Decision time for Dáil Committee on abortion reform

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment is set to recommend a straight repeal  of Article 40.3.3 when it considers its final report on Wednesday.

The Committee has 21 members and 12 are already on the record as saying that the removal of the clause should be recommended by the group.

There might also be a majority in favour of recommending that abortion be freely available and without restriction for up to 12 weeks gestation.

According to the Sunday TImes those likely to support this are Kate O’Connell and Senator Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael), Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers and Senator Ned O’Sullivan (Fianna Fail), Jan O’Sullivan (Labour), Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats), Clare Daly (Independents4Change), Bríd Smith (Solidarity/People Before Profit), and Senator Lynn Ruane (Independent).

With the possibility of being just one vote short of a majority its also believed that the Committee Chairperson Catherine Noone will vote for this proposal should she have the deciding vote.

The 3 Fianna Fáil members have submitted an amendment that would allow abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation with pills available from GPs. They believe this would deal with the complexities surrounding rape and incest cases.

The Sinn Féin position also supports abortion in cases of rape and incest and, whilst some of those providing evidence to the Committee indicated that providing abortion freely up to 12 weeks may be the easiest way to deal with these circumstances, supporting the recommendation may be seen as going beyond the new policy adopted at the party’s Ard Fheis. One of their TDs on the Committee Louise O’Reilly has said that the party “will be recording dissent to any proposal that doesn’t accord with party policy” which may be an indication that they will dissent but not block the 12 week proposal.

The support of both the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin groups should help ensure that there is a majority on the committee to recommend that abortion be decriminalised.

After the Committee concludes its final report the recommendations will be sent to the Government who are expected to then publish legislation in draft form ahead of a potential referendum in May.

If the referendum is passed and legislation is then passed into law it does appear that Dublin is heading towards a distinctly different model than the one in Britain where abortion, even with the 1967 Abortion Act, remains a criminal offence. However a lot can still change in the months ahead during what is expected to be Ireland’s most significant public debate on the issue in over 30 years