IN A LANDMARK moment in Irish history, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill has been introduced into the Dáil this morning setting up what is likely to be weeks of debate before it almost certainly becomes law next month.
Health Minister James Reilly introduced the bill into a mostly empty Dáil chamber this morning and said that the purpose of the legislation was to address a “a very real legal vacuum that currently exists”.
He said that if the bill is abused he will have the power to suspend it and said: “I will not be afraid to exercise that power.” However he later clarified that the “‘it’ refers to the service” not the actual bill itself when it becomes law.
The bill legislates for the Supreme Court verdict in the X Case which interpreted Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution as conferring the right to an abortion in circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the life – as opposed to the health – of a woman, including risk of suicide.
Reilly said that the legislation “does not confer any new rights on women” and said that the current situation means that he cannot not “assure the house “with certainty that women have clarity”.
He said that presently “nobody is able to tell you how many terminations are being carried out in Ireland” and that “we do not know if lives are being put at risk”.
He said that the Supreme Court’s still controversial verdict in the X Case – which concerned a 14-year-old girl who was attempting to have her pregnancy as a result of rape terminated – did not bring about a change in the law in abortion in Ireland.
“In the X Case the Supreme Court set out the correct interpretation of the law,” he said, adding that no statutory footing had been given to this interpretation 21 years ago.
Reilly said the current situation is “dangerous” for women who can be denied treatment to which they are entitled to and can be potentially dangerous for the unborn.
He pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights verdict in the A, B, and C vs Ireland case three years ago – which required the State to provide more clarity – did not “at no stage” say that current law needed to be amended.
“For the first time, there will be legal clarity,” he said, adding that he had the ability to suspend the legislation if it is “abused”.
“If this bill is abused I will have the power to suspend it, and I will not be afraid to exercise that power,” Reilly insisted, adding later that any attempts to abuse the legislation will be “thwarted”. He later clarified that the “it” referred to the service, not the actual legislation.
A spokesperson at the Department of Health later told TheJournal.ie that the Minister would have the “the power to investigate and suspend the service” under the Act.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson Billy Kelleher said that he would be supporting the law himself but a number of his colleagues are set to oppose it during a vote.
He said that he did not believe it would lead to “abortion on demand” in Ireland and that the introduction of the law would not lead to a major increase in the number of women seeking abortions on the grounds of suicidal risk.