"allowing" a free vote. Imagine, our public representatives will be allowed to vote according to their own views rather than have them imposed on them by party leadership.
Except in this case their should be no free vote for either FG or FF as both parties committed themselves to opposing abortion legislation before the last election. They are now renaging on their promises.
The legislation will undoubtedly pass and without amendment of any significance. We can only hope that we can scrape together 10 TDs to at least force a vote. An unholy alliance of some pro-lifers and pro-abortionists may force the issue. The Government would love to get this one through without a vote.
I hesitated to comment two weeks ago on the intervention by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin; I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and see how things panned out. It was a very odd letter from a bishop as it began
"I write as a citizen of Ireland who happens also to be the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. Independent of the role of politicians and of judges, the Constitution of Ireland belongs in the primary place to all the citizens of Ireland, whose right to express their views should not just be respected but encouraged."
I get the point he is trying to make, that he is not arguing from authority, but as a fellow citizen. But the fact is, he is the Archbishop of Dublin and he signed the letter "Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin". He has a particular responsibility to provide leadership for the Catholics within his diocese, and, as Primate of Ireland, within the whole country, including to the members of the government and Oireachtas who are Catholics. It was a bad start.
The rest of the letter has a good point, I think, and a bad one. The good point, and he has been successful in this, is forcing clarity that any termination of pregnancy provided for in this legislation would not be allowed to deliberately force the killing of an unborn child. So that in late term terminations, there could be no question of scissors in the neck a la our American friends, but rather some form of induced labour or caesarian section followed by full medical attempts to save the life of the unborn. I think it has been good to show that the constitutional protection would not allow otherwise. This has given rise to considerable discussion as to what will happen to such children, the disabilities that could follow, the failure of the State to consider these matters etc. It has prompted the Chairman of the Labour Party, Colm Keaveney, TD, to announce that he will be opposing the abortion legislation. These are positives.
The negative, however, flows from the same issue, as it brings up issues of time limits and viability. The message goes out that if you are going to terminate your pregnancy, you should do it early enough to ensure the baby dies. This can hardly have been the message that the Archbishop of Dublin would intend.
Once viability comes into the mix as a criterion, then we have the fatal foetal conditions being brought up. If it's okay to kill a child early because it's non-viable, then surely it should be okay to kill a child who is non-viable after birth? And so the door opens another little bit.