Fianna Fáil TD claims Down Syndrome abortions will increase

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Juno McEnroe

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan has claimed that more pregnancies involving Down Syndrome and disability diagnoses will be terminated if abortion is allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Mr O’Callaghan made the claim as an Irish Examiner survey of Fianna Fáil’s 23-person front bench found that five favour unrestricted abortion access up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, nine have concerns or are opposed, and nine — including leader Micheál Martin — have yet to express a view.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet formally discussed the Oireachtas committee’s cross-party recommendations that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed and replaced with legislation allowing unrestricted abortion access in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the recommendations — which will be debated in the Dáil and Seanad next week — may be “a step too far” for the country.

However, he noted: “But also having read the committee report, I understand the logic behind that [12-week limit], why they came to that decision, particularly given the widespread availability now of the abortion pill and the fact that people are getting that over the internet and are using it without medical supervision all over Ireland every day.”

And, in a sign of the sensitive nature of the recommendations, Fianna Fáil front bench TDs said they are similarly divided — with Mr O’Callaghan among those most vocally opposed to the 12-weeks proposal.

“I do not support the proposal for abortion up to 12 weeks as I am concerned it would significantly increase the number of pregnancies with Down Syndrome or other disabilities that are terminated,” Mr O’Callaghan said, although he added that the current system is “too restrictive and should be amended”.

The other seven Fianna Fáil frontbench TDs with concerns about the 12-week option are housing spokesman Barry Cowen, foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien, transport spokesman Robert Troy, rural affairs spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív, disability spokeswoman Margaret O’Mahony Murphy, children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte, and mental health spokesman James Browne.

Those in favour are Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly, communications spokesman Timmy Dooley, the party’s Seanad leader, Catherine Ardagh, and defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers and health spokesman Billy Kelleher, both of whom sat on the Oireachtas committee.

Asked about Mr O’Callaghan’s claims yesterday, Mr Kelleher said the committee recommendations specifically ruled out abortion in these circumstances and that tests for most genetic conditions are only possible at 20 weeks, not 12 weeks.

Fianna Fáil TD's have mixed views on abortion referendum

The Irish Examiner contacted all front-bench members and while there are mixed views about implementing recommendations for the abortion referendum, most TDs who spoke oppose the current plans.

Many Fianna Fáil TDs also said there is confusion and a “vacuum” as the Government has yet to decide on how to proceed, with ministers having mixed views on the abortion referendum.

An Oireachtas committee recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment — the part of the Constitution which recognises the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child — and instead allowing women access abortion without restrictions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will lead a meeting of the front bench on Tuesday, where the report will be discussed, ahead of the larger parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday. While some front-bench members have yet to decide their position, many are reluctant to accept the committee’s recommendations.

Some prominent party TDs also want to wait until the Government reveals what legislation is being planned — if the Constitution is changed.

A number of FF TDs who did not return calls, including finance spokesman Michael McGrath, are also known to oppose liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws.

Where Fianna Fáil TDs stand

  • Housing spokesman Barry Cowen: “The ball is firmly in the Government’s court. If it is repeal on its own, it would be carte blanche, abortion on demand, which will not sit comfortably with the public. I’d have concerns there. They [the Government] have got to give some indication of what will follow. The electorate needs to know what follows [repeal].”
  • Foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien: “We have got to know what the Government response is: A straight repeal or replacing it [the Eighth Amendment]. The Taoiseach’s statement is ambiguous. We are in a bit of a vacuum. Twelve weeks is not something I could personally support.
  • Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly: “I’m in line with the party’s recommendation to the Oireachtas committee, in favour of 12 weeks, no questions asked, especially where it affects the health of a mother. Abortion for late-term though, I’m not comfortable with, unless it is for situations such as fatal foetal abnormalities.”
  • Transport spokesman Robert Troy: “There needs to be a referendum. In some cases I’m supportive of it [abortion], such as fatal foetal. I still want to see what comes out of the Dáil debate. But I have reservations about allowing it up to 12 weeks. But I would support it in some circumstances.”
  • Party chief whip Michael Moynihan: “I haven’t made my mind up yet. We don’t know what the Government proposals are. They are a bit cross-eyed, we don’t know the plan. My concern is it [the committee recommendations] might go too far. We need to proceed with absolute caution and make sure we are doing the right thing.”
  • Communications spokesman Timmy Dooley: “This is a very emotive issue, people have different views. Nobody should be bullied on it. I think change is needed. My thoughts are very much in line with the committee’s. Their recommendations are needed to address the myriad of situations to allow for abortion. Politicians should facilitate debate on this, but campaigning is not an essential part.”
  • Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan: “I believe the current system is too restrictive and should be amended to deal with fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, and threats to the health of the mother. This could be achieved through amending or repealing the Eighth Amendment. I do not support the proposal for abortion up to 12 weeks as I am concerned it would significantly increase the number of pregnancies with Down Syndrome or other disabilities that are terminated.”
  • Dublin spokesman John Lahart: “I am still going through the Oireachtas committee witness testimonies and engaging with constituents on the issue so I’m not in a position to answer.”
  • Children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte: “I voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment [in the committee]. For once I agree with the Taoiseach, 12 weeks is definitely is a step too far.”
  • Disabilities spokeswoman Margaret O’Mahony Murphy: “I will vote against repeal but will not force my views on someone. I’m totally against the 12-week limit.”
  • Mental health spokesman James Browne: “I’m against repeal, but a referendum has to be held. It should be a straight repeal or not question. I put a lot of thought into that on the committee and try to allow for difficult cases, but no, I’m not in favour of 12 weeks.”
  • Defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers did not return calls but voted in favour of repeal and 12 weeks at the committee.
  • Health spokesman Billy Kelleher: “I am in favour of repeal and 12 weeks. People are saying 12 weeks may be an issue, but it’s worth remembering the Citizens Assembly recommendation was 22 weeks, so the committee is in fact more restrictive.”
  • Rural affairs spokesman Eamon Ó Cuív: “I am not in favour of repealing the present protection of human life in the Constitution “

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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