Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín has said he will vote against new abortion legislation when it comes before parliament next week, making it likely he will be expelled from Sinn Fein’s parliamentary party.
Mr Tóibín has said he is prepared to defy his party whip because of his deeply held views against abortion.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has confirmed that if Mr Tóibín voted against the party, it would be “a serious breach of party rules” and he would be “be subject to party discipline”.
The legislation is intended to tackle the problems posed by the 1992 Supreme Court judgement in ‘X’ Case, in which it was ruled that abortion should be available if needed to save the life of the mother.
The failure of successive governments to introduce the necessary legislation was tragically exposed by the death in October last year of Savita Halappanavar at University College Hospital, Galway. Mrs Halappanavar died of sepsis after she was denied a termination to end her miscarrying pregnancy. Reports into her death have blamed the legal uncertainty as playing a major part as well as a number of failures in her clinical treatment.
Fuelling the ongoing controversy is a distinct but related issue, the case of the availability of abortion for a mother who is suicidal. The proposed new legislation sets out a mechanism whereby a panel of three medical professionals can permit a termination for a mother who is expressing suicidal feelings as a result of her pregnancy.
Although opinion polls have indicated some three in four voters support the new legislation, and a majority are in favour of abortion in the case of the potential suicide by the mother, tens of thousands have attended pro-life demonstrations and the issue continues to generate strong feelings.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been branded a “murderer” by the bill’s opponents. He said he has been sent letters written in blood as well as other disturbing items.
Speaking in the Dail, Mr Kenny said he had been told he was “going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies”.
“I am getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system and it’s not confined to me,” he said.
Other members of the government have received threats and had their constituency offices had been picketed, he said.
The largest opposition party in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil, has said it will allow its members to vote on the issue in accordance with their conscience.
Although refusing the same for his own party, Mr Kenny said everyone in the state was “entitled to have their say”.
In a statement, Mr Tóibín said it gave him immense difficulty to part from Sinn Fein on the issue and reiterated his loyalty to the party in all other respects.
He warned the Bill would introduce for the first time in law a therapy for suicidal ideation that included the ending of another human life.
“It would also mean for the first time that a therapy for suicidal ideation in Ireland would have no basis in science.
“On the contrary the evidence states that abortion often does damage the health of the mother, can lead to suicide and of course is completely destructive of the life of the child.”
“I am also seriously concerned that this legislation allows for abortion up until birth and that this legislation allows for a healthy unborn child on the cusp of viability to be brought to term with the likely probability that the child would be disabled by the State and possibly be institutionalised for life.
“It is an impossible ask for me to vote for legislation that will lead to another person’s death. TDs are responsible for their actions... I believe that if a TD votes for abortion that TD is in part responsible for abortions that happen under that legislation. I do not believe that it is possible to claim to be pro-life and legislate for abortion,” he said.
This is the first time in recent years Sinn Féin has had to deal with a party member defying its official stance on an issue other than the political process in the North.
At the party’s recent annual conference [Ard Fheis], delegates controversially voted against a motion to allow its representatives to dissent from party policy for reasons of religion or conscience.
Responding to Mr Toibin’s comments, party leader Gerry Adams TD said that while Sinn Féin was still examining the proposed legislation, it had made its position on the issue very clear.
“The government needs to legislate in line with the X Case to protect pregnant women when their lives are at risk and to give legal certainty to medical practitioners,” he said.