independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Most TDs will back legislation on X Case

Kenny on rack as FG minister calls for free vote and gardai assist inquiry

A comfortable majority of TDs would vote in favour of legislation to give effect to the Supreme Court decision on the X Case – if there was a "free vote" in the Dail, according to analysis conducted by the Sunday Independent.

The majority would be larger, perhaps 8-to-1, if the legislation allayed concerns that it could lead to the introduction of abortion on demand.

Even without such a safeguard, it is estimated that only 41 of the 166 TDs, in a "free vote", would oppose legislation to give effect to the 1992 Supreme Court decision.

The X Case established the right of women to a termination if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.

Pro-life campaigners claim that, in practice, the X Case judgement would lead to a "liberal abortion regime".

Last night a Fine Gael minister told the Sunday Independent: "It would be, in my view, a great signal of reform if we allowed a free vote on this issue."

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who committed before the election not to legislate for the X Case, is under increased pressure this weekend to legislate following the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Several thousand people turned out to support a march and vigil in Dublin and Galway yesterday in memory of the 31-year-old Indian national, who died following a miscarriage at Galway University Hospital last month.

The circumstances of her tragic death has increased pressure on the Coalition to legislate.

The Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, has sent a report by the Government's expert group on abortion to Mr Kenny and the Tanaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

The group was established to advise how to respond to the European Court of Human Rights decision in 2010 that Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to life of the mother set out by the Supreme Court.

Mr Kenny has said he would not be "rushed" into a decision to legislate but Mr Gilmore has said the Government will "take action" on the abortion issue and that doing nothing is "not an option".

Dr Reilly has also indicated that the Government would deal with the issue, but he has stopped short of saying that legislation will be introduced.

There is an emerging view in Fine Gael that political pressure on the Taoiseach could be eased if he were to allow a "free vote", that is, to allow Fine Gael TDs to vote according to conscience, free from the party whip system.

Yesterday a Fine Gael minister told the Sunday Independent: "I have always been in favour of a free vote on this issue. There is no point in losing people on an issue of morality and conscious.

"It would be, in my view, a great signal of reform if we allowed a free vote on this issue. No one wants a referendum, the public or politicians. James Reilly has said we will not fudge this issue and we won't.

"We will wait for the expert report and decide, but there should be a free vote."

The widely held position in Fine Gael is to await the publication of the expert group report.

But yesterday, Dublin South East TD, Eoghan Murphy, indicated he would support a free vote, saying: "No one will tell me how to vote on this."

Last night, Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone,who said she traditionally would have been "quite conservative" on this issue, agreed that Fine Gael had nothing to fear from a free vote.

"We need to bring legal clarity to this issue. But we don't need to be afraid of a free vote, definitely not. It should be considered, for sure," she said.

Last night, Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said: "We must act decisively and all of us regardless of ideologies need to ensure that women in Irish hospitals are safe, that there is no ambiguity and no grey areas.

"If a life is at risk, doctors must intervene – no question about it. Up until now I thought legislation was not needed. Now I am willing to vote for such legislation if that is what the expert group tells me is needed."

While not ruling out the prospect of a free vote, a spokesman for the Taoiseach yesterday said: "We are a quite a long way from that point."

He added: "Experience tells us to deal with this matter in a calm and considered way, and that is what we are doing."

Fine Gael Wexford TD Liam Twomey said: "We will need some form of legislation that protects the mother and the doctors involved."

However, Dr Twomey, a GP, said he was opposed to a free vote.

"If we do it for this, we'd have to do it for everything else. We have the whip system in our parliament," he said.

Analysis conducted by the Sunday Independent indicates that, under a "free vote", an estimated 41 TDs – just short of a quarter of all TDs – would oppose the introduction to legislate for the X Case: Fine Gael (20), Labour (10), Fianna Fail (5), Independents (5) and Sinn Fein (1).

If the proposed legislation could safeguard against the introduction of 'abortion on demand' it is estimated that the number of TDs likely to vote against would fall to just 20.

In an article in the Sunday Independent today, Fianna Fail senator, Averil Power writes: "What is clear is that failure to legislate for the X Case has left doctors in an unacceptable legal limbo and women without the protection they deserve.

"When I heard the news of Savita's tragic death, I felt a mixture of shock, sadness and incredible anger. Savita was my age. She could have been me, my sister or one of my friends.

"That she suffered such a horrific ordeal in an Irish hospital is truly frightening. And that there is even a slight chance that what she went through is a result of failure to legislate for X is an absolute disgrace."

Last week, the independent senator, and pro-life campaigner Ronan Mullen said that if there was a medical consensus for greater force to be given to current medical council guidelines "that should be done".

"The Medical Council guidelines are clear on this – all treatment should be given even if it is forseeable that the pregnancy will end as a result," he said.

However, Mr Mullen added that legislation for the X Case judgement would not be medically sound or just: "The X Case provides for abortion on a mental health ground, ie, threat of suicide, which in practice would mean a liberal abortion regime," he said.

Yesterday, a garda spokesman said the force was assisting the coroner in relation to the death of Mrs Halappanavar.

Gardai were called to the hospital by a member of staff shortly after her death when they were told that a death certificate was "not forthcoming", it has emerged.

It is unusual for gardai to make a statement in relation to anything other than criminal investigations.

Gardai are only called in cases where "a medical certificate of the cause of death is not procurable", that is, in instances where there is uncertainty or suspicions over a death.

Two inquiries are under way into Mrs Halappanavar's death. The HSE is in the process of setting up an inquiry team, which will include international and national obstetrics and gynaecology experts.

The Galway Roscommon Hospital Group, which operates the University Hospital Galway, announced last week that it was conducting its own review into her death.

An inquest will also be held into her death.

The Health Information and Quality Authority has also sought assurances from the HSE and from Galway University Hospital that standards were adhered to in her treatment.

Yesterday, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, warned that any "prolonged period of procrastination" would not represent an "acceptable" government response to the death.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Burton said a situation where "a healthy woman comes into hospital and does not leave alive" had raised "the most basic fears amongst women over the safety of daughters and sisters in what was previously understood to be a safe and caring environment".

Ms Burton said Labour was "not prepared to wait months or engage in a long period where proposals would be examined to the point of prevarication".

Sunday Independent

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