Parties split on 12-week abortion limit

The abortion referendum battle for middle Ireland has begun, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members split on whether to allow unrestricted access to terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Parties split on 12-week abortion limit

An exclusive Irish Examiner poll, before a special three-day Dáil and Seanad debate this week and a private Fine Gael meeting today, has found that the two parties are diverging on the repeal issue — and specifically the proposed 12-week limit.

The poll shows 24 Fine Gael TDs and senators back repeal and only five are openly opposed, while nine Fianna Fáil TDs and senators are in favour and 22 are opposed.

On the question of allowing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks, the split widens further, with 19 Fine Gael TDs and senators in favour and 11 opposed, compared to just seven Fianna Fáil representatives in favour and at least 27 opposed.

Under plans agreed as part of last year’s Citizens’ Assembly recommendations on the Eighth Amendment, a cross-party committee was tasked with providing a two-stage roadmap on how to reform Ireland’s abortion laws.

This committee last month recommended a straight repeal-or-retain referendum if it is backed by the Oireachtas, and that politicians should legislate for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ pregnancy if this referendum is passed.

The growing split in the views of Ireland’s two biggest parties on the repeal and 12-week issues is set to weigh heavily on this week’s Dáil and Seanad debates, and the behind-closed-doors Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this afternoon.

This is because of the possible impact of these views on tightly contested constituencies in the run-up to the next general election, with fears from backbenchers that they could be out-flanked by local rivals depending on their referendum position.

While both parties have given members a free vote on the questions, the split is also likely to influence the large number of both parties’ TDs and senators who have yet to express a view.

And while overall Dáil and Seanad numbers mean that the repeal referendum bill is still likely to be passed, allowing for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment this summer, such influence raises serious questions over whether the recommended 12-week limit legislation following a yes vote referendum will be introduced.

According to the Irish Examiner poll, out of Fine Gael’s 50 TDs and 19 senators:

  • 24 (18 TDs and six senators) back repealing the Eighth Amendment, five (three TDs and two senators) are opposed, and 40 (29 TDs and 11 senators) have yet to express a view;
  • 19 (15 TDs and four senators) support the suggested the 12-week limit, 11 (eight TDs and three senators) are opposed to legislating for this, and 39 (27 TDs and 12 senators) have yet to express a view.

Among Fianna Fáil’s 45 TDs and 13 senators, the poll findings show:

  • Nine (six TDs and three senators) back repealing the Eighth Amendment, although no backbenchers support this move, 22 (18 TDs and four senators) are opposed, and 27 (21 TDs and six senators) have yet to express a view;
  • Just seven (four TDs and three senators) support the 12-week limit planned legislation, 27 (23 TDs and four senators) are opposed, and 20 (14 TDs and six senators) have yet to express a view.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael will hold a special four-hour parliamentary party meeting on the abortion issue at Leinster House today before a three-day Dáil and Seanad abortion debate begins tomorrow.

The meeting will take place behind closed doors between 2pm and 6pm and will hear senior ministers say there is “no plan B” on the 12-week limit.

However, a number of pro-life TDs and senators are also due to say that the abortion committee’s recommendations go too far and cannot be supported.

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