Enda Kenny insisted last night that there would be no regime of abortion on demand in Ireland.
The Taoiseach also said the Coalition would legislate for restrictions where the risk of suicide is grounds for a termination.
Mr Kenny made his comments after the Church accused the Government of opening the floodgates for the “intentional killing of unborn children”.
Catholic bishops last night also argued that abortion was the most serious threat to human rights and the “first step on the road to a culture of death”.
Mr Kenny said he would meet church officials in January and would discuss what actions the Government would take following consideration of an expert group’s report on abortion and a decision to proceed with legislation. “I look forward to an engagement with them,” he said.
But angered bishops attacked the Government’s plans. Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross said he supported calls for a free vote for Oireachtas members on the legislation, adding: “Abortion is the most serious threat to human rights.”
Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore said the decision to regulate and legislate would be the “first step on the road to a culture of death”.
A number of ministers expressed shock at the bishops’ comments.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte questioned what he called “the strident intervention” of the Church ahead of the legislation being decided. Bishops should not dictate to legislators, he said.
Brian Hayes, the junior finance minister, said the last thing that was needed was extreme language.
Mr Kenny made it clear that discussions and decisions on regulations and legislation would be done in “a very calm, very considerate, very sensitive” manner.
New guidelines on abortion would provide “safety measures” where suicide was used as a grounds for a termination. “I want to bring understanding, legal clarity, and certainty and restriction where suicide applies. This is entirely without regulation and restriction at the moment.
“We’ll have the fullest possible discussion about all of this and deal with it comprehensibly, sensibly. Far from this being any culture of death, it will be a culture of life, about the protection of the lives of women with full respect for the life of the unborn.”
Any move would be lim-ited to the Supreme Court X case ruling and that of the European Court of Justice, he said. “I’ve no intention of straying outside the confines of what we just do here under the Constitution and therefore the law.
“Nor have I any intention of having any regime of abortion on demand or abortion being seen as alternative to contraception.”
The Government is expected to deal with the legislation before the summer. Several Fine Gael TDs have called for a free Dáil vote on the issue but the Taoiseach has ruled this out.
Mr Kenny has also said legislation will clarify issues for health professionals who warn of a “grey” area carrying out procedures here.
“I certainly don’t want this to drag on interminably. At the same time, I want to give everybody the opportunity to have their say.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved