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Strong support for free vote on abortion: poll

By Susan Gately - 21 June, 2013

More than 80 per cent of voters would prefer to see the abortion issue resolved by referendum than by the politicians in Leinster House, and 70 per cent believe that if legislators are to decide the issue they should be allowed a free vote. These are the findings of a poll released yesterday by the […]

More than 80 per cent of voters would prefer to see the abortion issue resolved by referendum than by the politicians in Leinster House, and 70 per cent believe that if legislators are to decide the issue they should be allowed a free vote.

These are the findings of a poll released yesterday by the Life Institute, as the Dáil began debating the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. This bill provides a legal framework for abortions in Ireland where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide.

At a parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night, Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews brought a  motion to allow for a free vote, but could not find another deputy to second it. He and fellow Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh have indicated they will vote against the bill.  At least another eight Fine Gael TDs are deeply troubled by the bill’s recognition of suicidal ideation as a grounds for abortion, and its lack of  time limits.

The Ámárach survey polled 1,000 adults for its ‘omnibus’ survey in May.  These are regular surveys where a number of topics, sponsored by different clients, are grouped together and the public are questioned on the different issues at the same time.

The questions in relation to abortion were:
“In your opinion, should the decision to introduce abortion be left to the Oireachtas to vote on or left to the people through a referendum.”  13 per cent said the Oireachtas should decide, 77 per cent the people by referendum, and 10 per cent were ‘don’t knows’.

The second question was “When it comes to legislation on abortion, politicians should be allowed a free vote rather than being subject to the party whip”.  41 per cent strongly agreed and  29 per cent  agreed, with 20 per cent indifferent and the remaining 10 per cent disagreeing  or disagreeing strongly.

Commenting on the poll findings in relation to applying the party whip, David Manly of Family and Life said the Irish whip system was “exceptionally rigid”.

“In most other countries, including the UK, votes in parliament on major issues of conscience such as abortion are free votes, respecting the conscience rights of parliamentarians.”

Earlier this week, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames stated she would be voting against the bill when it comes before the Seanad, saying the proposal was not good for woman or for unborn children.

“I stood for election in 2011 on a pre-election promise, a pro-life pre-election promise, I’m not breaking that promise. The Government and the party has turned its back on it,” she added.

Senator Healy Eames said that while she supported medical intervention to save a woman’s life in pregnancy, she said, she could not “stand over a bill that will make it legal to intentionally destroy unborn human life where there isn’t a shred of medical evidence to justify it.”

Fianna Fáil has agreed to allow a free vote on the legislation, the first time in its history that it has allowed such a measure.  Although the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, supports the legislation,  and yesterday, Fianna Fáil spokesperson Billy Kelleher said that he would be supporting the law,  a number of his colleagues are set to oppose it during a vote.

Against a backdrop of revelations from Dáil deputies of hate mail from  ‘pro-life constituents’, yesterday Caroline Simons from the Pro Life Campaign (PLC) said those who were threatening or abusive should be named and told that such behaviour was “wrong and counterproductive”.

She said in recent weeks the Pro Life Campaign and some of the other pro-life groups had received  “vile and disturbing threats” by phone, email and social media and they had handed them over the Gardaí.  She has appealed to the Irish public to stay focussed on the task at hand.   “Let’s continue to do all we can to urge our politicians to consider the real implications of this terrible Bill and encourage as many as possible to vote against it.”

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