The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government are committed to implementing legislation on foot of the X-Case. This 1992 Irish Supreme Court case confirmed that a woman was entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her health was threatened. This included the risk to her health of suicide and it is this provision that is causing so much trouble for the Government.
Fine Gael are perhaps the most conservative of the larger political parties in Ireland with many of their T.D.’s (members of the Irish Parliament) being from rural districts. Some of their Dublin T.D’s are now also very concerned about the new legislation and it is clear that they will vote against the proposals.
The proposed legislation does not actually change the law of the country relating to abortion. Rather, it clarifies and formalizes the procedures that should be implemented when the medical profession encounter such difficult scenarios.
The impetus for the legislation was brought about by the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar who was denied an abortion and died from complications relating to a miscarriage she had while in the care of the Irish health-care system. It is clear that her life could have been saved had the medical profession had clearer instructions on how to act. Currently Doctors are having to interpret the legal position on an individual case-by-case basis and at their own risk.
It is proposed that the abortion legislation will provide a procedure whereby a suicidal woman can be legally given an abortion. This circumstance may occur for example where a woman or teenager is raped and becomes pregnant. The rebel Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this provision may be abused and lead to a situation of ‘abortion on demand’.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has so far ruled out a ‘free vote’ on the issue, whereby Party members would not be obliged to vote for the legislation with the possibility of being expelled from the Party if they did not. Fianna Fail may allow their own members to have a free vote which would certainly cause problems for Fine Gael if they did not follow suit. The Labour Party, Sinn Fein and most Independents will vote in favour of the measures so it seems that the new legislation is very likely to be passed and become law.
The difficulty for Fine Gael is just how much damage it will inflict on itself over this, perhaps the most divisive of all social issues.