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Fianna Fáil and Abortion May 4, 2013

Posted by doctorfive in Fianna Fáil, Irish Politics.

How unfortunate to watch Fianna Fáil down yet another hole of their own making. Months on from Savita and draft legislation dominating the week still no white smoke. That widely perceived weakness of leader Micheál Martin has returned and while even most Fine Gael backbenchers prepare to endure one side or the other it’s difficult to see anything but Soldiers of Dithering. Curious to see the responsible opposition in knots and against everything crew onside isn’t it…

Noel Whelan today outlines part of their dilemma

Some argue that there is political advantage for Fianna Fáil in opposing the Bill because it would position it to benefit from anti-abortion voters disenchanted with Fine Gael for reneging on its commitments before the last election not to legislate for the X case.

On the other hand, if it opposes this legislation Fianna Fáil risks alienating the mainstream middle ground who now support or are at least reconciled to the reality that legislating for the X case, including the risk of suicide, is now necessary. Positioning itself against that trend is likely to cost Fianna Fáil more than any gains from those sectors of the electorate who oppose this Bill.

Indeed FF already closely wedded to the various anti-abortion tendencies are in the best position to pick up stray votes from FG and SF though outlier of Dáil Éireann is particularly risky business for a Party with no seat in the Capital.

Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach when the above was printed in the Sindo

The well worn theme of grassroots continue to dominate internal party rebranding building and last Sunday the same membership took the kind of absolutist position alien to FF style pragmatism.

That this Ard Fheis reaffirms Fianna Fáil’s position as a pro-life party

That this Ard Fheis reaffirms that Fianna Fáil is a pro-life party which will oppose any legislation
which has the potential to be significantly expanded beyond the limited circumstances where an
intervention is required to protect mothers.

That this Ard Fheis proposes that this Party opposes the introduction of any legislation which
introduces the “risk of suicide” as a threat to life of the mother and legitimises abortion in Ireland.

Nice scare quotes on that last one.

All unanimously approved as reported with much fever on twitter & Irish Times

Resolutions confirming Fianna Fáil’s status as a “pro-life” party had overwhelming support at the party’s ardfheis.

During a debate on health issues just one delegate spoke against the motions and only a handful of delegates voted against them.

Earlier party leader Micheál Martin said he did not believe there should be another referendum on the issue. He told reporters the party would listen to the debate which would inform its policy decisions on the issue.

Taking some highlights from Martin’s opening address two days previous

put power directly into the hands of our active members

all voting this weekend will be on the principle of one member, one vote

hand over to members the final say

proposals will be brought to the members for direct consultation

party-wide democracy

core principle of empowering its members

reinvigorated membership and a united party

I want to thank our members for everything you are doing to work to rebuild the bond of trust

Motions & conferences are of course regularly swept under the rug of realpolitik but the message on Sunday was clear and the crunch more imminent then issues usually long-fingered to a Central Council for deflation.

The expectations of Martin’s membership would want to go beyond informing policy if words like above and fabled renewal mean anything more then a Party continuing to cod themselves.


The softening up began on Wednesday seeing Martin ‘hint’ at support highlighting the draft’s similarities to his own 2002 effort. The following marathon meeting ended in stalemate with most commentators putting the Party spilt equally down the middle. One vote could decide according to some so now it’s twenty-one years and ‘several weeks’ before any decision.

Back to Noel Whelan today and a free vote on abortion Bill would be healthy precedent for democracy. Given Fianna Fáil were power for sixteen of those twenty-one the democracy horse has long bolted and we are, to be honest, in the last debate where politicians are likely to grow up.

Is it too late for Enda to back down on a free vote? Unlikely for a handful of his own TDs. Probably less to provide cover for Micheál Martin.  Still bound to be a long bank holiday weekend with plenty of refuelling in Castlebar on route to Knock.

Also today we see Cedar lounge fan Breda O’Brien weep for (the vanity of) Ireland while raising unintended consequences

The usual Irish answer of, “Ah, sure, it will never happen,” is grotesquely inadequate and dangerous.

