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'A shameful abandonment': Just one Labour TD defies party as Clare Daly's abortion bill voted down

The Dáil has voted to reject a bill providing for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Updated 8.27pm

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 17.23.50 Source: Oireachtas TV

THE DÁIL HAS voted down United Left TD Clare Daly’s bill to provide for abortions in circumstances where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

The bill was rejected by 104 votes to 20.

Only one Labour TD, Anne Ferris, defied the government to support the proposed legislation. The Wicklow deputy’s vote means she is automatically expelled from the Labour parliamentary party and becomes an independent TD.

Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House this evening, Ferris said she felt “very bad” for having gone against her party, but said it was “an issue very, very close to my heart”.

98 Anne Ferris Against Bill Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Ferris said she intended to remain a Labour member, reapply to the parliamentary party and run for the party in Wicklow at the next general election. She added that she did not see herself voting against the party again. 

“I’m as loyal to the Labour party as ever,” Ferris insisted.

There was earlier speculation that Ferris’s party colleague Ciara Conway was also planning to vote against Labour. However the Waterford TD ended up opposing the bill.

The four Labour TDs who missed the vote were said to have been granted permission to do so by the party whip Emmet Stagg.

After the vote, the Clare TD Michael McNamara said he would introduce his own bill to provide for terminations where the foetus has no prospect of life outside the womb. The move is likely to heap further pressure on the Labour party if the bill makes it to the Dáil floor.

Three Fianna Fáil TDs - Billy Kelleher, Niall Collins and Robert Troy – supported the bill with all else opposed. Sinn Féin abstained on the vote.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Six One News, Daly said the vote was “another example of the total disconnect between the Dáil and what goes on outside”.

She said that voting against the bill was “a shameful abandonment of the families who were crying outside the Dáil”.

image00 Source: RTÉ Player

Labour meeting

The vote followed a lengthy meeting of the Labour parliamentary party in Leinster House this afternoon. The party was given legal advice by minister Alex White, who is a trained barrister, that Daly’s bill was unconstitutional as the Attorney General had advised the government last week.

Several Labour TDs and Senators spoke during the meeting which lasted for over two hours. Ferris is said to have made a passionate and emotional speech to her parliamentary colleagues before departing the meeting.

Speaking to reporters this evening, Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton said the party has a long history of opposing the 8th amendment in the Constitution, which reads:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

She said that Labour is “committed to dealing with the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities” and “the huge amount of distress and trauma it causes to individuals and families involved when they get the news”.

However, she added that the party as a member of Government, is “constitutionally-bound to put before the Dáil legislation which complies with the Constitution”.

She said it is “cruel to some of the families involved to suggest that legislation which doesn’t deal with the issue in a constitutional way would be passed”.

As for Ferris, Burton said she is a “very respected colleague”, adding that it’s up to her to apply to rejoin the party, something Labour will address “in the next few days”.

‘Devastated’

Daly’s bill would have provided for two suitably qualified medical professionals (an obstetrician and a perinatologist) to jointly certify in good faith that the foetus in question is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality.

Proponents of it argued it does not confer any new rights in relation to abortion, merely clarifies existing rights and, they argue, it is constitutional.

However, speaking for the government last Friday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the bill was flawed legislation and would require a referendum which the government has no mandate to hold.

In a statement released this evening, the Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) group said it is “devastated” by the defeat of the bill.

The organisation thanked all of the TDs who spoke in favour of the legislation, but sharply criticised the government for voting against it and Sinn Féin from abstaining.

“Because of the utter contempt with which we have all been treated by successive governments, but most particularly by this government, those who receive the terrible news [that their baby has a fatal foetal abnormality] this week, next week and into the future will continue to suffer as we have.

“We are calling upon all political parties who say they do not have an official position in relation to terminations of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, to give us your written undertaking that you will discuss this specific topic at your next Ard Fheis.”

Additional reporting by Órla Ryan

Clare Daly: Fine Gael and Labour will vote down abortion bill like ‘nodding donkeys’

Earlier: Some Labour TDs could miss today’s abortion vote, no whip on Fianna Fáil deputies

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Hugh O'Connell

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