HEALTH Minister James Reilly has insisted that the courts will not impose the maximum 14-year sentence on a pregnant woman who obtains a termination – as he rejected calls to drop the punishment from the new abortion bill.
It came after his own junior minister, Alex White, described the penalty as "inhumane and anachronistic".
But Dr Reilly said that the penalty had to be included in the bill due to the article in the Constitution providing for the right to life of the unborn.
He added, however: "I cannot foresee a case where a court would inflict that level of penalty on the woman herself."
Dr Reilly rejected a proposed amendment to his abortion bill from Independent TD Seamus Healy, which would only have imposed the 14-year jail term on a person providing an illegal abortion to a woman.
Mr Healy said he did not accept that Article 40.3.3 on the right to life of the unborn child required the State to criminalise women who had obtained abortions.
Dr Reilly also rejected a Fianna Fail amendment to the bill seeking to have a representative for the unborn child hired when a pregnant woman sought to review the refusal of an abortion request.
This had been called for by former director of public prosecutions, Eamon Barnes.
Dr Reilly said it represented a radical and "unacceptable" departure from his bill.
He said that doctors already had an explicit duty to preserve unborn life as far as was practicable.
Dr Reilly also said that suicidal teenage girls in care would be able to get abortions here rather than abroad under the bill.
The authorities have already arranged for six girls who were in state care to travel abroad for abortions over the past 20 years, after it was found there was a risk to their lives from suicide.
Dr Reilly told the Oireachtas health sub-committee that his abortion bill would now provide the legal clarity for the procedures to be performed here.