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Kenny: Bill will not 'open floodgates to abortion on demand'

Kenny refuted allegations that the bill meant Fine Gael was ‘breaking a pre-election promise by legalising abortion’, saying this was not the case.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with a copy of the constitution during the Dáil debate
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with a copy of the constitution during the Dáil debate
Image: Oireachtas

THE TAOISEACH HAS said that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will not lead to abortion on demand.

Speaking during today’s debate on the bill, which will involve up to eight hours of contribution from members of the Dáil, he said that the legislation will provide legal clarity to women on the circumstances in which they are entitled to a medical termination of pregnancy where there is a real and substantial risk to their life that can only be averted by the termination of their pregnancy.

During the speech, he held up a copy of the Constitution to make his point to the Dáil, saying he believes the members of the house “have a duty to uphold what this book means”.

Constitutional right

He said the book “confers on the women of our country a constitutional right to have a termination of a pregnancy in certain very specialised circumstances.” He said they have a duty to see that that right is vindicated and that the constitutional responsibility to uphold the right to life of the mother and the unborn is actually implemented in practice.

Kenny said that having considered all of the issues, he is “happy that this is the right thing to do” and asked that the members of this house will support the bill through all its stages.

The Taoiseach said that the bill is “not radical” and “will not create new rights”.

It will not lead to the introduction of abortion on demand in Ireland but it will clarify the very rare circumstances in which doctors can intervene if there is a real risk of a woman losing her life during her pregnancy.

He said that the bill is underpinned by a number of principles including providing legal clarity by way of legislation and regulations of the circumstances where a medical termination is permissible where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman.

He said that the equal right to the unborn will be upheld and a further principle is that the legislation is strictly within the perimeters of the constitution and the Supreme  Court judgement in the X Case.

Kenny said that in the case of real and substantial risk to a woman’s life arising from ‘self destruction’, “additional safeguards” will be put in place, and that one obstetrician/gynaecologist and two psychiatrists must jointly and unanimously agree and certify that the termination of pregnancy is the only treatment that will save the mother’s life.

In all cases other than emergencies, medical termination of pregnancy where legally permitted can only be carried out in public hospitals with obstetric units and mental health services.

Where the doctors jointly and unanimously certify that a termination of pregnancy is permissible, it will be up to the woman herself to decide whether the termination should proceed.

All procedures must be notified to the Minister of Health within 28 days, and an annual report will be published.

Arguments

The Taoiseach said that some have argued that the government is not obliged to legislate under article 40.3.3 of the constitution for abortion in these circumstances, but said that he is “bound to comply with the Constitution of our country”.

He said that he does not “have the luxury” of being able to pick and choose which constitutional rights he will comply with or not.

Kenny said that he “utterly refute[s]” the assertion that the bill will “open the floodgates to abortion on demand” and said that the bill provides for a very restrictive process which can only be applied to very rare life-threatening situations.

He also said that it is imperative we continue to support women “in these very difficult situations”, meaning women who choose to travel abroad for a termination.

Deleting the provision of the bill which deals with the risk to life due to suicidal intent would be counter-productive, he said.

The reality is, whether people agree with it or not, the constitutional rights on these grounds already exist.

He said that the process and safeguards “are far preferable I believe to leaving a totally unregulated right in existence which might be open to abuse”.

The Fine Gael leader also said that it is not correct to claim that the bill will facilitate late-term abortions, and that it will not confer on a woman any right to insist that the life of her unborn child be deliberately ended.

He explained that in practice, the bill will mean that the end of a pregnancy where the foetus is viable will mean the birth of a child.

With regard to the accusation that he is ‘breaking a pre-election promise’, Kenny said that he rejects this. He said that Fine Gael said it would not legalise abortion in Ireland, and “we are not and will not”.

He said he believes the bill is the right thing to do, that it will save the life of women and the unborn, and that if he thought for one moment that this bill would lead to the creation of a liberal abortion regime, he would not ask the people or the house to endorse it.

Read: Gilmore: Abortion bill will ‘fall short’ on hard cases – but I’m voting for it>

Read: Pro Life Campaign poll looks at abortion ‘as response to suicide’>

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