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[Update] Ireland passes law permitting abortion with huge majority

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:00:23 AM EST


An anti-abortion protestor prays outside the Dail tonight as the amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill are debated. Photograph: Dave Meehan/Irish Times

[UPDATE 24/7/2013] The Irish Senate, the upper house of parliament, passed the legislation yesterday by 39 votes to 14. The Bill now goes to the President for signature or possible referral to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. [END UPDATE]

The Irish Government won the final Dáil (lower house) vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 by 127 votes to 31 today (11/7/2013)- a more than 80% majority despite vociferous opposition from the Catholic Bishops and pro-life groups such as the allegedly US right wing funded Youth Defence. This parliamentary vote accurately reflects the state of public opinion on the issue in Ireland at the moment. The Bill regulates the provision of an abortion where the life of the mother is substantially at risk, and includes the threat of suicide in the definition of what might constitute a substantial risk to the life of the mother in line with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the "Right to Life" clause of the Irish Constitution in the X case (1992).

It should be noted that 6 of the 31 Deputies who voted against the Bill did so because they believed it did not go far enough - making no provision for abortion in the case of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities (where a foetus has no chance of remaining viable later in pregnancy or after birth). Some were also concerned that the Bill's provision for a jail sentence of up to 14 years for procuring an abortion outside the terms of the Bill was unduly harsh and would have the effect of driving most women seeking an abortion to continue to travel to Britain.

An estimated 4,000 did so in 2012 and few people see this bill as having a major impact on that statistic in the future -despite claims by the pro-life movement that it will "open the floodgates" to abortion on demand in Ireland. Why would a women or her doctors risk criminal sanctions when an abortion can be legally procured in the UK without the onerous provisions of the Bill having to be complied with? In practice, only women in state care or who are too poor or to ill to travel are likely to apply for an abortion in Ireland under this Bill's provisions.


At least, however, the Bill will ensure there is some additional clarity as to when an abortion can be legally performed in Ireland and reduce the hypocrisy of Irish women having to travel abroad to procure an abortion in virtually all circumstances. Ironically, the Bill might not have saved Savita Halappanavar's life, as her life was not deemed to be substantially at risk when she made her request for an abortion. Doctors will still struggle to determine (and perhaps differ) as to when a (legally) substantial threat to the life of the mother is posed by a continuation of the pregnancy. An increased risk of sepsis is unlikely to be regarded as substantial enough, under the terms of the bill, but once sepsis sets in, it may well be too late to save the mother, as happened with Savita Halappanavar.

So the practical impact of the Bill in medical terms may well be very slight: More important by far is the political message it conveys about the evolution in politics in Ireland. No longer do the Catholic Bishops have a veto on all social legislation in Ireland. They chose to make this their signature issue, and they failed to influence the outcome. Only one junior Government Minister, Lucinda Creighton, voted against the measure, and lost her Ministerial job and membership of the Fine Gael Parliamentary party as a result, as did four Fine Gael back-benchers. Given that Fine Gael is probably the most socially conservative party in Ireland and aligned with the Christian Democrats in Europe, this gives some indication of the cultural shift that has taken place in Ireland in recent years.

The argument for the defeated amendment to include the legalisation of abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality is eloquently put in this piece. It was not included in the current legislation because the Government wanted to retain the argument that it was merely codifying the current legal position following the Supreme Court ruling in the X case (20 years ago) and a fatal foetal abnormality was not at issue in that case.

The best that can be said for the legislation is that the Government has finally acted, after 20 years of inaction by successive Governments, to provide some clarity and legislative effect to the X case ruling. In doing so it also complied with the unanimous ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland, December 2011) that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has also set a precedent and the door is now ajar for legislation providing for additional limited circumstances where an abortion will be lawful in the future. That is why this legislation was so vociferously opposed by the Catholic Church.

I do not expect, however, that this government will want to revisit this issue within the lifetime of this Dail. That is because most people will vote on economic issues and judge it on it's economic performance. Fine Gael can ill afford to lose part of its socially conservative base which would normally be part of it's core vote, and so will want to put this issue to bed and out of the limelight as quickly as possible. At present the pro-life moment has nowhere else to go politically, as even Fianna Fail, the other conservative political party, has been reluctant to fully embrace their cause.

The pro-life movement could form its own Catholic heartland conservative party, however, and win seats in marginal rural constituencies even with less than 15% of the vote, thanks to Ireland's multi-seat proportional representation system. There are already a large number of (mostly left leaning) independents in the Dail, and collectively they have about 20% support nationally, such is the national disillusionment with the current party political system generally. The five expelled Fine Gael deputies - led by the able and telegenic Lucinda Creighton - could form the nucleus of such a new political party, siphoning off conservative support from Fine Gael, independents, and even some Fianna Fail supporters.

