The fragile balancing act of the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill”

Right now the Dail is sitting on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. To say it has been controversial is an understatement. On Tuesday in a powerful essay (it sounded more like an address to the nation [MP3]), Olivia O’Leary called it “a distorted law” under which men and women would be far from equal.

To accomodate the X case (Wikipedia), there is to be no time limit on when an abortion can take place. As Brian noted earlier:

[The Taoiseach]’s surely deceiving himself if he believes that in late pregnancy where the woman is deemed to be suicidal both lives can always be protected. The basic flaw in the whole reform is that it gives too much power and too much responsibility to doctors and none at all it seems to be individual women.

In truth, no woman is going to sit in front of a panel trying to work out if she is going to commit suicide or not. So the long, long flows of women going from Dublin (and Belfast) to England for an abortion on demand will continue unabated.

And, as Brian has again noted, change in abortion laws are likely to take place in a certain jagged continuum:

The conservative side may be more aware than the progressive that social change will not stop here, however rocky and winding the road. That explains their stridency. But the Catholic church’s implacable opposition to even the minor adjustments to the abortion rules in the Republic has provoked a sharp reply from the tanaiste, that the democracy is paramount. Labour may be under pressure but he will win widespread support on this point.

That may put into broader longer term context Micheal Martin’s failed struggle to whip his small parliamentary party through the Ta lobby. And Gerry’s unusually stern warning to any defaulters (he’s looking at you Peadar). In the Taoiseach’s own party’s pre debate meeting, Peter Matthews could not get anyone else to sign his anti bill motion.

This is unlikely to be the last time this issue is to revisited. In the meantime, if there is one modest line of progress, it may be that no members of medical staff can be under the illusion that Ireland does not perform abortions legally and lawfully in order to save the life of the mother.

For now, the Dail session is a masterclass, of pirouetting around the need, as Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin put it, “to provide long overdue legislative certainty”…

, ,

  • megatron

    I dont understand the difficulties with a free vote – Enda seems to think we still live in the 80s. This bill has again highlighted the need for Dail reform.

    I know this isnt the point of this post but I think overall this bill has been good for SF. They may have lost some supporters over it (as has every party basically) but it has demonstrated:

    (i) Maturity to support the government when its the right thing to do.

    (ii) That there is dissent within SF and GA is powerless to stop it.

    Both of those things wont be highlighted but may seep into the subconsicous of voters as another normalising step for the party.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think Brian is right. This is far from the final episode. All this bill does is give the barest of force to the constitution, but the constitution itself is mangled on the broader question of women’s right to health…

    The whip, I think, is an attempt to get people in the frame for the next set of hurdles (whenever they come)… and to claim the socially liberal ground (where “lax Catholic” Ireland is gradually moving to)…

  • FuturePhysicist

    What exactly is this “balancing act”?

    The legal definition between the constitutional definition of a medical abortion and the X case?

    The one that doctors are supposed to make about differing individual women with differing complications?

    The one observers make?

    Why is anyone, pro-life or pro-choice trying to legally confuse a line between medical emergency with abortion on demand?

    Does abortion on demand should always be considered a sign of suicidal tendencies?

    Does a referendum rejection of abortion on demand even matter in politics?