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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 9 July, 2020

Abortions in cases of suicide ideation can 'create more problems'

The nine-member sub-committee will today deal with the sections of the proposed legislation on suicide ideation.

Sam Coulter Smith, Master of the Rotunda
Sam Coulter Smith, Master of the Rotunda
Image: Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland

AHEAD OF FURTHER discussions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 at committee stage today, the Master of the Rotunda Dr Sam Coulter Smith has warned that terminations in cases of suicide ideation can “create more problems”.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the obstetrics and gynaecology consultant said he would not be doing his job if he did not raise the potential “difficulties and dilemmas” with the proposed legislation.

“Suicide in pregnancy is incredibly rare,” he said, before adding that suicide ideation is “probably more common”. However, he believes terminations in such cases can be more problematic.

He also explained that the “whole consent process” can be “fraught with difficulties” because the mindset of the pregnant woman is “different” as they are “not thinking rationally”.

From 9.30am today, the nine-member Health Committee will resume discussions on each section of the Bill, as well as 89 tabled amendments.

The Jerry Buttimer-chaired group has the power to insert or delete passages and change the language of the Bill.

Many of these amendments will be minor, adjusting a word here and there. It is not expected that any major changes will be accepted. The committee has already voted down two suggestions which would allow for legal terminations in the cases of ‘inevitable miscarriages’ and ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’. In both cases, legal advice from the Attorney General suggested the insertions may not be constitutional.

Following a three-and-a-half-hour hearing yesterday, the committee only dealt with three sections so it is expected that they will not finish with the proposed legislation today, especially as the TDs are due to debate the controversial inclusion of suicide ideation as grounds for a lawful termination.

Buttimer told this morning that he is prepared to continue the hearing until 9pm tonight, if necessary. He described yesterday’s debate as “measured, productive and interesting”.

Although the availability of the Minister for Health tomorrow is unclear, proceedings could spill over into the latter half of the week as there are no time restrictions on members of the Dáil speaking during the course of the day.

Only the nine members of the sub-committee (Jerry Buttimer, Ciara Conway, Robert Dowds, Peter Fitzpatrick, Seamus Healy, Billy Kelleher, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Denis Naughten, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin) and the Minister for Health James Reilly can table amendments at this stage or vote during proceedings. But the hearings are open to all members who are not restricted in the number of times they can interject in proceedings. There are also no limits to how long those interjections are.

Once each section and amendment is discussed and voted on individually, there will be a final ballot on whether the committee should approve the law, changed or not, and send it back to the Dáil.

The Bill completed Second Stage in the Dáil yesterday on a vote of 138 to 24. Four Fine Gael TDs (Brian Walsh, Peter Mathews, Billy Timmins and Terence Flanagan) have lost their membership of Fine Gael and various Oireachtas committees as a result of their rebellion.

Explainer: A crash course on how the abortion proposals will become law

Read: These are the 24 TDs who voted against the abortion bill

Related: Four Fine Gael rebels will lose committee memberships… and their offices

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