FG split on whether to liberalise abortion law
Survey reveals an urban/rural schism in party on divisive issue
Fewer than one in four Fine Gael TDs say they are in favour of allowing for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The party is split over the prospect of repealing the Eighth Amendment, with large numbers of TDs expressing fears any such move could lead to a regime of "abortion on demand".
A survey by this newspaper of the party's 67 TDs has also exposed a rural/urban split on the divisive issue of liberalising the country's abortion laws.
Just 15 TDs said they believe women should be given the choice of having a termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Seven deputies, all of whom are in rural constituencies, said they are opposed to such an option, while the remainder said they have yet to come to a decision.
The prospect of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn, is expected to feature heavily in the general election campaign.
Before Christmas, Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that the issue will be examined by a citizen's convention if Fine Gael is re-elected. The convention is expected to consider a future referendum and what would be put in place in the event of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Mr Kenny also pledged to allow his TDs a free vote after the issue was put back on the political agenda by his deputy leader, Children's Minister James Reilly. But the prospect of a future liberalising of the country's abortion laws is now in doubt, given the level of unease within Fine Gael.
When asked whether they favoured allowing for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, almost half of Fine Gael TDs said they had yet to formulate their positions on the issue. More worryingly for the pro-choice campaign, a significant number of those contacted expressed deep reservations about such a move and said they will await the outcome of the convention.
Some 15 deputies, including several ministers, did not respond to calls and emails on the issue. On the 'yes' side, several of those in favour of a change in the law said they believe it is wrong for a woman to be forced to see out her pregnancy in cases where the child will not survive.
These TDs include Dublin South Central TD Catherine Byrne, Meath East TD Regina Doherty and Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said he believes services should be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality - but added that he is not in favour of deleting the Eighth Amendment.
But others, including Meath West TD Ray Butler and Mayo TD John O'Mahony, said they are aware of cases in which the child has survived despite a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality during the pregnancy.
During his trade mission to the Netherlands and Germany last week, the Taoiseach indicated he will allow ministers to vote for or against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment without repercussion in the event of a referendum. The comments appear to contradict those of Fine Gael's Brian Hayes, who has said ministers should resign if they disagree with future government policy on abortion.
A number of senior ministers, including Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald, said they do not feel it is necessary for them to give their views.
Mr Coveney said he does not believe TDs should have to give their views on the issue during the election campaign.