EUROPEAN Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton has confirmed she will be "voting with her conscience no matter what the consequences are" in next week's tense final stages of the Government's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
The Minister was anxious to avoid inflaming an already tense political scenario but she said yesterday: "This cannot come as a surprise to any-one, I warned since last December I would have a major problem with this."
If she votes against the bill on Wednesday she will be automatically expelled from Fine Gael.
In a scathing analysis of the legislation, Ms Creighton warned that politicians had a duty to legislate on the basis of fact rather than fiction. And she warned that absolutely none of the evidence given by psychiatrists clearly said "abortion is a treatment for suicidal ideation".
She asked "given this evidence, do we legislate on the basis of fact or fiction" and warned that "putting on the statute books a flawed solution to suicidal ideation is a terrible thing to do".
She noted that "psychiatrists have consistently said we cannot legislate for this" and said "my amendments will focus on the protection of women when they are pregnant".
Dismissing the astonishment in some government circles at the "historic spectacle" of a minister putting down hostile amendments to her own government's bill, Ms Creighton tartly noted that "no one told me that you could not in government table legislative amendments".
Ms Creighton told the Sunday Independent that her amendments next week to provide pathways to care for the treatment of suicidal pregnant women will "oblige the State through legislation to provide proper care for such women".
Ms Creighton said that her proposal "is based on best practice in the UK".
In a reprise of her warning last Monday that when conscience is ignored the country suffers, Ms Creighton told the Sunday Independent her political responsibility is "to be guided by conscience – we should surely recognise politics does not thrive without conscience".
"This is an unprecedented situation. The title of this bill is the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill and Section 9 [the suicide clause] does not do that. My intent is to protect the lives of mothers and children," she said.
Ms Creighton also noted that she would be strongly pressing her proposal to "slash the maximum sentence for procuring an illegal abortion from 14 to five years".
In an indication of the astonishing degree of tension surrounding the issue, former Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins claimed the section 9 clause dealing with suicide was "the most barbaric clause in any bill since the foundation of the State".
And speaking to the Sunday Independent, Fine Gael Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin slammed the "outrageous and contradictory stance" taken by Minister for Health James Reilly in refusing to accept her contention that a 10-day cooling off period be included in the legislation.
In an example of the escalating Fine Gael anger over Taoiseach Enda Kenny's hard line, another TD claimed: "Fine Gael is now being run by bullying and patronage. Kenny is a weaker West of Ireland-style Haughey."
They added that "any changes in this legislation will not be about the protection of women, it will be about saving two seats in Enda's constituency".
The Sunday Independent has also learnt that initial plans are afoot to assure doubting TDs that "there is a lifeboat after Fine Gael in terms of a new party if people are thrown to the wolves".
The quartet of rebel Fine Gael TDs expelled for voting against the Abortion Bill will receive the full backing of the pro-life movement in the next election if they decide to run as independents, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
However, the prospect has also emerged that the four deputies and other Fine Gael dissenters could be attracted to run for a new political party, now being actively advocated by a group led by Libertas founder, businessman Declan Ganley.
Meanwhile, the Pro-Life Campaign (PLC) has also rounded on Mr Kenny over the Taoiseach's U-turn on abortion legislation.
In the run-up to election 2011, a "direct approach from Enda", which was unsolicited, was made to the PLC, seeking to associate Fine Gael with the views of the pro-life movement.
One pro-life source said that once FG had made contact "they wouldn't stay away from us, they were insatiable, they kept on coming back for more and more".
The claims are backed up by a series of e-mails, where on Saturday February 19, Fine Gael noted its strong pro-life stance and added: "We would be most appreciative of your support in spreading this message to your supporters at your earliest convenience."
A day later, another e-mail from Mr Kenny's then legal adviser said the party would be "obliged if you would send to your supporters and post on your Facebook page" the FG position.
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One PLC source told the Sunday Independent they were told the hierarchy were "very anxious the message got out, that it would be put on Facebook as quickly as possible after that e-mail. Fine Gael headquarters made several calls over a period of days to ensure that the message was getting out on Facebook and on e-mail to pro-life supporters".
A spokesperson for PLC, Cora Sherlock, said: "Fine Gael went to extraordinary lengths, they courted us. It was made clear Enda Kenny was centrally involved and willing it on."
Fine Gael was not entirely united, though. At one point the pro-life camp was told: "Alan Shatter was trying to hold it up but he was told by the Taoiseach's men to back off. Shatter stayed quiet – for once he knew what side his bread was buttered on."
Others were more supportive. One PLC source claimed the then Fine Gael front bencher Leo Varadkar "followed his letter up with a call to assure us how committed he was to the cause".
Fine Gael TD Simon Harris also sent an anxious e-mail in the final week of the campaign assuring PLC that: "I am happy and proud to assure you I am pro-life."
Mr Harris added the nervous plea of: "Please be assured of my support. I need No1 votes on Friday so I can be in a position to support these positions in Dail Eireann."