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FG and Labour at odds over possibility of amending abortion bill

Fine Gael’s chairman says backbenchers will have the chance to amend the bill – but only, a Labour TD says, to improve medical practice.

Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny will need to decide on a common strategy if either party's backbenchers begin tabling amendments to the draft abortion laws.
Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny will need to decide on a common strategy if either party's backbenchers begin tabling amendments to the draft abortion laws.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

FRESH DIVISIONS appear to have emerged between Fine Gael and Labour over the extent of the prerogative that TDs will have to propose changes to the proposed new abortion laws.

Fine Gael’s chairman has reportedly said the Dáil and Seanad will not be used to ‘rubber stamp’ the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill – but this morning a Labour backbencher suggested that substantive amendments would not be permitted.

Ciara Conway, a Labour TD for Waterford, said it was her understanding that any amendments to the bill would only be permitted if they were found to bring the proposed legislation in line with the best medical practice.

Her comments came after Charlie Flanagan, the chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, said the passage of the bill in its current format was not a ‘fait accompli’.

‘Not a rubber stamp’

Flanagan told the Irish Times that TDs would have an opportunity for amendments, and that the passage of the legislation through the Oireachtas would not be “a parliamentary rubber-stamp”.

The Irish Times’ Mary Minihan reported that prospective amendments from the Fine Gael benches could include a gestational term limit beyond which abortions could not be carried out, and the introduction of an annual review mechanism to restrict the law if it was found that the legislation ended up allowing more abortions than envisaged.

However, Conway told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the purpose of the legislation was to “vindicate a constitutional right here that a woman has, when her life is at risk, to a legal termination”.

She added:

To introduce anything else won’t allow that to happen, won’t allow that to proceed, in a constitutional way.

Conway said it was her understanding that any amendments would be permitted only if they brought the draft “more closely in line with best medical practice”.

Health minister James Reilly has previously ruled out the prospect of introducing a term limit for the legislation, saying the right to an abortion as defined in the Supreme Court’s X Case ruling was not subject to a time or term limit.

“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,” he said last week.

The usual enactment of legislation sees TDs only table amendments if they are in keeping with their party’s policy – and with those amendments only accepted if the government considers them complementary to the intention of its legislation.

While there is no legal impediment to government TDs submitting proposed amendments, the Government would be unlikely to accept any material changes – meaning a Fine Gael TD could face expulsion from their party’s parliamentary ranks simply for voting in favour of their own proposal.

Read: ‘No conscientious objection’ for Fine Gael TDs on abortion bill, says Kenny

Pictures: Pro-life Knock vigil for mothers and unborn babies

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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