'I don’t believe we should have no protection in law for an unborn child' - Tánaiste moves to clarify his stance
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said he does not believe Ireland should sanction unrestricted access to abortion “at any point in time”.
Outlining his views on the upcoming referendum, Mr Coveney confirmed that he supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment – but said: “I don’t believe we should have no protection in law for an unborn child.”
The Cork TD said he believe he speaks for the “majority of people in Ireland” who recognise the need for constitutional change “but are also concerned that the State needs to provide protection to the unborn”.
“I reflect that middle ground position where many people are today,” he said.
The Government has proposed to hold a referendum in late May, with Health Minister Simon Harris currently working on legislation that would allow abortion on demand up to 12 weeks.
This move is based on the recommendations of an all-party Oireachtas Committee which said it would be too difficult to legislate for abortion in specific cases such as rape and incest.
However, Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke: "I don't accept that actually. Some of the experts said it would be difficult but not impossible."
He said the situation proposed to apply after 12 weeks where abortions will be permitted in cases of risk to the mother’s health and fatal foetal abnormalities could apply in the first trimester also.
Referring to rape cases, he said: “I believe that one doctor should in conversation with a victim be able to sanction an abortion in those circumstances.
"Where I have a difficulty is that I don't believe there should be unrestricted access to abortion at any point in time.”
He said it was a “good thing” that there are differing views within government, saying: “This is a sensitive but a very important thing that the government needs to get right.”
Speaking about the reasons he believes it is time to repeal the Eighth Amendment, he said abortion it “is simply too complex an issue to deal with as a simple sentence or paragraph in the constitution”.
A number of Fine Gael TDs, including a minister, have privately told the Irish Independent they believe Mr Coveney’s stance is muddying the waters.
“How does this fudge work? He is telling people ‘I don’t support this change but vote yes’,” asked the minister.
Politicians on both sides of the debate also criticised the ambiguity in Mr Coveney’s stance.
Labour senator Kevin Humphreys, who will be campaigning for repeal, said: “Asking people to repeal the Eighth Amendment but not accepting that will lead to abortion up to 12 weeks doesn’t make sense.
“This approach will confuse the electorate on what for many people is already a very difficult topic.
“Simon Coveney is trying to have it both ways when he should be showing leadership,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín, who is pro-life, tweeted: “Saying you oppose unrestricted abortion of an unborn child at 12 weeks development and then voting for repeal of the constitutional right to life of that child is an act of complete contradiction.”
Mr Tóibín faces the prospect of losing his party whip because he is refusing to adopt the official Sinn Féin stance which favours repeal.