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'No conscientious objection' for Fine Gael TDs on abortion bill, says Kenny

Whether they are doctors or legislators, “conscience objection doesn’t absolve people from responsibility.”

It is virtually unthinkable that all 93 Fine Gael TDs and Senators will support the legislation as it currently stands.
It is virtually unthinkable that all 93 Fine Gael TDs and Senators will support the legislation as it currently stands.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

ENDA KENNY has insisted that Fine Gael ministers are fully united behind the government’s proposed abortion rules – and that backbenchers within Fine Gael will be expected to toe the party line.

The Fine Gael ranks are almost certain to be divided by the legislation, with several members – including junior minister Lucinda Creighton – expressing unease about the inclusion of a clause recognising suicide as a threat to the life of a mother.

Others, including backbencher Brian Walsh, have already said they will vote against any legislation which recognises suicide as a risk to the life of a pregnant woman – reservations shared by at least half a dozen other TDs.

“I hope we can bring everybody with us on an issue that I know is sensitive,” Kenny said this morning, “and in respect of which people have a range of views.”

Kenny added that yesterday’s cabinet meetings – which meant it was not until after 8pm that the first details of the law were leaked, and almost 11:30pm before the Bill was published – had resulted in “unanimous endorsement” of the proposals.

Ministers had been given time to read through the heads of the bill, digest its contents and offer some feedback before the final version was agreed upon and drafted. Backbenchers, Kenny said, would be expected to follow suit.

“Conscience objection doesn’t absolve people from responsibility,” he said, saying members would be expected “to act and vote in accordance with the decisions of the party.

I have indicated clearly that there will be a requirement for a whipped vote on this matter.

James Reilly later added that while medical rules had always allowed some flexibility in conscientious objection, and required doctors to instead find a colleague who would carry out a procedure if they would not do so themselves, there was no such flexibility for politicians and legislators.

“If it comes to a vote, the government will be persevering,” the health minister and FG deputy leader said. “There’s no doubt about that.

“It would be a very grave outcome for the Irish people and for politics generally” if the proposals did not ultimately get put to a vote.

Reilly said he and his junior health ministers, Kathleen Lynch and Alex White, would be available to attend any party meetings and discuss some of the reservations and questions that their members may have.

Both Fine Gael and Labour are due to hold their usual weekly parliamentary meetings later this evening.

Read: Taoiseach says new abortion rules just offer clarity and ‘won’t change law’

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

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Gavan Reilly

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