Worth returning to the Attorney General in 1983

the wording is ambiguous and unsatisfactory. It will lead inevitably to confusion and uncertainty, not merely amongst the medical profession, to whom it has of course particular relevance, but also amongst lawyers, and more specifically the judges who will have to interpret it. Far from providing the protection and certainty which is sought by many of those who have advocated its adoption it will have a contrary effect. In particular it is not clear as to what life is being protected; as to whether “the unborn” is protected from the moment of fertilisation, or alternatively is left unprotected until an independently viable human being exists at 25 to 28 weeks.

Further, having regard to the equal rights of the unborn and the mother, a doctor faced with the dilemma of saving the life of the mother, knowing that to do so will terminate the life of “the unborn” will be compelled by the wording to conclude that he can do nothing. Whatever his intention, he will have to show equal regard for both lives and his predominant intent will not be a factor. In these circumstances I cannot approve of the wording proposed.

How much of that crushingly jumps out now before we even get to architects who so sure of themselves scoffed publicly at the idea the Amendment would be used to prevent a women or child from travelling.

Ambiguous and unsatisfactory or to borrow Breda’s own phrase grotesquely inadequate and dangerous.

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1. Ian - May 4, 2013

FF’s contortions are a timely reminder that despite the spin from the leadership, they are remain a parliamentary party of old and conservative male TDs at heart.

All the spin we heard at their Ard Fheis about reformed party structures, encouraging young people to participate and promoting the few women politicians they have looks pretty shallow when it comes to the crunch.

2. irishelectionliterature - May 4, 2013

Fianna Fail may well give their Oireachtas members a free vote on this issue. If they do, will they also give a free vote on the Marriage Equality referendum proposals?
This is another issue that Iona, The Bishops and co are already lining up against and one that plenty of FF TDs and Senators are uncomfortable with.

doctorfive - May 4, 2013

With Micheál abstaining you think?

Will be that or they will row in with rest of damned. Huddling together for safety.

irishelectionliterature - May 4, 2013

If he does allow a free vote on Abortion (despite the wishes of the Ard Fheis) , then surely Jim Walsh and others will be pressing for a free vote on Marriage Equality … and then they’ll want a free vote on something else….. …………..
………………and finally it may dawn on people what FF stand for :)
….nothing but themselves!

eamonncork - May 5, 2013

I think the campaign against marriage equality will be, and is already, based on a kind of UKIP/Tea Party approach focussing on emnity towards ‘That Crowd,’ because you know they think they’re great and they’re only laughing at the likes of you. FF’s wholly opportunist opposition will be explained on the grounds that while they have nothing against gays a lot of people have strong feelings on this issue and those should be taken into account.
What we’re seeing on this issues at the moment is what can be characterised as Whiny Conservatism. Ad nauseam you see the following argument made; ‘You disagree with my argument therefore you don’t respect my argument, in fact you’re intolerant towards my intolerance, this means that you’re actually the real bigot because by disagreeing with me you make me feel bad.’ It’s used so much it’s getting to feel like a strategy. Personally I preferred the old style religious conservatism, at least we were spared the self-pity.

hardcore for nerds - May 5, 2013

I noticed the same thing in the bishops’ statement when they talk about the threat to ‘religious freedom’ and ‘Catholic hospitals’ (oh wait… but we don’t *really* have such things) as if those are incompatible with even restrictive abortion regimes, let alone those that exist in the rest of Europe or even the US. it really is trying to justify intolerance.
on the other hand, hopefully the premonition about ‘living in a twilight world’ will come true for the bishops at least – I’ll echo wbs and others below in saying that I respect people’s choice of religion, but the institutional Catholic Church seems more (morally) bankrupt even than the banks.

WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2013

That’s a great point. How does the RCC manage to operate its ethos in medical circles elsewhere? Truth is it does and in contexts right up to pretty much abortion on demand.

smiffy - May 5, 2013

It will make zero difference to what goes on in Catholic hospitals at present, with one exception. When an abortion is carried out, it will have to be called an abortion (without the excuse of pretending it’s not really an abortion, because of the weird Catholic double standard) and reported as such to the HSE.

