Health committee rejects abortion legislation amendments by pro-life TDs

Latest: The Health Committee has rejected amendments to abortion legislation put forward by a group of pro-life TDs.

Simon Harris at the Health Commitee today. Photo: Oireachtas TV

The Committee has so far examined almost 130 amendments of 180 tabled in relation to a Bill to allow for abortion in this country.

The group of 10 TDs, who have 16 tabled amendments, were accused of engaging in "deeply disingenuous politics" in order to gain "soundbites".

"I would put it to those deputies that they are clever enough and experienced enough to know that the amendments that they have put forward are completely unworkable," Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly said.

There were sparky exchanges when Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkin suggested that those who drafted the amendments on behalf of the group of pro-life TDs "know more about English law and American law than they do about Irish law".

"I don't wish to lecture anyone in the House, but I don't want to be lectured either," he said,

Mattie McGrath said the group had drawn up the amendments themselves and claimed they "weren't fed to us by a political machine or spin doctors".

Among the most controversial amendments which have been discussed today is one which centered round the “dignified disposal of foetal remains".

Mattie McGrath

Health Minister Simon Harris, who accused some TDs of using "shock tactics" said the amendment was "grossly offensive" and could criminalise some women who go through early-term abortions as the proposals stipulated that it would be a criminal offence not bury or cremate the remains.

Mr Harris said hospitals already have procedures in place around stillbirths and miscarriages and he said it should not be up to the minister of the day to decide on these.

A number of TDs described the amendment as "completely insulting" especially to women who have suffered a miscarriage.

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said: "I find it offensive as a woman who has been in this situation.

"I don't want to inform anybody what I have done with my foetal remains, I don't want to inform the Minister, I don't want it in legislation and I most certainly don't want people in this house prescribing what I should do with my used maternity pad, my soiled bed sheets, bath sheet and I want no interference from you guys and the one lady in my dignity and in my care," she said referring to the 10 TDs.

Committee votes against clause to ban abortions on basis of sex, race or disability

The Health Committee has voted against inserting a specific clause to ban abortions on the basis of sex, race or any condition or disability.

Health Minister Simon Harris stressed that the legislation to allow for abortion services in this country would never allow a woman to seek a termination on disability or other grounds mentioned in the amendment.

He said the amendment was "unnecessary" and suggested it was "an attempt to have a gotcha moment".

The Health Committee are now into a second day of discussion and debate on the 180 amendments tabled on The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

A total of 10 TDs had asked that an amendment to specifically reference that a termination of the pregnancy could not be sought because of the sex or race of the foetus concerned or because of any condition or disability affecting the foetus concerned.

Peadar Toibín admitted the amendment would be "very hard to implement" but would "send a wonderful message" that the State are protecting the rights of those with a condition or disability.

Responding, Mr Harris said that when framing legislation everything that is lawful is inserted into a Bill meaning anything else is unlawful.

He suggested that the amendment was an attempt to make the section of the Bill "inoperable".

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell said the amendment was "deliberately designed to inflame the situation" adding that it was "disrespectful" to suggest that people with down syndrome "are only here because of the eighth amendment".

A vote on the amendment was lost, with seven members voting against it and just one committee member Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly abstaining.

The Committee has now moved on to examine the three day waiting period in accessing abortion services.

Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger said this mandatory waiting time wasn't sought by the committee which examined the eighth amendment and is not supported by doctors, she described it as "patriarchal".

However, Bernard Durkin pointed to other countries which have included a waiting time and said this must be retained.

By Elaine Loughlin
Political Correspondent

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