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Rabbitte would support fatal foetal abnormality clause in abortion bill

Pat Rabbitte has become the first cabinet minister to openly support allowing abortion where there is no prospect of survival.

Pat Rabbitte says he would
Pat Rabbitte says he would "personally" support legislating for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, but would worry that the amendment could scupper the bill entirely.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A CABINET MINISTER has publicly declared his support for attempts to amend the prospective abortion bill to allow pregnancies be terminated in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Pat Rabbitte told TheJournal.ie he would “personally” be in favour of a clause in the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill that would allow an abortion in cases where there was no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb.

“My personal view is that it would make good sense to include that,” he said.

However, the communications minister said he would be uneasy about including the provision – not because of its effect, but because it would exceed the agreement in the programme for government and risk the failure of the legislation altogether.

“The commitment entered into, as between the two parties, was to legislate for the X Case,” Rabbitte said in an exclusive interview.

I’d be concerned that [if] the Minister for Health starts to deviate from that agreement, that it might start to unravel in other areas.

You know, we’re 20 years waiting to tidy up the law to bring it up to speed with practice, and that’s what the Bill is doing.

When it was put to him that his opinions were probably shared by a significant number of government TDs, Rabbitte said a clause on fatal foetal abnormality was likely to be proposed when the legislation made it to committee stage in the Dáil.

“In those circumstances, let’s see where it goes,” he said. “But I can only tell you my personal view on it, and tell you that what we committed to as a government is to legislate for X.”

He added that Labour was “a broad church” and that while there would inevitable be some TDs who wanted the legislation to go further than allowing abortion under the X criteria, many appreciated that even securing an agreement with Fine Gael to legislate for X was an achievement in itself.

The Labour parliamentary party is very conscious of the fact that the Tánaiste and party leader Eamon Gilmore came back with a commitment, after the publication of the Expert Group report, that we would legislate X in the lifetime of this parliamentary session. [...]

I think most colleagues are satisfied, you know, to enact the legislation and the future will look after itself.

Rabbitte’s comments make him the most senior member of either government party to discuss the prospect of allowing the legislation to expand beyond the strict limits of the X Case.

Last week a cross-party group of TDs said they would work together to propose amendments to the legislation, meaning specific votes on whether to expand the remit of the Bill are a near certainty.

It is likely that the whole Dáil will not be given an opportunity to vote on the specific amendments, however, with the first vote on whether to include such a clause taken among TDs at the Oireachtas health committee.

Read: TDs to support abortion amendment to provide for medical terminations

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