Shatter: New abortion referendum may be needed

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has said there may need to be a fresh abortion referendum to deal with women pregnant as a result of rape.

He said it was an “unacceptable cruelty” that these women could only avail of an abortion if they were suicidal and there was a real and substantial risk to their lives.

The minister said the State had a “responsibility that we should live up to in this area” and condemned the continuation of “a British solution to an Irish problem”.

Mr Shatter said that while such a referendum was unlikely to take place during the current administration, he anticipated that a future government may need to hold one.

He said it was “very important” that both houses of the Oireachtas had enacted the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and hoped it would be signed into law “very shortly” by the President.

Mr Shatter said it was “unfortunate” the bill did not cover women with fatal foetal abnormalities, who, he said, will also have to travel abroad for a termination.

The Dublin Race Crisis Centre report showed that 19 of the 322 clients who commenced therapy with them in 2012 disclosed they had become pregnant as a result of rape. Of those, 12 continued with the pregnancy (with nine keeping the baby themselves), while seven had a termination.

“I believe that it is an unacceptable cruelty that if a woman has been raped that the only circumstance in which our law will allow a pregnancy to be terminated is if she is suicidal,” said Mr Shatter.

“I think this is an issue on which the general public are a great deal more advanced than perhaps legislators are.”

He said Irish law simply points such people “in the direction of the UK”, adding to their trauma.

“It’s not an issue I anticipate is going to be dealt with within the lifetime of the current Government, but it is an issue I anticipate some future government may need to consider putting to the people.”

He added: “I do believe as a State we have responsibility that we should live up to in this area.”

The minister also revealed that the long-awaited bill to establish the DNA database — which he said would “revolutionise” investigations into sex crimes — will be delayed again.

He had told the Dáil last week that he intended to bring the bill before Cabinet on Tuesday.

However, yesterday, he said he would bring it to the first Cabinet meeting in September and hoped the database would be operational in 2014.

“Our database will hold the DNA profiles of every person convicted of any offence that attracts a sentence of five years or more, which covers rape and most sexual offences,” said Mr Shatter.

“On top of that people serving prison sentences when the legislation is enacted will also have their profiles put on the database.”

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