The Dáil has voted by a narrow margin of only 3 votes to pass PBP’s Pro-Choice Bill at 2nd stage. The Bill contains radical measures to reform the restrictive 2018 abortion law and provide for real choice, including:
- abortion on request beyond 12 weeks prior to viability,
- full decriminalisation to remove the chilling effect for doctors,
- abolition of the 3 day wait, and
- reform of the restrictive fatal foetal anomaly provision to ensure no one in that terrible situation is forced to travel.
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste recently proclaimed themselves “uncomfortable” and “reluctant” with any change to abortion laws. So why did a conservative Dáil suddenly vote for choice?
Under pressure from PBP’s Brid Smith, the Taoiseach promised last week to give Fine Gael TDs a free vote – which had been the norm during the Repeal debates. Fianna Fáil and the Greens followed suit.
In the end, every Green Party TD voted for the Bill, apart from Eamonn Ryan who abstained. From Fine Gael, there was a solitary yes vote and one abstention. Former Health Minister, Simon Harris voted no, tarnishing his (unjustified) reputation as a champion of abortion rights during the referendum campaign. For Fianna Fáil, the “conscience” vote stretched only as far as six of them sitting on the fence, including the current Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly. Combined with the support of all the opposition parties and six Independents, this produced a final vote of 67-64 in favour of PBP’s Bill, with 8 abstentions.
While most TDs would prefer to avoid the issue until after the next election, they also seem to have realised how strongly public opinion favours abortion rights. That was certainly the response PBP has gotten in all our campaigning on the Bill in recent weeks. Overwhelmingly, people are disgusted that hundreds of women are still being forced to travel to access abortion services every year and see this as a betrayal of their vote for Repeal.
TDs were also put to shame by the testimony of the authors of an official review of the abortion law earlier that day. Barrister Marie O’Shea described the delay in reforming the law as a breach of promise to the electorate who voted for terminations and warned that if no action is taken, the State would again be forced to apologise to women denied their right to an abortion.
The Taoiseach has since said that legislative changes may happen more quickly due to the passage of PBP’s Bill. But we shouldn’t expect Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to make any progressive changes without being forced. We dragged them kicking and screaming into Repeal and need to do the same again now!