The Dail (Irish Parliament) has rejected a pro-abortion Private Members’ Bill, tabled by the Socialist Party together with some Independent TD’s. The Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Women) Bill 2012 was defeated by 111 votes to 20 but gives rise to concern about future Government intentions.
The Bill falsely created the impression that women in Ireland are being denied necessary medical treatments in pregnancy because of the absence of abortion and had it passed had the potential to legalize abortion up to birth in cases where a woman's life is in danger, or if she is threatening suicide. It would have allowed a doctor to perform an abortion, without a woman's consent and for underage girls without parental consent.
The bill also sought to limit conscientious objection and to imprison pro-life groups or individuals who engage in sidewalk counseling.
Clare Daly TD, who tabled the private members Bill conceded before the debate that abortion is not a medical necessity, and she implied that the use of the term “Medical” in her Bill is her way of seeking to move the issue forward but that her ultimate intention is to have abortion on demand. According to Daly
This is an issue of women’s rights to control their own bodies. Forcing women to continue with pregnancies arising from rape, or carrying to full term a foetus that will die upon birth is an abuse.
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly rejected the Bill on the grounds that the House should await the report of an expert group on the matter. Dr Reilly also stated that the bill “goes some way towards addressing the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment,” but said “the Government is clear that in its current form it cannot be accepted because it is lacking in certain legal respects”. The problems he identified related to the consent provisions in section 6 of the bill.
“Issues of presumed consent are among those being examined by the expert group, and they require the most careful scrutiny to ensure they are compatible with the Constitution”.
The other concern the minister highlighted related to the offences provisions in section 7, which would criminalise any group or individual that sought to impede a woman seeking an abortion. This, he said, is another matter that is being considered by the expert group.
A number of deputies spoke in favour of life, most notably Mattie Mc Grath Independent, Tom Barry (Fine Gael), Tony Mc Loughlin Fine Gael and Eamonn of Cuiv (Fianna Fail).
Sinn Fein deputies all claimed to be against abortion but then declared that this was subject to exceptions such as rape and incest.
Minister of State for Health Roisín Shortall thanked Ms Daly for tabling the Bill and reiterated Government commitment to what she termed the “expeditious implementation’’ of the European Court of Human Rights judgement in the A,B and C case. Ms Shortall told the Dail that she agreed with those who were critical of the fact that the issue had not been addressed by previous governments but that it was unfair to criticise the current Government, given that an expert group had been set up and legislation would be introduced in accordance with its recommendations.
“As soon as the expert group reports at the end of June, the Government is absolutely committed to taking action in this area,”
There was a clear divide in the debate with many Fine Gael deputies expressing pro-life views while others were pro-abortion. Labour Party deputies voted against the Bill despite the fact that many expressed support for the measure and also despite the fact that the Party at its annual conference last week approved a motion in favour of legislating abortion.
Pro-lifers were suspicious of the timing of this measure bearing in mind that the Government had already appointed the expert group. There is a perception that this was a deliberate "stalking horse" to open up the issue in advance of the debate which will ensue when the expert group report and Government decide to act.