The tactical astuteness of Fine Gael TDs opposed to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is impressive. Rather than confront Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a single, explosive challenge to his leadership, they have eked out their resistance in the hope of securing legislative amendments or, at least, the prospect of early party forgiveness. By staggering their challenge, they have sought to minimise the offence created. Any doubt has been removed by already expelled individuals who insist they are not members of a cabal and who aspire to represent Fine Gael in the future. While the Bill is being debated, the scale of eventual opposition remains uncertain. On the basis of a recent Irish Times opinion poll, which showed general Fine Gael support for legislation at 79 per cent and opposition at 16 per cent, the defecting deputies could number between six and nine. Public opinion, however, is not always reflected in the pattern of Dáil voting. The tyranny of the party whip and the prospect of expulsion and career damage are powerful conditioning factors while, on the other hand, a free vote encourages outside interests to apply pressure and for TDs to engage in vote-poaching at constituency level. How else to explain the Fianna Fáil vote? Party leader Micheál Martin showed a deal of courage when he spoke in favour of the Government Bill and said it would provide necessary protection for the lives of women and fulfil Constitutional and international requirements. Having secured a free vote, however, his colleagues opted for traditional opposition tactics and 13 out of 19 voted against the measure. If opinion within Fianna Fáil is taken as a template, no more than four TDs should have rejected the Bill on the grounds of conscience. Their actions appear to have been an attempt to target unhappy Fine Gael, Labour Party and Sinn Féin voters while, at the same time, signalling concern with Mr Martin’s style of leadership. Willie O’Dea was quick to declare his support for Mr Martin, even as he struggled to explain his position on the legislation. A Second Stage vote is normally regarded as being on the principles of a Bill. Mr O’Dea supported the principles of the Bill but voted against it, explaining that if a review clause was introduced at a later stage he might change his mind. An equally unconvincing approach was adopted by European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton and by a number of her Fine Gael colleagues. They rejected the principles underlying the Bill but voted for it on the grounds that it might be amended. Support for this legislation is remarkably uniform across all political parties. When Catholic Church pressure failed to ramp up Fine Gael defections, a majority of Fianna Fáil TDs went in search of disaffected voters. It’s what drives politics.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the Cabinet will decide what course to follow on the abortion issue tomorrow and would proceed to act on the issue in the New Year.
Mr Kenny also said that there will not be a free vote on the issue.
He said he did not want to force through any measure but he did not want it to drag on interminably either.
TDs were debating the issue in the Dáil today.
Junior minister Kathleen Lynch said she believed the Government would opt for a mixture of both legislation and regulation on abortion.
Ms Lynch said when the Government does make its decision, it will not meet the expectation of the vast majority of Irish people.
She said all the Government can do is legislate and regulate in such a restrictive manner that there will be a future case that will demand our attention then.
Ms Fitzgerald said the illusion that there is no abortion in Ireland needs to be stopped.
She said this existed because our close neighbour is providing the service to 4,000 Irish women every year.
Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said the Government had to act on the issue, and said it was not enough to say that someone had a right to travel.
Mr Murphy said that while he was against abortion, he was in favour of a free vote on the issue.
Labour TD Michael Conaghan said that he favours the availability of abortion in limited circumstances, but said he thinks “killing babies is wrong”.
He said that this was about women’s health and that when the mother’s life is at risk, we must choose on the side of the mother’s life.
Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Anand Grover has said abortion should be an option for women where their health is affected and not only where the life of the mother is at risk.
Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Grover said he is concerned about the health of women around the world, but in particular the health of women in Ireland following the death of Savita Halappanavar.
Ms Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died at University Hospital Galway following a miscarriage.
The rapporteur, who is currently in Ireland, said that what happened to her “would never happen in India”.
Elsewhere, In a statement this evening the Pro-Life campaign has warned Government that if legislation for the X case is introduced that it will lead to abortions ‘on demand’.
Dr Ruth Cullen said that “Claims that legislation for the X case is a compromise between pro-choice and pro-life sides is nothing more than a political ploy to make any legislation appear restrictive.”
She continued; “The reality is, however, that any legislation for the X case would blur the distinction between life saving medical interventions in pregnancy and induced abortion, the sole aim of which is to intentionally end the life of the baby.”
Separately, the Life Institute has slammed UN Rapporteur comments as “wholly offensive and inaccurate”.
Spokeswoman for Life Institute Niamh Uí Bhriain said that Mr Anand should withdraw his remarks.
She said the comments were a “grave insult to Ireland, to her people, and to the excellent maternal health care specialist who have made Ireland one of the safest places in the world for a mother to have a baby”.
She added that if the Minister for Health, James Reilly, “had any respect for our doctors he would demand that Mr Anand apologise for the his wholly offensive and inaccurate remarks.”