LIFE-SAVING abortion will be made legal in Ireland for the first time in the country’s history, following a vote finally taken in the small hours of the morning in Dublin.
It was the second day running that politicians at the Dail had burned the midnight oil discussing a topic that has long divided the nation. At 12:25am yesterday, they voted by 127 to 31 to support legislation that will allow abortions if the woman’s life is at risk, including from the threat of suicide. The parliament chamber in Leinster House erupted into a round of applause when the vote was announced.
Earlier in the two days of talks, health minister James Reilly said the new laws might have saved the life of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, had they been in force in October last year, when she died after suffering a miscarriage, having been denied an abortion.
The legislation must now pass the Seanad – the upper house of parliament – but has taken a significant step to becoming law.
Yesterday morning, the strain showed on Teachtaí Dála (TDs) who appeared tired out by the marathon sessions. However, the debate had made relatively swift, business-like progress, considering the sensitivity of the subject.
“Time is very precious,” the Ceann Comhairle (chairman of the lower house) Sean Barrett had warned, with a wry smile as the clock ticked towards the final vote.
Outside Leinster House were reminders of how heated the abortion debate was.
Protesters held placards saying “abortion rights now” and “opposing life-saving legislation is anti-life and anti-Irish”.
“It is the very, very bare minimum of a bill, but at the same time it feels like the end of an era,” said Eleanor White, 21, one of a handful of pro-abortion activists gathered outside, who were outnumbered by opponents of the bill.
Inside, too, there was no shortage of controversy.
Lucinda Creighton was automatically expelled from the parliamentary party, losing her junior minister post, after being the most senior of five members of the Fine Gael-led coalition to vote against the legislation – she opposed the suicide amendment.
“I am a woman, I am an Irish woman,” she told the Dail earlier in the debate. Later, she added that she knew the consequences of her decision, and still had “huge admiration” for Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Four other male Fine Gael rebels had already been xpelled from the parliamentary party.
Opposition party Sinn Fein had backed the legislation from the outset, but also suffered a break in the ranks as one of its TDs voted against.
There had been controversy during the debate too.
At one point, Tom Barry was caught on camera grabbing colleague Aine Collins by the hips and pulling her onto his lap in the Dail chamber.
The TDs, who are both members of Fine Gael, were left red-faced after the incident appeared online, forcing Mr Barry to make a grovelling apology.
“What I did last night was disrespectful and inappropriate,” he said on Thursday. “I have apologised to Aine Collins and she graciously and immediately accepted my apology. No excuses, I just shouldn’t have done it.”
However, none of that detracted from what was a landmark day in Irish politics.
Taoiseach Mr Kenny had previously said the contentious laws were about “the women of our country, all of them”. The Fine Gael-Labour coalition, led by Mr Kenny, pledged the legislation for more than two years.