Irish Cabinet set to take up expert group's report on abortion

Amid controversy over the death of an Indian dentist who was refused termination of her pregnancy despite miscarrying, the Irish Cabinet is set to discuss the report of an expert group which was appointed to examine how the State deals with the issue of lawful abortions.

The report, which will be brought to the Cabinet by Minister for Health James Reilly, will be published after the meeting, The Irish Times reported today.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the Government was united on the issue.

He said the matter requires careful, calm and sympathetic consideration and he would not be rushed on the issue.

"We're not going to leave this hanging on interminably," he said. "I'd like to deal with this as quickly and as comprehensively, when it's practical to do so. Don't ask me for a specific date, but it's not going to be left hanging around."

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said Fine Gael MPs must back legislation to deal with the European Court of Human Rights ruling that pregnant Irish women need certainty about legal abortion rights in Ireland, or else lose the party whip.

Speaking in Cardiff, he said the party had very clear rules on this.

"People who are elected to the party that I lead ... act and vote in accordance with party decisions. And that is the way that it will be," Kenny said.

On what needs to be done now, he said: "We are dealing with a very different generation of politicians, our country has moved to a different space, there are clearly very strongly-held views."

"The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done here, but they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country."

Calling for a "sensitive, understanding, broad and comprehensive" debate when the report comes to the Dail (Parliament), Kenny urged the MPs to make their views known in a "pragmatic and practical sense."

Declining to say when legislation would be produced, Kenny said: "Don't ask me for a specific date, but I don't envisage this drifting along interminably. I'd like to deal with it as soon as is practicable to do so.

"There are a range of views on either side. It is very necessary that the qualified personnel working in hospitals and those involved in constitutional law that their views be heard so that we get this right."

His remarks come amid raging controversy over the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning at the Galway University Hospital on October 28 after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, stating "this is a Catholic country".

The report of the expert group, which was appointed to provide options for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights judgment on abortion, sets out four options -- Non-statutory guidelines: Statutory Regulations; Legislation Alone; or Legislation plus Regulations.

Option one, the report seen by The Irish Times says, "would meet the need for speedy action" but on the other hand, "guidelines are, by their nature, non-binding and do not have force of law."

It says the option two would involve the Minister for Health issuing regulations, based on enabling legislation passed by the Parliament, whose membership would provide "the principles and policies."

In relation to option three, Legislation Alone, the report cautions it "might be too rigid an approach."

On Option four, Legislation plus Regulations, it says "The advantages of this option are that it fulfils the requirements of the judgment, it provides for appropriate checks and balances between the powers of the legislature and the executive, and would be amenable to changes that might arise out of clinical practice and scientific advances."

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said introducing legislation for limited abortion was "the safe way forward" and legislating for the sensitive issue should not be avoided by politicians.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said last night "if a difficulty does arise for Fine Gael (FG) backbenchers it'll be in and around suicide ideation. That's medically controversial as to whether a termination is an appropriate treatment for somebody who is expressing ideas of suicide."

But, he said, FG members would be bound by the party whip.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the Government had shown "complete disregard" for the Parliament by "allowing the report to be widely leaked" before it was considered by Cabinet or the Opposition.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald also condemned the leaking of the report.

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