The uneasy truce in the party since five deputies were expelled for their anti-abortion stance has been broken by a row over “conscientious objectors”.
Mayo TD John O’Mahony has backed a director of the Mater Hospital, Fr Kevin Doran, after he stated the institution could not carry out terminations due to its Catholic ethos.
“I would support the idea of conscientious objection for institutions,” said Mr O’Mahony.
“I think people should be left to go along, according to their own consciences. That is my personal view.”
At the last minute, the Fine Gael leadership persuaded Mr O’Mahony to back the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in a Dáil vote that saw junior minister Lucinda Creighton and four others defy the Government and, as a result, be expelled from the parliamentary party.
Jerry Buttimer, Cork Fine Gael TD and chairman of the Dáil health committee, insisted that the Mater must adhere to the law as laid down by the Oireachtas.
“As a hospital receiving public funds, it has an obligation to uphold the laws of the land,” said Mr Buttimer.
“The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has now been signed into law by the President.
“There is an opt-out for individual members of staff. However, hospitals like the Mater have to uphold the law where terminations can be carried out in very restricted circumstances.”
The Mater is part-owned by the Sisters of Mercy, and is listed in the X-case legislation as one of 25 “appropriate institutions” where terminations can be performed in order to save the life of the mother.
Health Minister James Reilly has made it clear that he believes hospitals such as the Mater have no alternative but to follow procedures enshrined in law by the X-case legislation.
The full board of the Mater is expected to meet shortly to make a statement on the position of the hospital following the remarks by Fr Doran.
A legal challenge to the constitutional status of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is expected in the coming months from anti-abortion groups after President Michael D Higgins signed the act into law without referring it to the Supreme Court after he consulted with the Council of State.
Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the law allowing terminations to be carried out in institutions with a Catholic ethos.
Abortion rights groups have said that such terminations could only be performed when there is a serious risk to the life of the mother.