LABOUR INTENDS TO have a process leading to the repeal of the Eighth Amendment underway by this summer if it’s re-elected to government.
The party today outlined its intention to hold a referendum on the controversial amendment, which enshrines the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn in the Constitution.
Labour minister Alex White said the party would have no problem with a process that builds consensus on the issue in order to achieve a referendum.
Fine Gael has proposed holding a citizens’ assembly within six months of re-election before deciding if any referendum takes place.
White did not set a deadline on a referendum but said it will be delivered in the “early part of the next government” if Labour is re-elected:
I think that if this govenrnet is returned to office, which I hope it will, then I would see that that process should be well underway by the summer.
He said Labour’s “overriding insistence would be that there be a referendum”.
The party is proposing to replace the effective ban on abortion in Ireland with legislation that would allow for terminations on the grounds of risk to life, risk to health, rape and fatal foetal abnormality.
Labour senator Ivana Bacik said the draft legislation the party has endorsed is “broadly in line” with the 1967 Abortion Act in the UK.
“It’s effectively the same law that currently meets the needs of the thousands of Irish women who travel to England every year,” she said.
So, while it’s clearly not abortion on request – absolutely not – but it’s the sort of legislation that we see replicated across Europe in a sort of compassionate fashion and it’s very similar to the 1967 Act.
She denied that the regime in the UK amounts to ‘abortion on demand’, insisting that legislation requires a test on the health of the woman, which has to be certified by two medical professionals.
White said the first step would be to build a consensus around removing the Eighth Amendment and said that Labour’s legislation would be “part of the debate as to what legislation should look like”.
He said that many people in Fine Gael were “deeply reluctant” to agree to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in 2013, legislation which he described as “very limited”.
“People have positions, very heartfelt positions, that change and the country has changed. I think, in fairness to the Taoiseach, he changed on other issues as well,” White said.
Labour’s junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said “hard questions” needed to be asked of Fianna Fáil, which has not adopted a position on the amendment, and its leader Micheál Martin.
Martin was health minister when the Fianna Fáil government held a referendum in 2002 on taking the clause that allows for abortion on the grounds of suicidal ideation out of Irish law.
“I think Fianna Fáil’s position on this is archaic, out of touch and that is very much the reason why we need to make sure they don’t return to government in any form,” he said.