The Foreign Affairs Minister says proposals for abortions without restriction up to the 12th week of pregnancy are only “the starting point” in debate around legislation that may follow a yes vote.
Mr Coveney’s views clash with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s and other Government figures, who favour the 12-week rule, and are likely to complicate a Cabinet position for the vote.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke, Mr Coveney said the Eighth Amendment should be removed as abortion is “too complex” to deal with in the Constitution.
Mr Coveney said he agrees with most recommendations from an Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, including the need to prioritise the health of a woman, not just her life.
However, he added: “I also think there is a responsibility and an obligation on the State to protect an unborn child also as they grow through pregnancy. The circumstances of an abortion or terminating a pregnancy needs to be justified if it is going to happen in order to protect a women as opposed to having unrestricted access or no protection in law at all for an unborn child, which is what is being proposed by some in the case of unrestricted access for the first 12 weeks to abortion services in Ireland.”
The Government intends to hold a vote in late May. The wording on this will be ready next month. Legislation for a general scheme to permit abortions to follow a yes vote is being drafted. This will be in line with recommendations to allow terminations up to 12 weeks, without justification. The bill would allow abortions after this where the mother’s health may be in danger.
However, Mr Coveney said the draft bill is just a starting point for debate. He believes terminations should be allowed in cases of rape incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. In such cases, women would consult with a doctor, he said. Setting out restrictions for abortions is not impossible, he argued.
However, the suggestion that rape victims should be forced to justify their terminations angered the Oireachtas committee chairwoman, Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone, who said: “All expert evidence shows that rape is impossible to legislate for, not to mention the fact that abortion pills are readily available in this country. Yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem doesn’t make any sense in the context of women’s health.”
Minister of state Pat Breen said Mr Coveney’s his views may “have merit and deserve to be considered”.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said he thought he was “the only surviving member in the current Oireachtas who was against” the Eighth in 1983, when he was in the Seanad. The Independent Alliance TD said they would support the Government’s position on the 12 weeks.