Thursday 22 March 2018

Legislation on abortion is "very specific"

Ed Carty and Lyndsey Telford, Press Association

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has insisted new abortion laws do not clear the way for near full-term pregnancies to be terminated.

Amid criticism that no limitations have been placed on what stage of a pregnancy abortion will be allowed, the Taoiseach hit out at remarks from pro-life campaigners.

"The constitutional right is for a termination of pregnancy in very specific circumstances," he said.

"Clearly there is a requirement on medical personnel to do everything possible to save the life of the unborn as well. For those comments being made about ending the lives of babies that are nearly full term, it's just not true."

The Taoiseach responded to concerns over the legislation, published overnight, after an Independent TD warned about a pro-life mob ambushing politicians in a widespread campaign of intimidation.

John Halligan, from Waterford, claimed he was confronted by a gang of seven campaigners on the promenade in Tramore in May and told to change his views on abortion, or they would be changed for him.

One of the group called to his house late that day and stuffed leaflets through his letterbox.

Mr Halligan also recalled the experience of Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty who was threatened via email with having her throat cut to her naval. She was also told her house would be burned down.

"There have been a number of disturbing reports in the last weeks about the level of abuse TDs are receiving," Mr Halligan said.

Yesterday, Mr Kenny revealed that opponents of the reforms have branded him a murderer and sent plastic foetuses and letters written in blood.

Mr Halligan made his claims in the Dail as he called on Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to condemn the Catholic Church for not criticising anti-abortion campaigners who attack politicians.

The Tanaiste refused to condemn the church for lobbying over the abortion issue but went on to describe some statements from the bishops as exaggerated.

Ireland's Catholic bishops reiterated their opposition to the abortion reform this week and warned that it was a defining moment for the country.

Additions to the legislation include a requirement for annual reports on the number of terminations being carried out and a broadening of the category of the two psychiatrists allowed to decide whether a pregnant woman's life is at risk from suicide.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly will also be given the power to suspend any of the 24 institutions deemed to be operating inappropriately.

There is no limitation or time-frame on what stage a termination can be carried out at and no "sunset clause" under which the legislation would lapse by a certain date unless renewed.

Doctors will be allowed to refuse to carry out the procedure on grounds of conscientious objection.

The Pro-Life Campaign claimed the legislation is "a million miles away from good medicine, from the kind of life-saving intervention which everybody supports".

Spokeswoman Caroline Simons said: "One of the most regrettable features of this debate has been the corruption of language. The Taoiseach and Cabinet ministers continue, with no hint of shame, to use words like 'restrictive' and 'life-saving' to describe their plans.

"But these words are meaningless and empty. The only thing that matters is what the law actually permits and what it permits is abortion on wide-ranging grounds."

Meanwhile an opinion poll for the Irish Times shows that three-quarters of voters approve of the proposed Government legislation and 52% are in favour of allowing abortion in cases of threatened suicide.

If enacted, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 will legalise abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide.

The Bill aims to legislate for the X case judgment from Ireland's Supreme Court, which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk.

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