Saturday 19 August 2017

Varadkar indicates he wants abortion referendum at some point in future.

Health Minister calls for end to "Moral Civil War"

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

Health Minister Leo Varakdar is indicating he wants an abortion referendum to change the Constitution but says he is pro-life and not in favour of abortion on demand.

Mr Varadkar is also calling for an end to the "Moral Civil War" and says the eighth amendment to the Constitution is too restrictive having a "chilling effect on doctors".

The eighth amendment of the Constitution, voted on in 1983, acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, equating it with the mother’s right to life.

The amendment says: "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."

Speaking in the Dail, the Health Minister says he considers himself to be pro-life as he accepts the unborn child is a human life with right.

"I cannot, therefore, accept the view that it is a simple matter of choice. There are two lives involved in any pregnancy. For that reason, like most people in the country, I do not support abortion on request or on demand," he says.

 But Mr Varadkar says abortion is an issue where there are "few certainties".

"There can be a conflict of rights and difficult decisions have to be made every day, sometimes to save a life, sometimes because the quality of the lives involved also need to be considered," he says.

"I like to believe that I am a conviction politician, often definite, sometimes blunt but this is an issue that requires compassion and empathy, and not unshakeable certainty.  That was the mistake we made as a Dáil and a society in the 1980s, when we engaged in a simplification of politics to present this a straight choice between right or wrong, when human decisions are rarely so simple."

Mr Varadkar says he is speaking as Health Minister as a medical doctor.

"Knowing now all that I do now, it is my considered view that the eighth amendment is too restrictive.

"While it protects the right to life of the mother, it has no regard for her long-term health.  If a stroke, heart attack, epileptic seizure happens, perhaps resulting in permanent disability as a result, then that is acceptable under our laws. I don't think that's right," he says.

"Similarly, it forces couples to bring to term a child that has no chance of survival for long outside the womb if at all. Forcing them, against their own judgement, to explain for weeks and months to all enquirers that their baby is dead. I have been present at stillbirths.  I know it can be handled well and sensitively but I do not believe anything is served by requiring women or couples to continue with such pregnancies should they not wish to do so when there is no chance of the baby surviving." 

Mr Varadkar says:  "The eighth amendment continues to exert a chilling effect on doctors.  Difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple or the next-of-kin where there is no capacity, and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now made on foot of legal advice.  That isn't how it should be."

The minister is not proposing a referendum in the short term.

"But it is not my right to impose my own views on others, and the current Government has no electoral mandate to do so.  This is not a decision that can be rushed.  We are told that Civil War politics is now behind us.  Perhaps we need to ensure that the politics of the ‘Moral Civil War’ are consigned to history as well. I oppose this motion because although it is well-intended, it repeats the mistakes of the past, and replaces some old errors with some new ones.   

"Instead I propose that we have a considered and careful debate, and not attempt a ‘rush job’ referendum in the spring.  We need a real debate and a genuine attempt to find a consensus. 

"The solution is not to create further moral and legal confusion but rather to try to come together to find a consensus, and in doing so we must first replace our old convictions with new compassion," he says.

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