Which will make all the difference.

hardcore for nerds - May 5, 2013

@smiffy I was thinking about the same thing earlier today when I saw about the mooted FG amendment to review legislation if there are over 30 abortions a year – would that include the terminations that happen already but don’t count as “direct and intentional” interventions? (or would they claim that they don’t need to be reported under this law?)

as for the Catholic hospitals issue, I would agree with you except that Ireland is different from at least the UK or US (I don’t know about Catholic Europe) in that in those countries Catholicism is not the default or even majority ethos of public hospitals. in the US, for example, women often wish to exercise the choice to avoid Catholic hospitals for fear of the effect of their ethos on medical treatment within the law.

This academic paper from the US, ‘When There’s a Heartbeat: Miscarriage Management in Catholic-Owned Hospitals’, makes for some forceful reading: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2636458/

smiffy - May 5, 2013

“would that include the terminations that happen already but don’t count as “direct and intentional” interventions? (or would they claim that they don’t need to be reported under this law?)”

Well (again subject to correction by those more expert than me) I don’t think it wouldn’t include termination in cases of ectopic pregnancy, as those wouldn’t be covered by the term ‘unborn’ (which specifically requires implantation in the womb). But I don’t see how they can avoid other forms of termination.

And in relation to the Fine Gaelers proposing that amendment, as well as those complaining about the lack of term limits in the legislation, the question should be put to them: “After how many abortions, or at what stage during pregnancy, do the lives of women cease to matter”?

RosencrantzisDead - May 5, 2013

A sunset clause on legislation that purports to simply codify and make plain the existing law is, in itself, remarkably, bloody stupid.

It may also be legally suspect. One can get away with failing to grant a right but taking it away after it has been granted is rather difficult. I would expect that choice groups will look to challenge any such sunset clause. The Council of Europe will also take a dim view on a clause that is designed to make the law unclear again if the result is undesirable.

Wendy Lyon - May 5, 2013

There would be nothing stopping the government from reviewing the law and tightening it up if it could be shown that abortions not permitted under X were being performed. That wouldn’t be incompatible with the ECHR, so long as it didn’t have the effect of also preventing X type abortions.

An arbitrary cut-off like say “30 abortions a year”, with no evaluation as to whether or not these abortions met the X criteria, would absolutely violate the ECHR and the Constitution as well.

Wendy Lyon - May 5, 2013

By “tightening the law” of course I mean tightening the legislation.

RosencrantzisDead - May 5, 2013

True. But if the legislation in question permitted abortions outside the parameters laid down in the Constitution/X case, then such legislation would be unconstitutional and a nullity. For example, ordinary legislation which permitted a termination for rape or incest, where the life of the mother was not in danger, would be unconstitutional.

It appears to me that some are pushing the idea that there might be too many abortions within the parameters of X and that the sunset clause might be used to curb them. I think that is suspect.

Wendy Lyon - May 5, 2013

I don’t think anybody’s suggesting the legislation is going to be used to allow abortion just because a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. I think the FG fear is simply that doctors are going to declare women’s lives to be at risk when they really aren’t. If that was actually happening, and it could be shown that it was actually happening, then the government could tweak the legislation to “safeguard” against it happening (I really hate to use that word in this context, but you know what I mean). Provided of course it was only the non-life threatening pregnancies that were affected by this “safeguard”, which as a practical matter may well be an impossibility, but anyway.

Putting a numerical limitation on the number of abortions genuinely within the X parameters, on the other hand, is more than merely suspect. There’s no way that could stand. I have to wonder if FG just want to get something in the bill that will trigger an Article 26 reference which will then kill the whole thing.

RosencrantzisDead - May 5, 2013

Ahh…I see your point now.

