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Suicidal risk in X Case law 'not consistent with Constitution' - John Bruton

The former taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael argues that including suicidal risk in forthcoming legislation is not consistent with Article 40.3.3 which protests the life of the unborn child.

John Bruton's intervention is likely to cause a headache for Taoiseach Enda Kenny
John Bruton's intervention is likely to cause a headache for Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Image: Peter Morrison/AP/Press Association Images

FORMER TAOISEACH JOHN Bruton has said that the government’s proposal to legislate for the X Case on abortion and include suicidal risk is “not consistent with the plain words of the Constitution”.

Writing in the Irish Times today, the former Fine Gael leader argues that including suicidal risk as posing a risk to the life of a woman therefore entitling her to an abortion – as legislating fully for the X Case will do – does not comply with Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

This article was introduced as an amendment in 1983 which enshrined a Constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland. But in the 1992 X Case the Supreme Court said that abortion was permitted in circumstances where the life of the woman is at risk, including from the risk of suicide.

Bruton says that the eighth amendment, which is enshrined in article 40.3.3. in the Constitution, acknowledges the “equal right to life” of the unborn child and the mother.

Bruton argues that “risk is not equal to certainty” and says that the Supreme Court verdict that the life of the unborn child was “contingent” on the life of the mother, implies that the life of the unborn does not enjoy Constitutional protection.

He describes this as a “really radical doctrine which, carried to its conclusion, would undermine almost all human rights law”. He writes that “all lives are ‘contingent’ on the behaviour of others.”

Bruton also argues that it would be “hypocritical” to pretend that the Constitution does not say say “equal” and urged members of the Oireachtas to interpret the words of the Constitution “in their normal meaning, particularly the simple word “equal”.

The government has committed to legislating for the X Case on abortion following a report by an expert group tasked with outlining how Ireland should respond to a European Court of Human Rights verdict in 2010.

Health Minister James Reilly is due to bring draft proposals for a law to Cabinet shortly but Fine Gael has been split on the suicidal risk issue, a matter which is also raising issues in Fianna Fáil.

Read: Poll finds 85 per cent support abortion ‘in certain circumstances’

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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