Weekly Roundup: Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill reaches committee stage – what impact will it have?

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. This week, it’s all about the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill- who voted against it, who wants to amend it, and what impact it will have. If you’d like a greater understanding of the Bill and haven’t a Law degree or three under your belt, take a look at this accessible version of the Bill put together by Galway Pro Choice’s Joseph Loughnane.

For and Against

Last week, One Family’s chief executive urged the Government to “get on with” legislating for the X Case and then get to the “real work of focusing on children and families in need”, ensuring provision of services that disadvantaged and at-risk families need and widening the definition of the family to include one-parent, separated and divorced familes, same-sex couples and children in foster and residential care.

On Wednesday, Doctors for Choice pointed out that the Bill as it stands would not meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights in enabling Irish people to access their Constitutional rights, citing the ability of doctors to refuse to carry out lifesaving abortions under the Bill.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, we heard a lot from TDs on how they were planning to vote. Four Fine Geal TDs announced their plans to vote against it and then did just that, earning themselves expulsions from the party. . Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Justice Minister Alan Shatter both spoke of their intentions to vote for the bill, while advocating laws that “go further’ and legislate for cases of rape and fatal fetal abnormalities. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, however, has definitively ruled out any further legislation on abortion during this Government. Good to know, Enda. Good to know.

In the end, after a long day’s debating,  24 TDs- all men- voted against the bill. Interestingly, despite speaking out against the bill and referring to support for abortion access in Ireland as ‘stifling groupthink’– a little ironic in a country which criminalises abortion- Lucinda Creighton voted for the bill.

Amendments and Referenda

Despite voting overwhelmingly in favour of the bill, few seemed happy to leave it as it stood, with a total of 89 amendments tabled which could significantly alter the substance of the bill. Most of these were put forward by Seamus Healy, and would account for both fatal fetal abnormalities and inevitable miscarriages- such as what Savita Halappanavar suffered from. Some other amendments would have openly antichoice medical practitioners ‘precluded from any review panel’ on whether someone was entitled to an abortion, and ensure that any viable fetuses delivered in Ireland have every effort made to sustain their lives. Enda Kenny has refused to accede to requests from Lucinda Creighton to remove the suicide clause from the bill, stating that he was ‘bound by the Constitution’.

On Tuesday, Healy’s amendment allowing for terminations in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities was defeated, after questions of its constitutionality.

On Thursday, Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin proposed an amendment for a ‘cooling-off’ period of 7-10 days between a time a pregnant person makes a request for an abortion on grounds of risk to her life through suicide and the time that she is assessed. This was rejected by the Minister for Health, who stated that this was inappropriate in “life and death” situations.

Not content with amendments, several TDs have been talking about holding a referendum– yes, another one- on the issue of suicide as a risk to life, having obviously not noticed that we’ve had two of them already. Leo Varadkar has urged caution, pointing out that if that were to happen, questions would have to be asked on “allowing terminations on the grounds of rape, alleged rape, incest, the health of the mother or in the case of a foetus incompatible with life”, opening a Pandora’s Box of possible consequences. One wonders if the lid of this Box is, in fact, a floodgate?

Praveen Halappanavar to sue HSE, also receiving (more) abusive mail

One would think that even the most hardened anti-choice activists would find space for empathy for Praveen Halappanavar as he grieves and tries to find justice for Savita and uncover the truth of her death. Some people don’t seem to agree, though, as Savita’s widower has been receiving what he has described as “hurtful and abusive” letters telling him to leave the country and mind his own business.

Despite this, Mr Halappanavar will be suing the HSE for “injuries, distress, and the loss of his wife”. We wish him the best.

Children, the Church, and personal stories

While the Government have been debating the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, it was brought to light by children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald that six children in the care of the State were brought overseas for abortions since 1992, after it was judged to be in their best interests as they were suicidal.

We also heard several personal views and stories on abortion this week. Anthea McTiernan writes in the Irish Times against the imposition of the Catholic Church’s views on abortion on everyone. On a similar note, Patsy McGarry notes that the Church’s views on abortion are 144 years old and nothing if not inconsistent.

Rob Delaney speaks as a father and a husband who supports the right of women to choose to end their pregnancies, despite seeing abortion as a “sad, scary surgical procedure”. And finally, one woman shared her story of her fear that she would take her own life during her pregnancy.

That’s all this week!