DUBLIN, Ireland July 26, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Leading party insiders are expressing fears that the fragile coalition government will be “torn apart” if it continues to insist on liberalising the abortion law. Signs are increasing of growing tensions across party boundaries over demands from the left for legalisation.
The chairman of the ruling party, Fine Gael’s Charles Flanagan, told the heavily left-leaning Irish Independent last weekend that the government is running the risk of getting “bogged down in a liberal crusade during a time of high unemployment and economic difficulties.”
He said the party fears strife and division and “ultimate defeat” over it. “The parallels between last week and the eighties, or the errors of the Greens in the last government, are not going un-noticed.”
The Independent’s John Drennan reports that “the Government will face a large-scale, cross-party revolt of Fine Gael and Labour TDs and senators should they attempt to liberalise Ireland’s abortion regime via the legislative route.” The report follows revelations last week that the ruling party is in turmoil over abortion, with 15 backbenchers threatening a full-scale revolt.
Drennan says, however, that opposition “is far more widespread,” in the government ranks, and “far more than two” coalition TDs will resign over it should legislation be put forward. Opposition is reportedly so widespread that the government would have to secure support across parties, an outcome that is growing increasingly unlikely.
The Independent quoted an unnamed source in closed-door meetings who said, “The Taoiseach’s [Prime Minister’s] handlers are very paranoid. The usual suspects were on the phones, quelling dissent and warning people.”
Sources have revealed that even in the Labour party, whose leader Eamon Gilmore has stated that the country must legalise abortion, support is far from unanimous. The Independent quotes one Labour TD complaining of “the excessive influence of a pro-choice wing led by a Dublin elite.” A letter signed by a group of Labour TDs said, “The attitudes of a Dublin liberal elite are not representative of the complex and diverse stance on this issue that is contained within the Labour Party.” Another party source said that should Gilmore attempt to force the issue, “it will take a fair man to bring us all to heel on a matter involving our personal consciences.”
While the coalition government is struggling under the pressure of the unpopular abortion issue, added to the country’s growing economic distress, the former leading party, Fianna Fáil, is waiting in the wings. Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil’s leader, has strongly reiterated their opposition to legislating for abortion. He told the Irish Examiner on the 23rd that he “remains to be convinced that it’s a doable proposition” to bring in a new abortion law based on the 1992 X case.
Such legislation, he said, could open the door to abortion in more widespread circumstances than the Supreme Court intended. The court ruled that abortion is allowable in cases where the woman’s life is at risk, including in cases where she has threatened suicide. The decision was condemned by abortion opponents as a major breach in the country’s legal protections for the unborn.
Martin’s comments follow those of Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, who told RTÉ radio this weekend that she believes the government will “have no choice” but to bring forward legislation. “Clearly, there will be differences [of opinion] but, in terms of legislation, in this particular instance, we won’t have a choice,” Lynch said.
Asked whether the Health Minister, Dr. James Reilly, should go forward with legislation, Martin said, “It’s not as black and white as is being portrayed, and I’m not so sure that that route necessarily is going to lead to a significant improvement for anybody.
“I’m not absolutist in terms of being judgmental on people. But… I think we should do everything we possibly can to preserve the life of the unborn and preserve the life of the mother. And I think we do that in Ireland, actually.”
All parties are waiting for the findings of an “expert group” on the question, but the group has had to fight heavy criticism that the government has “stacked” it with abortion supporters. Currently, abortion is outlawed in the country by a constitutional amendment, which can only be changed by a public referendum. Abortion-promoters have been working to find a way around the referendum requirement since polls continue to show that the public desire to see abortion legalised remains negligible.
Fianna Fáil are waiting with everyone else for the outcome of the expert group’s report, but Martin reiterated the party’s opposition to abortion, saying it “hasn’t changed” and “is not going to change.” “The right to life is something we believe in as a political party,” he said.
At the same time, pro-life observers have called the government’s bluff, calling the “no choice” claim “disingenuous”. Patrick Buckley, the European Union and Dublin representative of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said, “This statement is clearly disingenuous since the Expert Group is tasked with producing a range of options for consideration by the government not to recommend one particular course of action.”
Moreover, Buckley said, the ECHR ruling said nothing about requiring legalisation, but only that there should be “clarity” on the current law.
“Those seeking to introduce abortion in Ireland are intentionally distorting the A, B and C judgment to support their own agenda while ignoring another important fact, namely, that Ireland, without abortion, is the safest place in the world for pregnant women,” Buckley added.
In a 2002 referendum then-ruling Fianna Fáil unsuccessfully proposed removing suicide as a legal ground for abortion. Martin said, “We felt the suicide option — if you legislate for that, you’re essentially creating an open-door situation, and it will be very difficult to hold back.”
While it is thought to be impossible to change the law through a referendum, activists have been hammering on the issue by the “back door,” through the courts and medical practice guidelines in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. The most successful wedge so far was the case brought by abortion lobby groups to the European Court of Human Rights, the A, B and C case, in which three women complained that they had been denied abortions.
The ECHR ruled in 2010 that although there was no requirement for legalisation of abortion, the Irish government had violated women’s rights to privacy and must issue legislation to clarify under what circumstances exactly abortion could be allowed with regards to the notorious X case.