Health Minister James Reilly has ruled out extending X-case legislation to include fatal foetal abnormalities as grounds for a termination.
Mr Reilly was responding to a group of Fine Gael backbenchers who want to expand the abortion laws being drawn up.
At present women have to carry a foetus to birth even if it will not live beyond delivery.
However, Mr Reilly said such a change in the law would be unconstitutional without a referendum.
An organisation pushing for the move called terminations for medical reasons said it had received legal advice that such a change could be achieved without a national poll. However, Mr Reilly said he had discussed the matter with Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, and the pair agreed it was not possible.
“I’ve been advised by my department that under the current constitution, it would be extremely difficult to accommodate a need for that under the current legislation
“I checked it out. I did do a lot of work on this earlier on with the attorney general and chief medical officer.
“This won’t be possible under the current Constitution as construed. That’s the legal opinion from the very top legal officer in the country. It would require a referendum and... I mean I would certainly like to put on record my deep empathy and understanding with women who are pregnant with a pregnancy that has no hope of ending with a viable child but, as things stand, we can’t offer to accommodate that,” Mr Reilly said.
Around 1,500 such cases are diagnosed in Ireland every year — 80% of the women involved travel abroad for a termination.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton would not be drawn on whether he agreed with some of his colleagues pushing for the legal change, but insisted it would not be in the legislation for the X case.
“The Government made a decision here that we were going to deal with the X case, and it is strictly in conformity with the constitutional provision and has been carefully put together.
“I’m not going to express personal views. We know it’s a very controversial issue, we know that people have different views on all sides of this argument,” Mr Bruton said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she did not think it would be possible to include the provision in the current legislation.
“I think we do have a problem in respect of fatal foetal abnormality, however, I don’t think that the constitutional arrangements that we have would allow extension of the law to cover that ground.
“It is a huge issue and something that needs to be dealt with promptly and responsibly by the political class,” said Ms McDonald.
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