Don't use 'foetus' when you mean 'baby': Varadkar

Word wrangle: Leo Varadkar Picture: Tom Burke

Alan O'Keeffe

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has questioned the use of the word 'foetus' by people when referring to a "form of human life".

Using the word 'foetus' instead of baby would be offensive to a pregnant friend, said the minister, while discussing abortion law during a seminar on equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights at University College, Dublin.

He was asked whether he supported a woman's right to health as well as her right to life being enshrined in the Constitution.

The minister said abortion laws were too restrictive and they should include safeguarding a woman's health.

But he went on to question the use of word 'foetus' in such contexts.

"I met a friend of mine for dinner on Saturday night and she was pregnant, expecting her first child . . . I did ask her if she knew what sex the baby was. I didn't ask what sex the foetus was," said Minister Varadkar, who is a qualified doctor.

"If I did ask her about her foetus, she would have been quite offended.

"And the same goes for my sisters because, to me, a foetus is a medical word.

"It's like talking of your glossus instead of your tongue or your digits instead of your fingers.

"I often wonder why people use that word.

"It is yet to be explained to me why people use a medical word to talk about what is a form of human life, if not a person," said the minister.

Minister Varadkar had already told the gathering that the abortion laws should be changed to safeguard women's health.

The current law states termination is legal "only if there is a significant risk that you might die but if your health is permanently destroyed and you have a stroke or if you are currently incapacitated, it doesn't apply," he said.

"It's far too restrictive and I think there should be a change. I don't know yet what it should change to and I think that's the debate that we probably need to have in the Citizen's Assembly and as a country," he said.