MINISTER of State Jan O’Sullivan has said the state cannot keep “forevermore dodging” the implications of the X case judgement but does not believe the public supports liberal abortion legislation.
Abortion has again become a political hot potato after Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said his government would “not be the seventh” to take no action on the 1992 Supreme Court judgement, which allowed for abortions to be carried out in Ireland where the life of the mother was at risk. The absence of legislation or clear professional guidelines means that most women in this situation still end up travelling to the UK.
Minister Reilly faced a backbench revolt from Fine Gael TDs who took his comments as a signal he was preparing legislation. But County Limerick TD Pat O’Donovan said the minister had since “clarified” he had merely been referring to the work of the expert group who will report in September.
Labour’s election manifesto had pledged to legislate for the X case but the programme for government only commits to setting up the expert group to examine the issue.
“My view is that we wait and see what that expert group has to say. We certainly have to take some kind of action in relation to the X case because that is what we have been told. What that type of action is to be, we don’t know yet until we hear from the expert group. I wouldn’t like to pre-empt whether we are talking legislation or what we are talking,” said Deputy O’Sullivan.
“Because there was never a resolution of the outcome of that (the X case), sooner or later some government has got to take action to clarify what the current legal position is because it is pretty undefined at the moment.
“I think what we need to do now is to try and be calm about the issue and try and make the decision that we obliged to make without forevermore dodging the issue.”
Deputy O’Sullivan recalled the “bitter and divisive” debates of the 1980s when her mentor, the late Jim Kemmy, spoke in favour of abortion in “very limited circumstances”.
“The areas were extremely limited in terms of what Jim Kemmy was supporting at the time; which was where there was rape or incest, where the foetus would not survive birth and where the mother’s life was in danger. These are the same core issues that we are looking at now. We are talking about very, very limited circumstances.”
“I honestly don’t think there is an appetite in Ireland for more widespread availability,” she said.