FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin does not believe the death of Savita Halappanavar and an imminent government report should open up a broader debate on changing Ireland’s abortion laws.
The Cabinet will this Tuesday discuss the report of the expert group set up in response to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that Ireland had violated the rights of women by failing to adequately define where a medical termination was allowed when the mother’s life was at risk.
Speaking in Limerick, Deputy Martin said he does not believe the debate will now be broadened to consider issues such as pregnancies arising from rape or easier access to abortion in general.
“I don’t think it will form part of the immediate debate on this issue to be frank. I think the focus on this will be basically to deal with the recommendations of the ECHR and also the outstanding issue of the Supreme Court judgement on the X case. That would appear to me to be the confines and the parameters in which this will be discussed. The other issues are broader questions which need a broader debate and not ones I think that will be dealt with in the context of this debate.”
“Once you start that, you could end up with no resolution at all because people again have very divided views on that. My sense of it is that the vast majority of people are on the middle ground on this question. Fundamentally, people do not want abortion on demand in the country and they don’t want mechanisms or a situation or a legal framework developed that would lead to abortion on demand. On the other hand, the overwhelming view of everyone is that the life of the mother should not be put at risk.”
Leaks of the expert group suggest the government’s options include a referendum, tightening up regulations of the Medical Council and primary legislation but Deputy Martin said it was not possible for him to give “a considered view” prior to that report’s publication. But he did indicate that primary legislation may be necessary.
“People who would know anything about legislation would know that you can’t just do regulations alone in the sense that they have to be appended to or flow from a relevant primary act of legislation, he said.”
As Minister for Health in 2002, he had sought to introduce legislation - which was to have been enshrined in the Constitution - which would have “legislated for the X case excluding the option of suicide”.
“At the time, perinatal psychiatrists made it clear that there was no fail-safe way to accurately and definitively predict suicide. So there are challenges around suicide,” he said.
Deputy Martin said there had been 100,000 submissions prior to the drafting of his 2002 legislation, which ultimately fell when the abortion referendum of that year was defeated. It was “untrue” to say no government had ever made an effort to deal with the fallout of the X case.
The 2002 referendum was defeated by just 10,000 votes after splitting the pro-life camp - and was also opposed by pro-choice groups, Labour and a Michael Noonan-led Fine Gael.