clinicians to assess a woman who wanted an abortion.

The party source added: “Nobody said they would vote against it. There’s no war. It was respectful.”

Wicklow TD Billy Timmins strongly opposed the bill and said he wanted many questions answered.

Fianna Fáil TDs and senators will meet today to decide what position it should take on the issue ahead of a Dáil vote, expected in July.

Sinn Féin indicated support for the bill yesterday.

Labour ministers said they did not anticipate party members having problems with the bill.

The outline of the bill will be sent to the Oireachtas health committee which is likely to hold hearings with medical and legal experts the week after next.

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