Opposition abortion bill splits Cabinet

Government remains divided on an opposition abortion bill after it failed to reach agreement during a lengthy Cabinet meeting.

There was disagreement among ministers at Cabinet yesterday as Government was unable to reach agreement on a bill being brought forward by AAA-PBP TD Bríd Smith to amend the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

It is understood that the attorney general had advised that Government vote against the bill which aims to bring the penalty for procuring the abortion pill down from a possible 14-year prison sentence to a €1 fine.

Katherine Zappone — who has been a vocal supporter of repealing the Eighth Amendment — was uncomfortable with opposing the bill and requested further advice and information from the attorney general.

Government is under pressure to come to an agreement ahead of the vote tomorrow. During a debate on the bill last night Ms Smith said the worst criticism she has received is that the changes don’t go far enough as it would still remain a criminal offense to obtain the abortion pill.

She told the Dáil she had twice tried to amend the Protection of Life Act to remove the criminal aspect completely but had failed as parliamentary legal advise found it would be unconstitutional because of the Eighth Amendment.

“What we are saying here tonight is decriminalise abortion for women,” she said.

Ms Smith said every day in Ireland at least three young women access the abortion pill, and so “at least three young women are faced with a potential 14-year sentence hanging over them”.

She added: “This country is changing and the message has to [be] put out through measures like this, that we are turning our backs on the killing fields of Tuam, we are turning our backs on the Magdalene laundries, we are turning our backs on the days where the Church dominated our lives by being obsessed by our pregnant bodies.”

Naming Ms Zappone, she urged those who intend on abstaining or voting against the motion today to think hard about their own views and not that of their party or Government.

“What amendment to this bill would satisfy your idea of how women who procure an abortion in this State or young women who take the abortion pill should be responded to. Should we give them 10 years instead of 14? Should the fine be €10 or €100, you tell me and we can amend accordingly.”

Ruth Coppinger brought a package of abortion pills into the Dáil chamber and said that claiming they are dangerous is “sensationalist”.

Junior Health Minister Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy said while she understood the “sentiment” behind the bill, it was “premature”.

She said the Citizens’ Assembly is “actively engaged” on th issue and set to report to the Oireachtas by June.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher asked “would any of us be comfortable with a girl being prosecuted in court and convicted and potentially sentenced to 14 years for procuring abortion tablets because of crisis pregnancy, alone and fearful”.

“That’s effectively on our statute book,” he said.

But he added that the bill would “fall at the first constitutional test”.

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