'Big split' in Fine Gael on abortion as Varadkar to study report over break
A Fine Gael TD who opposes holding a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment has said there is a "big split" in the party over abortion.
Peter Fitzpatrick also said he's "very disappointed" in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for announcing the Government's intention to hold a referendum on abortion before the Oireachtas Committee examining the issue did its work.
The committee last night published its final report which recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing terminations without restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. It also recommended allowing abortions in circumstances where a woman's life or health - either physical or mental - was at risk, in consultation with doctors.
Terminations would also be permitted in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
The report has been handed over to the Dáil and the Government for consideration ahead of the drafting of wording that would ultimately be put to the people in a referendum as early as next May.
The chairperson, Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, said the report represented the majority of the committee's views on this "very difficult and deeply personal issue" and lay "somewhere in between the two traditional polar positions".
She said politicians didn't have ownership of the issue and she couldn't envisage a situation where the Oireachtas would block a referendum on abortion next year.
Ms Noone said the Government wasn't obliged to implement the committee's recommendations, but hoped they would help in forming the basis for legislation.
Kate O'Connell, a strongly pro-choice Fine Gael TD, said the report was based on a huge amount of evidence and gave a "clear direction" to Government on what the legislation should include.
Mr Fitzpatrick was among three committee members who oppose abortion under all circumstances and are against the holding of a referendum on the matter.
The Louth TD, along with Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, published a minority report that claimed the committee process had been biased and led to "cruel and unjust recommendations".
Mr Mullen said he believed there was no category of person whose "right to life should be put to the vote".
Mr Fitzpatrick agreed and also said: "Talking to a lot of backbenchers, I think there's a big split in Fine Gael.
"I'm not going to say it's 50:50 but, in fairness, I think it's very positive towards keeping the Eighth Amendment."
Asked about his comments that he was "disappointed" in Mr Varadkar, he said he wouldn't resign from Fine Gael over the matter as the party's members have a free vote on abortion.
Mr Varadkar is to consider the committee's report over Christmas before he shares his views on its contents in the new year.
The Eighth Amendment, introduced in 1983, guarantees equal status to the life of a mother and her unborn child.
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said she opposed its introduction at the time and that the 1980s were "dark days for women".
She mentioned the Kerry Babies case among other examples. "I'm just delighted we're moving out of that darkness and into the light," she said.
Another committee member, Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers, said the testimony that resonated with her was a presentation on fatal foetal abnormality.
She said most committee members "were in tears".
Her party is also divided on abortion, but fellow Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher said he will personally advocate for repealing the Eighth Amendment.
The committee's recommendation that terminations be permitted up to 12 weeks without restriction was proposed due to the complexity of legislating for cases of rape and incest.
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, who had proposed a 22-week limit, said she believed that while the committee's recommendations were positive, women would still have to travel to Britain for abortions if the 12-week rule was implemented.