LEGISLATION on abortion will lead to increased calls for a free vote on the divisive issue within Fine Gael, TDs are warning.
But some Government TDs are hopeful the expert group on abortion will allow Fine Gael and Labour to find a middle ground between them and settle the contentious debate.
The group's report is due to be published after the Cabinet meets tomorrow, and it is expected to recommend legislation for limited abortion coupled with regulations on practical implantation.
But some Fine Gael TDs said this could cause discomfort in the party and lead to increased calls for a free vote on the issue, a possibility that has already been raised by Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes.
Labour is understood to favour a whipped vote. A number of Labour TDs yesterday said elements of the report that were leaked were in line with what they expected. They said it provided the basis for a "compassionate middle ground".
But there are fears in Fine Gael that legislation for abortion in the event of possible suicide could lead to abortion on demand. However, a number of backbenchers are striking a cautious note and are insisting on waiting until they see the full report.
The report is understood to offer options for the Government to allow for limited abortion in Ireland in line with the X Case.
• Non-statutory guidelines
• Legislation alone
• Legislation plus regulations.
The expert group is understood to favour legislation plus regulation and suggests that most aspects of the provision of abortion would be set out in primary legislation, with the Health Minister providing regulations on how it would operate.
Galway West Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh said: "If legislation is the upshot of the expert report, there will be a lot of requests for a free vote," he said.
James Bannon, the Longford-Westmeath FG TD who is opposed to abortion, did not return calls last night.
But Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney said his first impressions of the report were that it represents a "middle way" between the pro-choice and pro-life extremes.
"There are three sides in this now. This is neither pro-choice nor no choice, but the compassionate middle ground," he said.
One Dublin-based FG TD, who described themselves as being "at the more liberal end of the party", said: "If the expert group report is pushing a certain view as it seems it is, I'll support that."
Cork TD Jim Daly said that he would not be in favour of abortion on demand, as did Dublin North-East's Terence Flanagan.
Mayo FG TD Michelle Mulherin, who said in a recent interview that she believed there was a "question mark" over legislating for the X Case, refused to be drawn on her views on the expert report.