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Saturday 16 December 2017

Reilly rejects rape, incest and abnormality amendments

Health Minister James Reilly rejected Seanad amendments that would allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities
Health Minister James Reilly rejected Seanad amendments that would allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly has rejected a final appeal to allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

The Government easily won a vote in the Seanad to reject these amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill by 42 votes to 10.

It was supported by Fine Gael rebels Fidelma Healy Eames and Paul Bradford, both of whom have lost the party whip after voting against the overall bill earlier.

Speaking in the Seanad, Dr Reilly said abortion in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities was not allowed under the Constitution due to the requirement to equally protect the life of the mother and the unborn child.

"We have to be as constitutionally aware and secure in this bill as possible," he said. "Otherwise, as it (the bill) is bound to be challenged, it will fall."

Many senators related their experiences of meeting women who had decided to go to England for an abortion if their unborn child had fatal foetal abnormalities, with no chance of surviving after birth.

Others described how they had met families who had decided to go through with the pregnancy, even though their child would only survive for minutes.

Dr Reilly did not accept the figure – which he said had been "bandied about" – of 1,500 unborn children annually with fatal foetal abnormalities.

CONSTITUTION

He said around 2,000 of the 70,000 births each year had anomalies – but a very small percentage of these were fatal.

Dr Reilly continued: "That is in no way to diminish the pain and hurt and suffering it causes and the terrible loss it represents to the families concerned.

"Only a person with a heart of stone would not have sympathy with their situation and the terrible plight that they face. But I can't address it in this bill."

The bill only allows for abortion to be carried out where a woman's life is at risk – including from suicide – but not simply because the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

Independent senators Marie Louise O'Donnell and Fiach Mac Conghail had urged Dr Reilly to accept their amendments on rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities – even though he had already rejected similar ones in the Dail.

"It's an opportunity for the Seanad to implore on you further that this issue can be dealt with. It's a political issue, not a legal issue," Mr Mac Conghail said.

He said women who were victims of rape or incest would not always be able to afford to go to England for an abortion.

Fine Gael senator Paul Bradford said: "The one thing we all agree on is the horror of rape, the shocking crime that it is. But do you solve one crime by perhaps causing another difficulty?"

The Seanad is going to be discussing proposed amendments to the bill today, with further time to be allocated tomorrow and on Monday if this proves necessary.

Irish Independent

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