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Taoiseach says new abortion rules just offer clarity and 'won't change law'

“It will cover existing constitutional rights only… it will not create any new rights,” the Taoiseach said.

Enda Kenny told reporters this morning - and Fine Gael backbenchers listening - that the new legislation merely restates, and does not change, Irish law.
Enda Kenny told reporters this morning - and Fine Gael backbenchers listening - that the new legislation merely restates, and does not change, Irish law.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has insisted that the Government’s new proposals permitting abortion in limited circumstances will not change the law in Ireland.

Kenny said the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill – of which the first draft was published last night – was “about saving lives – the lives of the mother and the lives of the unborn”.

He said the legislation, at its core, restated the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland – and that “the law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed”.

“It will cover existing constitutional rights only, it will not create any new rights… the equal right to life of the unborn will be upheld,” he said.

The Taoiseach added that it would bring “certainty to pregnant women, and legal clarity to medical personnel who work inside the system”.

In a reference to the socially divisive nature of the proposals – which have already come under criticism from some pro-life activists – Kenny said the government had been determined “to put in place a process which would not divide the country.”

He said:

Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth, and the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill will continue within the law to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply or the future.

No term limits on when procedures are due

Health minister James Reilly said he “firmly” believed that the heads of the bill represented “a real step forward in meeting our obligation to provide the legal clarity that those women who use our services require, and that the professionals who deliver that care need to know in order to deliver a safe service.”

He added, however, that the constitutional rights identified in the X Case meant the laws could not prescribe a term limit, beyond which an abortion was illegal.

That’s the law of the land, and there is no way around that. We cannot put a time limit on a right, and this is a right under the constitution. That’s the reality.

Tanáiste Eamon Gilmore said the inclusion of one clause, allowing abortion in cases where the mother’s life was at risk of suicide, was absolutely necessary.

“Suicide is a threat to the life of the mother. It is rare but it can be happen, and the law of the land has to vindicate her life too,” the Tánaiste said, adding: “What we are offering here is legislating for X – we are doing no more and no less.”

Children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald said people were currently “baffled, in effect, by what the situation has meant,” and said the legislation would merely allow access to rights already defined by the courts.

Reilly, Fitzgerald and junior minister Kathleen Lynch said the role of legislators was not to prescribe best medical practice, and that medical professionals would be trusted to act responsibly and with the best interests of their patient.

Read: What the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 contains

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

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Gavan Reilly

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