Saturday 15 December 2018

Main parties remain divided on the abortion referendum – Dáil debate shows

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
John Downing

John Downing

Divisions in the three main Dáil parties have emerged as the debate on the forthcoming abortion referendum, planned for next May, continues.

Key figures in Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin took different sides in the debate aimed at providing for a plebiscite to change the constitutional provision voted in September 1983.

Fianna Fáil Waterford TD Mary Butler said she will vote against a draft law allowing for a referendum on the 1983 Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees equal life rights to the mother and the unborn child.

Ms Butler said was on the record as supporting a referendum after 35 years since people last got the opportunity to vote.

But she could not back providing for a referendum which allowed the Dáil make laws to end a pregnancy.

“I cannot understand how anybody could propose with no restriction as to reason to end a 12-week-old baby being carried by a mother. I would never be in favour of stopping a beating heart,” she said.

But her Fianna Fáil colleague Lisa Chambers of Mayo said Ireland would probably have dealt with the issue of abortion long ago if women were not able to travel to Britain for terminations.

She said the Eighth Amendment had not stopped abortion, and the current situation meant Irish women would continue to travel to Britain for abortions, or get abortion pills online without medical oversight.

Ms Chambers dismissed arguments by those opposed to repeal who claimed it would lead to abortions in cases of disability. “That is a deeply disappointing argument to take,” she said.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said repeal was essential to ensure Irish women had access to proper healthcare.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said the majority of people in the State are women and everyone should acknowledge that women are perfectly capable of looking after their own health. He said the Eighth Amendment was “completely inflexible” and that no citizen under 53 years of age had a chance to vote on the issue.

Veteran Fine Gael TD Sean Barrett agreed with holding a referendum but strongly favoured retaining the amendment in the Constitution. He was chief whip in the then Fine Gael-Labour coalition when the amendment was introduced in 1983, and recalled a controversial and very unpleasant period.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said Irish women went to England for terminations, many of them for medical reasons.  “There are two beating hearts in every pregnancy,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward said he was “pro-life” and believed people should think long and hard before making a decision on the matter in a referendum.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said he had a different view from his party on the issue.  “I believe strongly we need to fight for every single living human being,’’ he said.

But his Sinn Féin colleague, Kathleen Funchion, of Carlow-Kilkenny said; "We have to trust women to make choices about their lives and bodies and we need to trust the choices they make>"

Sligo Fianna Fáil TD, Eamon Scanlon, said repealing the Eighth Amendment would be the first time in history a modern society would be removing a human right from its Constitution.

His Mayo Fianna Fáil colleague, Dara Calleary, said the Supreme Court stated that the only right to life for the unborn was in the Eighth Amendment and removing this only right to life was “a step too far for me”. 

But he would accept any referendum outcome.

He added that whatever the outcome of the referendum “the Government must accept it regardless of what some Ministers have suggested over the past week and whatever result it is I will accept it, the result of the Irish people."

Online Editors

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