A DAY before the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar shocked the nation, Fingal county councillors were calling on the Government to legislate on abortion, 20 years after the 'X Case'.
Angry exchanges about a household charge protest outside County Hall threatened to disturb the prescient debate where councillors called for legislation on the X Case, a little more than 24 hours before the death of the Indian woman, pictured right, sparked outrage. Only 13 of the county's 24 councillors were in the chamber for the debate but a majority of those voted in favour of legislating on the issue once the Government's expert group had reported on its findings.
THE day before news of the death of Savita Halappanavar shocked a nation, Fingal's county councillors called for legislation on the 'X Case'. What turned out to be a very timely motion on the controversial subject of abortion legislation in Ireland came to the floor of the council just over 24 hours before news of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar broke, leading to a national debate on the issue. News of the tragedy broke on Tuesday night on Vincent Browne's Tonight programme where he previewed the front of the following day's Irish Times, leading to a storm of controversy on social media sites. Cllr. Ruth Coppinger (SP) proposed the motion calling for the Government to ' legislate now for the ' X Case' Supreme Court Ruling of 1992, for abortion rights in Ireland under certain circumstances'.
Cllr. Coppinger said the issue of abortion was a ' very sensitive issue but also a very important issue'. She said it was estimated that a dozen women left the country every day for an abortion outside the jurisdiction. She said it was 20 years since the X Case 'electrified the country' and successive governments had refused to legislate for that Supreme Court decision. Cllr. Coppinger said that it was time legislators ' stopped the hypocrisy' that saw the country export the problem overseas. As the debate started, Cllr. Tom Kelleher (Lab), Cllr. Anne Devitt (NP) and Cllr. Joan Maher (FG) both complained they had difficult hearing contributors in the chamber because of a protest outside against the household charge. There were angry exchanges in the chamber before the Mayor of Fingal, Cian O'Callaghan (Lab), called a three-minute recess to restore order. When the debate resumed, Cllr. Coppinger said people had waited for 20 years for legislation and 'can't wait any longer'.
Cllr. Ciaran Byrne (Lab) said that broadly, there were two arguments on the issue. He said: ' One says that the decision is fundamentally for the woman herself and another says it's an issue of higher morality that has to be imposed on other people'. But, he said, many of the thousands of women who have left these shores for an abortion were raised as Catholics and had a 'strong moral sense' but 'nonetheless, in the circumstances they found themselves in, they decided to have an abortion'. He said that the argument for legislating on the X case is ' very strong' to protect the life of the mother and said that wherever you stood in the debate, it had to be accepted there is a ' qualitative difference between an embryo of a few weeks old and a mature woman'.
Cllr. Byrne amended the motion, calling for legislation after the Government's expert group reported. Cllr. Eoghan O'Brien (FF) said that while he accepted where there is a ' serious threat to the health and well being of the mother', there needed to be ' avenues' available for a termination, he said that the Socialist Party wanted to allow abortion as the ' last form of contraception'. Cllr. Darragh Butler (FF) also said the Socialist Party wanted 'abortion on demand' and explained that is why he would vote against the motion. Only 13 of Fingal's 24 councillors were present in the chamber when it came time to vote on the issue with eight voting in favour of Cllr. Coppinger's motion, two against and three abstaining.