Belfast Telegraph

Abortion Bill: Second night of debating in the Dail

Irish politicians have begun a second night of debating divisive laws that will legislate for the first time for abortion in limited circumstances.

As new figures revealed 11 women travelled from Ireland to Britain every day for an abortion last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Dail parliament could sit again tomorrow in order to pass the contentious legislation.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 meets the requirements of the 1992 X Case Supreme Court judgment, which ruled that abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother's life, including suicide.

"We had 21 years of inaction, 21 years of inaction," said Mr Kenny.

"What's going on here is medical clarity and legal certainty for the women of our country who have had a constitutional right conferred upon them," he said.

Mr Kenny said the debate could run on until tomorrow but that he did not want to extend the Dail sessions to the end of July.

"I hope everybody can contribute to the debate again today. The main issue of the question of suicide being an issue was dealt with last night because there was extensive debate on that last night," he said.

As the controversial law travels through the Houses of the Oireachtas, the UK Department of Health revealed 3,982 women gave an Irish address at clinics in England or Wales in 2012.

But the termination rate has dropped for the 11th year in a row to one in every 250 women aged between 15 and 44, from 6,673 in 2001.

The landmark legislation, which was debated until 5am, enshrines a woman's right to a termination if her life is at risk, including from suicide.

It is hoped it could be passed at midnight, but only 11 of the 165 proposed amendments were dealt with over night.

So fraught has debate around the legislation been that rebel members of Fine Gael, the senior coalition Government party, have been threatened with being barred from standing for the party at the next election.

The High Court earlier rejected a last minute attempt to secure an injunction against the legislation on the grounds that politicians have no right to vote on a Bill that contains two provisions that were been put to the Irish people in referenda and previously rejected.

The law will be supported by the vast majority of the country's politicians, but they are likely to see the demise of Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton who has indicated she will join a small backbench revolt.

Another four Government TDs are facing expulsion from the senior coalition party, Fine Gael.

Elsewhere six pro-choice TDs are to vote against the legislation, claiming it does not go far enough to protect the lives of women.

Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Luke Ming Flanagan, Joe Higgins and Joan Collins have claimed the Bill is unnecessarily restrictive and criticised the fact it seeks to criminalise women who have an unlawful abortion.

Once passed, the legislation will be sent to President Michael D Higgins to sign in to law.

He also has the option of referring of referring it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality or he can convene a meeting of the Council of State, which also advises the president on whether a law is constitutional.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said if he was President he would refer the legislation to the courts.

"If he (President Higgins) did, it would be the right decision but it's entirely his decision not mine," he added.

The Bill was drawn up following the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in an Irish hospital in October last year after being denied an abortion as she miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her widower Praveen claimed the couple had been told a termination was not allowed because "Ireland is a Catholic country".

The legislation follows a 1992 judgment by the Supreme Court in Dublin, known as the X case, where judges ruled that abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother's life, including suicide.

The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission by Irish authorities to travel to the UK for an abortion.

Ireland was also under pressure after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that a woman in remission with cancer was discriminated against because she was forced to travel overseas for a termination.

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