Fortunately Lucinda Creighton is ambitious enough to aspire to the leadership of Fine Gael itself, and so may not wish to alienate herself from the party further by forming a splinter group. Nevertheless Fine Gael will want to shut off any political momentum the five expelled TD's might gain in the media and elsewhere as quickly as possible, and so I don't expect the issue of abortion to be revisited again by the current Government despite the opinion poll showing that 83% of the population support abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Ireland may be moving on from craw-thumping adherence to Catholic Church doctrines, but 15% of the older, wealthier, better organised and more politically active elements of the population can still hold the political system to ransom when they put their collective minds to it. The fact that the otherwise very conservative Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, held firm in the face of their wrath is to his enduring political credit despite the very limited nature of the legislation now passed in the lower house. It would have been inconceivable just a few years ago - prior to the child abuse scandals - for an Irish Government to have acted in this way.

It may not have been coincidental that the long redacted Chapter 20 of the Murphy report was finally published yesterday. It criticised three successive Archbishops of Dublin in the most trenchant of terms for their longstanding policy of protecting serially offending paedophile priests which resulted in many more children being abused. The Catholic Church, too, will want to put this chapter behind them as quickly as possible, but the chutzpah with which they have sought to portray themselves as the representatives and defenders of unborn children in this whole debate has been utterly remarkable.

For this otherwise very unpopular Government it will now be back to business as usual, which is still about imposing austerity economics on an already deflating economy egged on by what passes for an economic think tank in Ireland. If only the Government could show similar resolve in addressing our economic problems. Having forced its Fine Gael partner in Government to go to the wire on the abortion issue, the Labour Party will have very little leverage to force a change of policy on economic issues. Such are the realities of power as a junior party in a coalition government.

See also:

Catholic Bishops fighting losing battle in Ireland Mon Jun 17th, 2013
Abortion in Ireland Wed Dec 19th, 2012
Would an abortion have saved Savita Halappanavar? Tue Nov 20th, 2012
What right to life? Thu Nov 15th, 2012

Display:
Nine girls pregnant after rape had terminations in 2011

Forty under-18s reported becoming pregnant following rape in 2011, according to new figures released by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

Nine of the girls involved said they had terminated the pregnancy.

Some 45 per cent of all cases of pregnancy following rape reported to 15 rape crisis centres around the country in 2011 involved under-18s, the data shows.

Twentyfour of the girls involved went on to have their babies, with five deciding to give up the child for adoption or fostering. Seven of the girls miscarried or had stillbirths.

---snip---

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 was passed by the Dáil in the small hours of this morning. The Bill legislated to allow termination of pregnancy in the case of a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide. The Government ruled out extending the right to an abortion to women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll last month found 81 per cent of those surveyed believed abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or abuse.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 09:11:44 AM EST
Actually, it's sort of depressing. The amount of  bullshit and posturing for a bill that does no more than regularise the situation that's existed for twenty years - and criminalises the act of having an abortion.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 09:15:54 AM EST
We are still operating under a constitutional restraint and the criminal sanction has actually been slightly reduced:
Creighton replaced as Dáil passes new abortion law - Political News | Irish & International Politics | The Irish Times - Thu, Jul 11, 2013

Earlier, Minister for Health James Reilly said the criminal sanction for procuring an abortion will be reduced from penal servitude for life to a maximum of 14 years under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

In the final vote on an amendment, Dr Reilly rejected opposition appeals to decriminalise the procurement of an abortion and said it was essential to have a penalty to uphold the Constitution.

I have no problem with criminal sanction for a back-street abortion operation. The danger is that a young girl or woman may obtain an abortifacient over the internet and will then be afraid to go to her doctor if she becomes very ill subsequently - for fear of being criminalised.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 09:48:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I got the impression that while it wasn't illegal to have an abortion it was illegal to carry one out. Was that a mistaken impression from the boiling vat of crap?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 10:05:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Destruction of unborn human life
22.(1) It shall be an offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life.
(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on indictment to
a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or both.
(3) A prosecution for an offence under this section may be brought only by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions"

A women procuring an abortifacient over the internet and aborting a child would appear to be committing an offence under this Act - a point which was also made in the Dail yesterday

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 10:47:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just to say I'm glad about this wrt the crap that the French media have been playing for a few days about Ireland divided, the powerful Catholic opposition, etc.

Anyone who didn't know that Irish opinion on this matter was quite different, would have thought that it was kind of fifty-fifty.

But that fits quite neatly with the anti-gay marriage movement in France that gives the media such a nice opportunity for portraying (at great length) a conflict that most people in the country are not worried about.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 12th, 2013 at 04:36:06 PM EST
The argument for the inclusion of provision for an abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality is is eloquently put in this piece. It was not included in the current legislation because the Government wanted to retain the argument that it was merely codifying the current legal position following the Supreme Court ruling in the X case (20 years ago) and a fatal foetal abnormality was not at issue in that case.

The best that can be said for the legislation as is is that it sets a precedent for legislation of this kind, and the door is now ajar for legislation providing for additional limited circumstances where an abortion will be lawful in the future.  That is why this legislation was so vociferously opposed by the Catholic Church.

I do not expect, however, that this government will want to revisit this issue within the lifetime of this Dail. That is because most people will vote on economic issues and judge it on it's economic performance. Fine Gael can ill afford to lose part of its socially conservative base which would normally be part of it's core vote, and so will want to put this issue to bed and out of the limelight as quickly as possible. At present the pro-life moment has nowhere else to go politically, as even Fianna Fail, the other conservative political party, has been reluctant to fully embrace their cause.

