Sunday 21 January 2018

Labour hits back at bishops' abortion vote appeal

Sarah McDonald and Fionnan Sheahan

The Labour Party has hit back at Catholic bishops' claims that the new abortion legislation will throw the floodgates open for terminations.

The Coalition has reached "political agreement" on the final draft of the abortion legislation, but some details are still being worked out.

Officials were still working on the legal wording of the legislation up to last night.

The legislation will contain a commitment to review how it operates after a number of years.

But it will not contain a so-called 'sunset clause', where the legislation would be repealed if a certain number of abortions took place in a year.

The Cabinet will hold a special meeting this morning to approve the legislation, which is supposed to be published this afternoon.

Ministers will hold a specific meeting only dealing with the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, 2013 at 8am.

Despite suggestions that the Cabinet didn't sign off on the legislation as they ran out of time at their normal meeting, in fact, the legislation was not actually ready.

Government sources said discussions were continuing last night on some of the details. The legislation will largely stick to the Heads of the Bill but with some technical changes.

The publication of the legislation comes as the Catholic bishops claimed the law "opens the door to ever wider availability of abortion".

A Labour Party spokesman said the Catholic Church was entitled to its view, but disagreed with the bishops' statement. "It is regrettable that they would say that this legislation will in some way open the floodgates to abortion, when the opposite is the case," a spokesman said.

One of the country's top bishops said the right to life of the unborn stood above all political party loyalties.

In an appeal to politicians in the government parties to discard the party whip and vote against the proposed Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Archbishop Eamon Martin said the abortion issue stood above "all other pressure that you may be under".

Speaking to reporters in Maynooth following the publication of the bishops' statement, 'A time to uphold the right to life', in which the hierarchy outlined their concerns and objections to the legislation, Archbishop Martin of Armagh said he could not understand how legislators wouldn't be given the right to a free vote on something as critical as human life.

Flanked by Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, the future leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland also questioned the Government's rush to bring in the new legislation, and described Enda Kenny's Government as "pushing through" the draft bill.

He suggested the timing just ahead of the summer recess and as the schools were all closing and people were beginning to think of their holidays was wrong, particularly for an issue which was "so critical".

Asked if the bishops were considering taking legal action if the bill was voted through, Bishop Leahy said "other steps are further down the road" and it might not necessarily be the bishops who considered those steps.

On possible excommunication of Catholic legislators who vote for the proposed abortion legislation, Archbishop Martin said the hierarchy felt the question was "a distraction".

He added one of the issues the bishops wanted to emphasise was to challenge the "spin surrounding the legislation".

Irish Independent

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