Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ireland Allows Abortion for First Time, but at Political Cost

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ireland Allows Abortion for First Time, but at Political Cost

Article excerpt

After two nights of heated arguments, occasionally descending into farce, the Irish parliament voted to permit abortion in limited circumstances, marking a major change in the country's attitude to the morality of reproductive rights.

Fittingly for two of the hottest days of the year so far, Ireland's parliament debated what may be the hottest issue in the county's political history since independence. As temperatures reached 80 degrees during the day, the heat went on into the night - in parliament at least - as lawmakers discussed the long-awaited Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

The bill passed by 127 votes to 31 and will now be sent to Ireland's Senate for further discussion - largely a formality, as the Senate lacks the power to reject the bill. But despite the overwhelming majority, the vote has fractured Irish politics, opening serious divisions inside Ireland's two most significant parties, conservative Fine Gael and centrist Fianna Fail, and change could be coming to the usually static Irish political landscape.

The bill includes provisions for abortion if a woman's life is threatened by pregnancy, including by suicide if a panel of psychiatrists judges the threat to be real. It also prescribes a jail term of 14 years for anyone procuring or performing an abortion obtained under false claims.

Campaigners are unimpressed. Anti-abortionists made a failed, last-minute bid to challenge the bill in the courts, while pro- abortion-rights campaigners, while welcoming the law change, say the move is insufficient. "This legislation is not and can not be a viable long term solution to the issue of abortion in Ireland," says Sinead Ahern of Choice Ireland.

Malta is now the sole European Union member state that entirely bans abortion, though Ireland and Poland still have restrictive regimes.

Some 166 amendments were discussed and rejected over the course of two nights of heated debate. A final vote was due before Saturday, but in the end occurred just after midnight last night.

Deep divisions

But the battlefield is strewn with casualties: Irish politics is now in disarray as intra-party divisions have opened across the board.

Five government lawmakers defied their party, which demanded unanimous support for the bill, and voted against - in the process losing their membership of the governing Fine Gael parliamentary group. One, junior minister Lucinda Creighton, lost her ministry as a result of voting against the government on an amendment. Ms. Creighton was widely viewed as a rising star and potential first female prime minister of Ireland. A single Fine Gael lawmaker was not present to vote.

Two Fine Gael members who had been expected to defy orders in the end voted with the government. One, Michelle Mulherin, made a pointed speech in parliament, saying: "I am now faced with either supporting the Bill or being booted out of the party, my party. …

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