I suppose they could try that trick. Although, it would prove rather difficult since it would entail a bunch of politicians going second-guessing the medical opinion of a trained doctor. It would have to be a completely unreasonable and, even so, it might tend to evoke the inherent trade unionism that the professions possess. Legality, again, may be an issue; some judges have whispered here and there that legislation, even in Ireland, must possess some rational basis.

3. rockroots - May 5, 2013

The emphasis does seem to have shifted under Martin, from trying to appeal to everyone, to trying not to offend anyone else. But at 25 % that seems to be a winning formula. It’s only really on social matters that the vague consensus in both FF and FG is shown up to be just a fig leaf hiding a gaping vacuum of any actual beliefs or principles. It’s also probably the only time Labour can look like arguably the most cohesive party in the country (what’s left of them).

But I was disappointed to see the coverage given to the Bishop’s response. Of course they have an opinion, and a very predictable one, but the reporting of it (on RTE) I felt presented this as being a major stumbling block for the proposals; that without the permission or acquiescence of the Bishops, a great number of TDs could not be expected to support it. Unfortunately there might yet be some truth in that, but – at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist – I think hyping up this ‘news’ story just perpetuates a false sense of importance to the (highly discredited) leaders of one particular religious group. The proposals, in any case, are a pretty offensively condescending, inevitably problematic, lackluster fudge, but I suppose after 21 years you take whatever you can get.

Wendy Lyon - May 5, 2013

The amount of coverage the bishops are getting on this disproves the lifer conspiracy theory of a pro-choice media. It’s astounding they’re still seen as having any legitimacy at all on this issue, given their history of dealings with actual children. Of course they are as entitled to their views as anyone else, but they aren’t any more entitled than anyone else, and the prominent coverage given to every (predictable and legally/factually incorrect) utterance of theirs on this topic gives them more importance than they deserve.

I found it notable that on the evening news yesterday the death of two actual women in an accident in Carlow was relegated to secondary status by the bishops’ mass. That really says it all, doesn’t it?

eamonncork - May 5, 2013

It also disproves the nonsensical ‘it’s easy to have a go at the Church these days because it has no real power,’ line affected by commentators who were unwilling to look at the real implications into the various abuse and residential care inquiries. So what you have now is respectful coverage given to the utterances of an institution which engineered a massive cover-up of criminal activity over several decades and have never been fully called to account for it. Some of them should be in jail rather than mouthing off about morality.

WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2013

I’m in no way knee-jerk and antagonistic re the RCC, and they’re entitled to an opinion, but I think your comment is 100%. Given that history you point to they’ve some neck pushing themselves into this debate the way they are, as if bygones are bygones, and the media affording them the platform at that level is incomprehensible.

eamonncork - May 5, 2013

Neither am I Wbs but you’d expect a little bit more humility and a little less wielding of the big stick, especially given that the Hierarchy were pushing the, utterly insincere line, that everyone makes mistakes and needs forgiveness when they were trying to weasel out of their paedophilia cover-up.
Interesting to note that one of the most fervent clerical supporters of the original pro-life referendum thirty years ago was a Fr. Sean Fortune from Wexford. I wonder whatever happened to him?

WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2013

Apologies, didn’t mean to insinuate that you were, though I can see how it looks that way from the way I phrased it.

A silence from the quarter of the Hierarchy on matters various would be a real blessing (and something that indicated they themselves were aware of the contradictions in their stance).

eamonncork - May 5, 2013

Wbs I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were insinuating that I was. You’re too well mannered.

WorldbyStorm - May 5, 2013


4. hjfoley - May 5, 2013

Reblogged this on misebogland.

5. doctorfive - May 5, 2013

SBP says FF may support as a Party while giving individual members the option to abstain

6. CL - May 5, 2013

Meanwhile back in the U.S.A.

“Anti-abortion Catholic activists in the U.S are being asked to target Boston College (BC) and try to stop Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny as commencement speaker at the Jesuit-run Boston College on May 20.”


7. Irish voters punish pro-capitalist government | Dear Kitty. Some blog - May 11, 2013

[…] Fianna Fáil and Abortion (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]

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[…] Fianna Fáil and Abortion (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]

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