Minister Katherine Zappone: Repeal and replace Eighth Amendment with clause

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has suggested the Eighth Amendment be repealed and replaced in the Constitution with a clause allowing the Oireachtas to regulate abortion.

During further debate in the Dáil on a referendum, a number of TDs said liberal abortion laws elsewhere led to terminations of Down syndrome and disabled babies.

The Government is set to decide the thrust of the abortion referendum question next Monday at a Cabinet meeting, as well as any potential followup legislation.

Ms Zappone, who is pro-choice, said the Constitution is not the place to regulate abortion. The Referendum Commission for the vote would need to give its view on factual or legal disputes when campaigns get under way, she said.

Ms Zappone said she would continue to listen to legal advice, including from the attorney general, but that a clause could replace the amendment.

“Perhaps to say ‘nothing in this Constitution prohibits abortion as provided for by law. Or the Oireachtas is hereby empowered to regulate the availability of abortion by law.”

Ms Zappone stressed she would not support any text in the Constitution which might “immunise” or obstruct a judicial challenge.

Elsewhere, Fianna Fail TDs voiced concern about pregnancies being terminated if an unborn baby was found to be Down syndrome or with a disability, such as a cleft palate.

Sean Haughey spoke about being born with a cleft lip. He cited Britain where he claimed abortions there had tripped where an unborn baby had a facial deformity.

A “growing number” of pregnancies were being ended as a result of a baby’s appearance, claimed the Fianna Fáil TD. Large numbers of pregnancies were aborted in Denmark because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome, he claimed.

There was a “real danger” if abortions were allowed here up to 12 weeks in a pregnancy that terminations later may be allowed for economic or social circumstances, he said.

It was a “slippery slope”, a situation with which fellow party TD Eugene Murphy agreed.

Declan Breathnach raised the issue of disabilities and said an alternative to repeal may be to strengthen laws for the medical profession.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath was extremely critical of parents and families with Down syndrome members being “exploited” in the abortion debate.

“Respect has got to be top of the agenda,” said the Independent TD, who has a daughter with Down syndrome.

Women with medical personnel should be allowed decide on abortions, noted Mr McGrath, adding that the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment had stated that proposals to liberalise the laws would not lead to terminations for pregnancies with Down syndrome.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín voiced his opposition to repeal, claiming it could see disabled unborn children aborted.

Party colleague Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said he supported the recommendation to allow abortions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. “You cannot coerce women into parenthood against their will,” he said.

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