LABOURâ€™S Minister of State Jan Oâ€™Sullivan favours primary legislation to better define where abortion is permissible in Ireland, meaning TDs would have to vote in the Dail.
Reports this week suggested that a group of Fine Gael backbenchers want to avoid a contentious vote in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar after a miscarriage at Galway University Hospital. According to her husband Praveen, she was denied several requests for a medical termination after being told the foetus had little chance of survival.
County Limerickâ€™s Deputy Patrick Oâ€™Donovan was among a group of Fine Gael TDs who earlier this year questioned Health Minister James Reilly on whether he planned to introduce legislation which might serve to liberalise Irelandâ€™s abortion laws.
Minister Reilly last week received a report from an expert group set up to examine the legal implications of the European Court of
Human Rights ruling in the C case, involving a cancer patient who travelled to England for an abortion. The court found that Ireland had infringed the womanâ€™s rights because of the unclear position as to whether she was entitled to legally terminate the pregnancy in circumstances where she believed her life was in danger.
Deputy Oâ€™Donovan previously told the Leader he did not believe Ireland was bound to introduce legislation as a result of the ECHR ruling, adding he would have â€œhuge issuesâ€ with any proposed changes. He identified himself as an advocate of the pro-life position.
Deputy Oâ€™Donovan was among a number of Limerick TDs who could not be contacted on the Halappanavar case this Wednesday. It is understood that Limerick TDs have been inundated with correspondence from pro-choice and pro-life campaigners since the story broke last week.
Minister of State Oâ€™Sullivan this week said Meath TD Regina Doherty was one of a number of Fine Gael TDs whose position on whether legislation was needed had â€œshiftedâ€ following the Indian dentistâ€™s death.
According to press leaks of the report of the expert groups, a number of options to provide legal clarity are available to Government. These included another referendum, primary legislation and a statutory instrument which could see powers delegated to the Irish Medical Council to better define in what circumstances Irish doctors can carry out abortions.
Minister of State Oâ€™Sullivan said this week that she favours the introduction of primary legislation.
â€œWe will take action on this issue, we will provide legal clarity on this issue. It is a very difficult issue, there is a lot of complication on it but we are determined to provide legal clarity,â€ she said.
â€œThe (expert group) report, I understand, has been seen by the Minister for Health, the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste and I understand that we will get sight of it next week in advance of the cabinet meeting on Tuesday week and we will then make a decision on behalf of government.â€
But the Limerick City TD - who sits at but cannot vote at the cabinet table - indicated her strong preference for legislation.
â€œWe are legislators; we have been given the job of legislating. Six governments (since the X case verdict) before us have not done so. We have said we are going to do it and we are going to do it. A number of referenda have not clarified the issue so what we need is legislative clarity,â€ Minister Oâ€™Sullivan said.
County Limerick Fine Gael TD Dan Neville said he could not comment on the reported options as leaked to the press.
â€œLeaks are leaks and they are always spun in a particular way,â€ said Deputy Neville, who appealed to fellow parliamentarians to â€œreserve their judgement and hold their fire until they have read and fully considered the report - the question deserves thatâ€.
â€œI want to read it and make up my own mind. And I will read it thoroughly as I have an interest in the area. As president of the Irish Association of Suicidology, it is important that I do take an interest in the issueâ€.
Similarly, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said his partyâ€™s position was â€œto wait and see what the expert groupâ€™s report saysâ€.