Kenny: ‘Law is not being changed’

The Taoiseach hopes he can bring Fine Gael TDs with him on legislation to allow abortion in limited circumstances, assuring them “the law is not being changed” but merely clarified.

Enda Kenny again, yesterday, ruled out a free vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, when it shortly comes before the Oireachtas, insisting the whip will be applied.

He has appealed to members to engage in a “considered and non-divisive debate” when the draft outline of the bill is discussed in the Oireachtas health committee over the coming weeks.

In an effort to assuage the concerns of backbenchers with reservations on the issue, Mr Kenny noted that “we are a compassionate people”. He said the bill “is about saving lives: The life of the mother and the life of the unborn”.

He said: “It’s important to know that the law is not being changed here. What is contained is a clarification of existing rights within existing laws and the constitution.”

In a press conference to launch the outline of the bill, Mr Kenny said the issue of abortion has been “very divisive and very contentious over 30 years”.

It’s also an issue that is “complex and sensitive about which many Irish people have sincere and strongly held views”.

The bill, he said, will at last bring certainty to pregnant women and legal clarity to medical personnel.

Asked if he was concerned that some of his TDs would vote against the bill, Mr Kenny said he had been speaking to some of them as the drafts were being prepared: “I can’t speak for everybody but I do hope that we can bring everybody with us on an issue.”

Mr Kenny pointed out that while there was a conscientious objection provision, it didn’t “absolve” people from responsibility.

“And those who are members of my own party signed a formal declaration to sit, act, and vote in accordance with the decisions of the party,” he said.

“Clearly, everybody in the business is a mature adult, they understand what they sign on for and what that means. I already indicated that there would be a requirement for a whipped vote on this matter and that is the position.”

Health Minister James Reilly said: “There is a long tradition in medicine and medical council guidelines that makes room for a conscientious objection.”

But he noted that “no such provisions apply in politics that I am aware of”.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said women now have the right to know they will be able to receive lifesaving treatment: “For years, they have been denied that right, the simple right of knowing that in the final analysis, their doctor can act to save their life.”

Labour’s Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, said if the Government was to go beyond what was included in the bill, an amendment to the Constitution would be needed. “The only ones that can allow us go further than what we have gone are the people, by way of referendum,” she said.

Ms Lynch also defended the decision not to include a term limit on when an abortion can be carried out. “You cannot put a timeline on a right,” she said.

Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said the laws will “be good for women’s confidence in the maternity system”.

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