Abortion is to become available in the 26 Counties in strictly limited circumstances following a final vote on highly contentious legislation early this morning.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will allow abortion where the life of the mother is threatened, either through ill-health or through the possibility of suicide.
After a fractious and chaotic two-day debate, which saw allegations of drunkenness and lewd behaviour levelled at legislators, the government won the final vote by 127 votes to 31.
Fine Gael’s Lucinda Creighton voted against the government on the bill and immediately submitted her letter of resignation as Minister of State for European Affairs to the Taoiseach.
The legislation was drafted to bring legal certainty to the 1992 Supreme Court ‘X case’ ruling that abortion can take place to save the life of the mother. Its introduction followed the death in a Galway hospital of Savita Halappanavar, who died while miscarrying her pregnancy after failing to receive a potentially life-saving termination.
But the inclusion in the legislation of a mechanism for women to obtain abortion if they become suicidal as a result of pregnancy provoked a giant protest of 35,000 to take to the streets in Dublin last weekend, and a further protest is planned for this weekend.
Even the requirement that a panel of three doctors certify the mental ill-health and suicidal tendencies of the mother before a termination is permitted failed to avert the controversy.
The debate caused sharp political divisions within the main political parties, with both Fine Gael and Sinn Fein announcing a crackdown on party TDs opposed to the measure.
As a result of a declared purge by Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Fine Gael’s rebels, Lucinda Creighton and four other FG backbenchers -- Brian Walsh (Galway West), Peter Mathews (Dublin South), Billy Timmins (Wicklow) and Terence Flanagan (Dublin North-East) -- will lose their nomination as party candidates at the next election, which could spell the end of their political careers.
One Sinn Fein TD (Meath East TD Peader Toibin) also voted against, and was immediately expelled from the party for six months for a “serious breach” of party rules.
Fianna Fail uniquely allowed its legislators to vote according to their conscience. Fourteen voted against the bill, while five supported it.
Eleven independents also voted against for various reasons, including five who did so because they believed the legislation did not go far enough in providing for a woman’s right to choose.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and three other TDs were absent, while three TDs abstained from the vote.
There was a round of applause after the vote was passed, and pro-abortion supporters outside Leinster House cheered at the result.
Speaking to reporters on the plinth of Leinster House tonight, Ms Creighton said she felt very sad as she had been a member of Fine Gael since she was 18.
“At the same time I am relieved because this is a huge issue that has been weighing on everybody’s mind for months,” she said.
The prominent Dublin South-East TD became the third Minister of State to quit the current government. She said she had been left no option after standing by Fine Gael’s pre-election commitment not to legislate for abortion.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that a lot of people have really struggled on which way they would vote in this legislation and now obviously five members of the Dail from my parliamentary party [will not support it],” she said.
She said she had been asked to resign as a Minister by the party leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny. She said it was a “big shock” to find herself outside the party.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams welcomed this morning’s vote.
“It has taken 21 years to secure the passing of this legislation,” he said.
“It is long overdue. Sinn Fein had concerns about aspects of this bill but we considered it very carefully [in light of the legal obligations on the state].
“We also took the view that we have a duty and responsibility to legislate for citizens - in this case pregnant women whose lives are at risk - and to ensure that there is clarity for medical practitioners.”