Wednesday 16 January 2019

Harris hails 'historic' day as abortion law clears final hurdle

Simon Harris
Simon Harris
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The bill to legalise abortion has cleared its final hurdle in the Oireachtas, paving the way for abortion services to be available for the first time in the history of the State.

Following hours of heated debate in the Seanad - which reflected many of the hours of discussion which preceded it in the Dáil - the legislation was passed by 27 votes to five.

There were 47 amendments tabled for the final report stage in the Seanad dealing with issues such as conscientious objection and parental consent, which had been discussed at committee stage and in the Dáil. However, they were rejected by the minister and the bill signed into law by the President will not be substantially changed from the original bill published.

The law allows for abortion up to 12 weeks. After 12 weeks a termination may be sought where there is a risk to the life or health of a woman or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the passage of the bill as "a genuinely historic moment". He acknowledged that the "introduction of this service into our health system brings challenges".

Legal

"I want to work with doctors and healthcare professionals to assist them as they take on this task," he said. Mr Harris added that women in crisis will no longer be faced with barriers.

"The law, at last, is changing. We will have a service. It will be legal. It will be safe. It will be free," he added.

Further legislation to provide for safe-access zones is to be introduced by the Health Minister next year. This legislation would prohibit protests from taking place outside GP surgeries and maternity hospitals offering the service.

Following the passage of the bill, Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, who chaired the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, said her work on the issue has been the privilege of her career.

Lamenting the passage of the bill, pro-life Senator Ronan Mullen said Ireland hasn't so much caught up with the rest of the world but lost its lead.

He said it was not the end of the pro-life movement, but the beginning of a new phase in it.

"I already see the early light of the bright new law that is ahead," he said.

On the final day of debate, tensions flared on several occasions during Seanad proceedings.

Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leydon spoke about his role in voting to insert the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution, which he still supports. However, proceedings descended into a shouting match.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruanne urged him to "sit down" as he was talking about a law "that doesn't exist anymore".

Mr Leydon appealed for senators not to be "emotional" and was accused of "gendered language". He later withdrew the remark and also noted that it was not aimed at any gender, saying "I see more emotion here with [Senator] David Norris than I do with any of you".

Following a tense exchange between anti-abortion Senator Mr Mullen and others, Labour Party Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin referred to his daughter who was in the Chamber and could be heard at one point during proceedings. He said: "Thank God she has been born in this year so that in years to come she will live within an ideology of care and compassion for women".

Irish Independent

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