Two significant changes to abortion legislation

Friday 14 June 2013 06.17
The two changes to the legislation were not anticipated
The two changes to the legislation were not anticipated

There are two significant changes to the legislation from the draft heads of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, which were not anticipated.

The bill still provides that no medical practitioner will be forced to carry out an abortion if they have a conscientious objection.

But it no longer includes a provision allowing an institution to refuse to provide a termination on the grounds of conscientious objection.

Department sources insisted that this was because the provision was unnecessary.

They do not anticipate that the law will allow institutions to refuse to provide terminations.

The bill requires the medical practitioner with the objection to provide for the "transfer of care" of the pregnant woman.

The list of institutions approved for carrying out abortions has been widened to include major teaching hospitals which do not have maternity units, expanding the number from 19 to 25.

The bill also provides a penalty of up to 14 years in prison for the offence of destroying unborn human life.

This is a tighter definition than in the draft heads of the bill, which made it an offence to "do any act with the intent to destroy unborn human life".

This was said to apply to anyone involved, including the pregnant woman herself.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister for Health James Reilly said no medical institution will be allowed to refuse a woman a termination if her life is in danger.

He said while individual doctors can have a conscientious objection to providing a termination, hospitals will not be allowed to object to treating a patient.

He said: "All the institutions mentioned in this (bill) are funded by the taxpayer. We could not have a situation where a service being funded by the taxpayer could deprive a citizen of their rights.

"So under those circumstances, we see absolutely no indication or room for an institution to have a conscientious objection."

FG Parliamentary Party may discuss free vote - Mathews

Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews said the possibility of holding a free vote on abortion legislation will be discussed at the party's next parliamentary meeting.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, the Dublin South TD confirmed he has tabled a motion for next Wednesday's meeting to have a "personal conscience vote" on any legislation involving "the termination and values of life".

Mr Mathews said it was his understanding that there is no requirement for the Oireachtas to produce legislation such as the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in order to meet constitutional requirements.

As a result, he hopes the parliamentary party will also vote on whether to proceed with the bill in its current form.

Mr Mathews said he would not be voting in favour of the bill.

He said he imagined there "would be at least a few" other Fine Gael TDs also voting against it.

Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford has said he fears the legislation could lead to abortion on demand.

Speaking on RTÉ's News At One, Mr Bradford said he has "major doubts and concerns" about the bill and warned there is a "long way to go" until it is signed into law.

Mr Bradford said his concerns with the bill primarily centre on the section dealing with suicidal ideation.

He said that in every other country where a so-called "suicide clause" was inserted into abortion legislation, the "inevitable" conclusion was always abortion on demand.

Mr Bradford admitted that a free vote on the bill is "in one sense quite attractive".

However, he refused to be drawn on whether he will join his parliamentary party colleague Mr Mathews in voting against it.

Sinn Fein TD to defy party whip

Sinn Féin has welcomed the publication of the bill, however TD Peadar Tóibín said he will vote against the legislation.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time Deputy Tóibín said, “For me it’s an impossible ask. This is a radical change from what’s currently there. For the first time treatment for the threat of suicide will include the death of another human being.

Asked about the political consequences of his decision Mr Tóibín said, “This issue is bigger than me. Any problems that I face over this pale into contrast with the difficulties mothers face and unborn children will have.”

Health spokesperson Caoimghín Ó Caoláin said the party believed the legislation was necessary.

The party is willing to support its progress through the Oireachtas, he said.

Mr Caoláin said the party would be looking at the legislation in detail to see if it required any amendments and if it met the questions raised during the health committee hearings.

Former master of Holles Street Maternity Hospital Dr Peter Boylan welcomed changes in the legislation including the removal of criminalisation of a woman who obtains a termination, and the inclusion of extra hospitals for terminations.

He said he did not expect a great increase in the number of terminations as a result of the legislation, and that most women will still go to the UK for terminations.

Dr Boylan said the process for obtaining a termination under the law is a rigorous one and women will not put themselves through it unless it is a very serious issue.

He also said he believed some doctors will undoubtedly avail of the conscientious objection clauses.

Keywords: abortion law