Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cabinet split over abortion bill after debate

Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Frank McGrath
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The Cabinet remains split over a bill that permits abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, which was subject to a passionate debate in the Dáil last night.

The legislation, proposed by Independent TD Mick Wallace, proposes that women should be allowed to have a termination, where both a perinatologist and an obstetrician deem the pregnancy to be non-viable.

The bill is due to be voted on next week, but it is not expected to pass after being deemed unconstitutional by Attorney General Máire Whelan.

The issue has caused a fresh rift within the Government, causing this week's Cabinet meeting to be abruptly adjourned.

A number of Independent ministers, in particular John Halligan, have sought a free vote. But Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted ministers must adhere to collective Cabinet responsibility and the Programme for Government.


The Cabinet is due to discuss the issue again on Tuesday, with the vote scheduled on Thursday.

Speaking during the Dáil on his private members' bill, Mr Wallace pointed out that the Attorney General's advice has not been made public and the bill should be tested in the courts.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he has been informed by the Chief Medical Officer that if a foetus has the capacity to be born, it has the protection of the Constitution. He told the debate the bill would not be constitutional.

Chief Whip Regina Doherty described the situation facing women as "intolerable", adding she wants to see a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

She expressed deep sympathy for couples who suffer the "most humiliating experience" of "bringing back their baby in the boot of their car, in a box."

But Ms Doherty described the arguments of the Attorney General as "compelling".

Fine Gael Deputy Kate O'Connell was close to tears when she told the Dáil that she learned that her child had a profound defect. "Against the odds", she delivered a child whose organs were almost entirely outside his body. Ms O'Connell said he is now a healthy five-year-old boy.

On the opposition benches, AAA-PBP's Richard Boyd Barrett raised the death of his daughter, but noted his differing views on the subject.

Proposing the bill, Independent TD Clare Daly cited the Master of the Rotunda who said there were 71 cases of fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis last year and 49 of those couples decided to travel.

Irish Independent

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