Abortion legislation set for further Seanad debate

Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames

The Seanad will today begin two days of debate on possible amendments to the abortion bill.

The Government could lose more members opposed to the controversial suicide clause after two Fine Gael senators, Fidelma Healy Eames and Paul Bradford, voted against the yesterday.

Ms Healy Eames had confirmed earlier that she could not support the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 as it stands, claiming it is unconstitutional.

“I don’t want to lose the Fine Gael party whip but I do want to exercise my human right to make a conscientious decision,” Ms Healy Eames said.

“Almost every western democracy provides for a free vote on issues like abortion. Why don’t we have the confidence to trust our parliamentarians to make the right decision?”

Five Fine Gael TDs, including former junior minister Lucinda Creighton, have already lost the party whip after their backbench revolt during two night sessions in the Dáil last week.

Mr Bradford, who is married to Ms Creighton, claimed that abortion goes against the fabric of Fine Gael’s election promise.

The landmark laws enshrine a woman’s right to a termination if her life is at risk, including from suicide.

They passed through the Dail last week with a comfortable majority of 127 votes to 31.

After yesterday voting to send the bill into committee stage, today the Seanad will begin considering more detailed amendments to the Bill.

Like in the Dáil, there are many changes on the table - some of which would extend the bill to the victims of rape and incest, and some of which would scale back the criteria under which an abortion is allowed.

Because the bill has already passed the Dáil, any amendments made now would have to go back to the lower house to be approved again, making it unlikely for any changes will be accepted.

This means the main issue now is whether the government benches will survive without any more defections. A handful of other senators are known to have issues with the suicide clause, and could vote to get rid of it when the vote is finally held.

The closing stages of the legislation are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday next week, when the final vote to pass it will be held.

The bill then goes to the President to be signed into law.

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