The pro-life movement could form its own Catholic heartland conservative party, however, and win seats in marginal rural constituencies even with less than 15% of the vote, thanks to Ireland's multi-seat proportional representation system. There are already a large number of (mostly left leaning) independents in the Dail, and collectively they have about 20% support nationally, such is the national disillusionment with the current party political system generally. The five expelled Fine Gael deputies - led by the able and telegenic Lucinda Creighton - could form the nucleus of such a new political party, siphoning off conservative support from Fine Gael, independents, and even some Fianna Fail supporters.

Fortunately Lucinda Creighton is ambitious enough to aspire to the leadership of Fine Gael itself, and so may not wish to alienate herself from the party further by forming a splinter group. Nevertheless Fine Gael will want to shut off any political momentum the five expelled TD's might gain in the media and elsewhere as quickly as possible, and so I don't expect the issue of abortion to be revisited again by the current Government despite the opinion poll showing that 83% of the population support abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Ireland may be moving on from craw-thumping adherence to Catholic Church doctrines, but but 15% of the older, wealthier, better organised and more politically active elements of the population can still hold the political system to ransom when they put their collective minds to it. The fact that the otherwise very conservative Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, held firm in the face of their wrath is to his enduring political credit despite the very limited nature of the legislation now passed in the lower house. It would have inconceivable just a few years ago - prior to the child abuse scandals - for an Irish Government to have acted in this way.

It may not have been coincidental that the long redacted Chapter 20 of the Murphy report was finally published yesterday. It criticised three successive Archbishops of Dublin in the most trenchant of ways for their longstanding policy of protecting serially offending paedophile priests which resulted in many more children being abused. The Catholic Church, too, will want to put this chapter behind them as quickly as possible, but the chutzpah with which they have sought to portray themselves as the representatives and defenders of unborn children in this whole debate has been utterly remarkable.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 05:33:56 AM EST
I have added the above comment to the body of the diary as it basically continues the narrative, begun in the diary, of the political context in which the debate around this legislation has been carried out. As is often the case in politics, context is everything, and in this case more determinative of the content of the legislation than the merits of the various amendments to the legislation adopted during the debate itself. Those who want to broaden the grounds for which a legal abortion can be obtained in Ireland to include fatal foetal abnormalities will have to wait to fight another day. At least this legislation, as passed, will make this a more realistic political goal in the future.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 05:42:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also available in Boo and Gold where it has also been queued for Community Spotlight. All recs welcome!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 10:55:14 AM EST
Enda Kenny threatened with excommunication over abortion reform | World news | guardian.co.uk

Despite threats of excommunication from cardinals and bishops, a privately devout Catholic prime minister is on the verge of introducing limited abortion into Ireland for the first time in the republic's existence resulting in a minister leaving his government on Thursday for opposing the reform on grounds of conscience.

---snip---

The outgoing leader of Ireland's Catholics, Dr Sean Brady, held out the possibility in May of banning Irish parliamentarians from receiving holy communion if they voted for the bill. However, Brady's own influence has been severely dented after he was caught up in the deluge of paedophile priest scandals that have undermined the church's authority in Ireland.

Brady was forced to issue a public apology last year to a man who revealed that the future cardinal failed to report to police and parents a list of children who were being abused by the notorious paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

Brady was the Catholic church's notetaker during a secret meeting in 1975 between Brendan Boland, then 14, and senior clerics after the boy made allegations about Smyth.

Although accompanied by his father to the meeting, Boland's parent was not allowed into the hearing between senior clergy and the boy. Smyth went on to abuse hundreds of children in orphanages, parishes and hospitals both in Ireland and abroad.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 02:13:40 PM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 13th, 2013 at 02:22:30 PM EST

Shatter describes abortion restrictions as `a great cruelty' - The Irish Times - Wed, Jul 24, 2013

"I personally believe it is a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman in circumstances where she has a fatal foetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated, and that according to Irish law any woman in those circumstances is required to carry a child to full term knowing it has no real prospect of any nature of survival following birth," he said.

"I think it's unfortunate that this is an issue we cannot address. Clearly many women who find themselves in these circumstances address this issue by taking the plane or the boat to England. Despite what we have been able to do within this legislation, this will continue to be a British solution to an Irish problem."

Mr Shatter, who was speaking at the publication of the Rape Crisis Centre's annual report, said it was also an "unacceptable cruelty" that abortion was not available to rape victims unless there was a risk to their life.

"I think this is an issue on which the general public are a great deal more advanced than perhaps legislators are in their consideration and assessment of what should happen in these particular areas," he said, adding that he expected a "continuing and ongoing debate" on this issue in the years to come.

"It's not an issue that I anticipate is going to be dealt with within the lifetime of the current Government, but it is an issue I anticipate some future government may need to consider putting to the people... I do believe that as a State we have responsibilities we should live up to in this area."



Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 10:32:39 AM EST


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