Reilly rules out cutting 14-year jail sentence

Health Minister James Reilly has ruled out reducing a maximum 14-year jail sentence for a woman who has an abortion outside terms of the new legislation.

TDs across parties yesterday agreed the punishment was harsh, with one saying it was “inhumane”.

Dr Reilly said the courts would never give a 14-year sentence to a woman who had a termination with services operating outside the proposed legislative regime.

Speaking during a marathon session of committee stage of the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill, he said the courts would use “discretion” and the sanction was mainly there for services operating outside of the law. Legal advice is that it is the correct sentence in line with the Constitution, he said.

The committee stage finished last night and the Bill will return to the Dáil for a final vote there next week.

Health Minister of State Alex White resisted calls for an “advocate” for the unborn, as suggested by a former DPPs. He said this would offset the balance in a review of a woman’s case. Any intervention by a lawyer could see a woman cross-examined, he warned.

Independent TD Roisín Shortall questioned if psychiatrists would be placed in a difficult legal position if they failed to certify an abortion to a suicidal woman. Dr Reilly said practitioners were protected under the law.

Calls by Ms Shortall for a referendum on setting an upper time limit for an abortion were rejected by him. Such a move could signal abortion on demand, he stressed.

Mr White said there could be no “sunset clause” — an agreed review of the law — in the legislation but that the Oireachtas could make changes down the line.

Dr Reilly said that if a baby of 30 weeks survived after an abortion that it would be given to the parents to take home or taken into State care, if not wanted. He also said that if a woman refused treatment for suicidation that she would not be certified for an abortion.

Dr Reilly said he would bring amendments to the Dáil next week on aspects of the controversial suicide clause allowing abortions in limited circumstances.

He said the changes are “not going to change the absolute substantive nature” of the Bill but would “make it very clear to people that the life of the unborn is to be protected — in all instances — as well as the life of the mother.”

Fine Gael Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin called for a “cooling-off period” of up to 10 days between when a woman presents as suicidal and is granted a termination.

Dr Reilly said the Oireachtas, if it implemented this proposal, could be responsible for the death of a woman if, during the cooling-off period, she took her own life. “That is not something that I’m prepared to have on my conscience.”

He said the suggestion would be “utterly” against the advice of the Attorney General and the medical profession would be “absolutely in outrage” about it.

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