Friday 25 April 2014

Abortion law moves one step closer

Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews leaving Leinster House in Dublin after voting against the protection of Life during pregnancy bill
Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews leaving Leinster House in Dublin after voting against the protection of Life during pregnancy bill

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny lost four TDs over the abortion bill tonight in the biggest Dail rebellion in two decades.

Although the abortion bill comfortably passed its first stage in the Dail, Fine Gael TDs Billy Timmins, Brian Walsh, Terence Flanagan and Peter Mathews voted against it and lost the party whip.

Other wavering Fine Gael TDs backed the bill but are waiting to see if it can be amended before deciding on whether to support in its final stages.

The final tally was 138 to 24 supporting the bill. Two thirds of Fianna Fail TDs supported the bill on a free vote.

Divisive plans to introduce the first laws allowing limited abortion in Ireland moved a step closer tonight despite a potentially damaging revolt in Government ranks.

Up to 10 members of the senior coalition party Fine Gael are expected to rebel over the legislation, which is designed to allow terminations if a woman's life is at risk.

Lucinda Creighton, Minister for European Affairs, has yet to formally declare her intention but she is believed to be the most senior figure opposed to some of the legislation. Despite her opposition to a clause allowing abortion where an expectant mother is at risk of suicide, Ms Creighton voted in line with the Government.

Proposed amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will now be considered.

The four Fine Gael TDs - Peter Mathews, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and Brian Walsh - now face expulsion from the party for leading the rebellion.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald warned that while Taoiseach Enda Kenny does not want to lose any deputies, he has been clear that rebel backbenchers will lose the party whip and their position in the parliamentary party.

She said he has "nailed his colours to the mast" regarding the "important legislation". "I want to emphasise this, we are talking about a woman's life, where a woman's life is at risk," Ms Fitzgerald added.

"We are talking about a very strict, precise, focused piece of legislation."

The so-called suicide clause has been the biggest bone of contention among Government TDs. Ms Creighton and a further half dozen members of the party may yet refuse to support the legislation if it is not removed.

They have argued suicide should not serve as legal grounds for the procedure, with some claiming a termination could do more damage to a woman's mental health.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin also faces expulsion from his party for voting against the legislation. Other TDs to reject it include 13 from opposition party Fianna Fail.

The Government, which hopes to have the new laws enacted by the end of July, has faced much criticism throughout the emotionally-charged and divisive debate.

Around 20,000 pro-life campaigners took to the streets in protest against the legislation last month, arguing the limited laws would lead to widespread demand for terminations.

The Taoiseach also revealed he had been sent letters written in blood and plastic foetuses for his decision to press ahead with the legislation.

An estimated 4,000 Irish women travel to the UK every year seeking an abortion.

The Government was forced into action and committed to legislating for the procedure in limited circumstances after the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar who suffered a miscarriage and subsequently died in hospital in Galway.

If enacted, the Bill will legalise abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide.

It aims to legislate for the X case judgment from Ireland's Supreme Court, which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk.

The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission to travel for an abortion.

The European Court of Human Rights also previously found that Ireland discriminated against a woman in remission with cancer who was forced to travel overseas for a termination.

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