Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is bracing for the biggest revolt within his Fine Gael party since forming a coalition government in March 2011 as lawmakers vote today on proposed abortion legislation.
The bill would create a legal framework for a 1992 Supreme Court ruling granting women the right to an abortion if the mother’s life is at risk, including suicide. Up until now, there has been no legislative basis for abortion in Ireland. Kenny is seeking legislation after a 17-week pregnant Indian woman died in an Irish hospital last year after being refused a termination.
“If it is a thing I find I cannot vote for this legislation this week, I may well be outside of the Fine Gael parliamentary party,” European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, the most senior member of Kenny’s party to voice concerns about the bill, said in an RTE Radio interview yesterday.
Successive Irish governments fearing a backlash in the traditionally Catholic nation have avoided introducing laws to pin down the meaning of the Supreme Court ruling. The case of Savita Halappanavar, who died of septicaemia in October, reignited the battle over abortion, which remains among the most divisive issues in Irish society.
Four members of Kenny’s party have been expelled from the party after voting against the legislation in an earlier stage last week. The vote is scheduled to take place before midnight today in Dublin.
Kenny told reporters earlier this month he didn’t expect expelled lawmakers would be able to stand for the party in the next general election.
Creighton has been one of Ireland’s main political negotiators in Europe since her appointment in 2011 as the nation seeks to exit its bailout program by year end. She tried with other lawmakers to oust Kenny as party leader in 2010.
As many as four other lawmakers in Kenny’s party may also vote against the government’s proposed legislation, according to the Irish Independent newspaper. While Kenny’s government has 104 lawmakers in the 166-seat parliament, resignations would trigger negative publicity for the country, according to Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec Plc in Ireland.
“This is the last thing Ireland needs as it targets a successful bailout exit at year end,” said O’Sullivan. Recent political turmoil in Portugal pushed up bond yields for the nation, and illustrates that, he said.
Lawmakers including Creighton have raised concerns about a clause in the legislation that provides for an abortion where suicide is deemed a substantive risk.
Creighton told lawmakers on July 1 that the introduction of the existing clause would introduce a “flawed element” and called for substantive amendments to “ensure that the rights of all human beings are protected.” A spokesman for Creighton declined to comment on how the minister may vote.