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DUBLIN, July 16, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – The Irish Senate (Seanad) voted Tuesday morning to move forward on legislation that would create exceptions to the Catholic country’s ban on abortion, including a provision for mothers who threaten suicide that pro-life campaigners warn could be abused to legally justify any abortion at any stage of pregnancy, since the legislation issues no time limits.

The legislation was crafted partly in response to the much-publicized death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis at Galway University Hospital last year while pregnant with a 17-week-old baby.  Pro-abortion campaigners claimed that an abortion would have saved her life, but that she had been refused one under Irish law.  Later investigations proved that to be untrue, but the firestorm of criticism in the international media prompted lawmakers to take steps toward lifting the abortion ban. 

The Catholic Church has vociferously opposed the legislation, which it says authorizes the “direct and intentional taking of the innocent life of the unborn.”

“Legalising the direct and intentional destruction of the life of an unborn baby can never be described as ‘life-saving’ or ‘pro-life,’” Ireland’s bishops said in a recent joint statement opposing the bill.

But Ireland’s largely Catholic Senate (Seanad, in Irish) opted overwhelmingly to ignore the Church on the matter Tuesday, voting 41-15 to reject an amendment that would have killed the bill. 

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Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan, who is Catholic, voted in favor of moving forward with the newbill.  He said that for him, it was a matter of conscience.  “I say that because there seems to be a suggestion that possession of a conscience is the sole preserve of those who are opposed to the Bill,’’ O’Sullivan told the Irish Times.  Added O’Sullivan, “Conscience is an individual thing and it is up to each adult person to do what he perceives is right. … If I had as clear a conscience about the rest of my life as I have about supporting this Bill, then I would be in very good terms with myself when I go to meet my maker.’’

O’Sullivan characterized the Church’s fight against the legislation as ‘’redolent of a different Ireland which we have moved on from and to which we have no intention of returning … this is a Republic and there are clear lines of demarcation between Church and State.”

In marked contrast to its 2011 promise to oppose abortion legalization efforts, ruling party Fine Gael has been pushing hard for the new abortion exceptions.  The party has even gone so far as to eject elected officials from the party for failing to support the legislation.

One such lawmaker is (now former) Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, who bucked her party’s leadership Tuesday by invoking a rarely-used parliamentary procedure called a “reasoned amendment” to try and stop the bill from being heard by the Senate. 

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“I have been a committed member of Fine Gael for many years, the party that made a solemn promise to voters not to legalize abortion,” Healy-Eames told fellow lawmakers. “It saddens me greatly that Fine Gael has broken this promise.”

Healy-Eames acknowledged that she was signing her own political death warrant, but said her conscience would not allow her to support a bill that ends human lives and, in her opinion, deceives women.

“The legislation will have a profound impact on our culture,” said Healy-Eames. “There is absolutely nothing consoling or hopeful in the bill. It sanctions the ending of human lives rather than trying to do everything possible to safeguard life and in the process it deceives the expectant mother. … So with a heavy heart and aware of what it will mean for my future in Fine Gael, but knowing that I have the best intention for expectant mothers and their babies, I cannot support the Bill as it stands.”

The senator said the bill should not be allowed further consideration because it violates the Irish constitution, and because the suicide exception is so broad as to effectively nullify all national restrictions on abortion. 

“There is nothing in the legislation itself to prevent two pro-choice psychiatrists from signing away the life of an unborn child once they claim it is their ‘reasonable opinion,’” Healy-Eames said. “Given that there are no appropriate clinical markers to judge whether or not the intervention is necessary, they are free to sanction as many abortions as they wish.”

“This legislation, I contend, is unconstitutional,” the senator said. “It provides no advocate for the unborn. There is no equality for the baby consistent w/ Article 40:3:3 [of the Irish Constitution]. The Bill fails to adhere to international standards about conscientious objection.  There are no time limits. The bill allows for abortion up to birth.”

Healy-Eames chastised pro-abortion campaigners for “hijacking” the death of Savita Halappanavar, telling her colleagues that “If I thought for a minute that the legislation was about preventing a tragic death like that of Savita, I would be supporting it.  But it is not.” 

Added Healy-Eames, “It is disgraceful the way Savita’s death has been hijacked to get abortion over the line.”

Despite Healy-Eames’s impassioned pleas, the Senate (Seanad, in Irish) voted to reject her amendment and proceed with debate on the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy” bill, which passed the Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house of parliament, last week by a vote of 127 to 31. 

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation later in the week, and if there are no amendments, it will go to Irish President Michael Higgins’s desk for his signature.

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