Ireland was treated to a rare spectacle this week: a politician who opposed a prime minister on a matter of conscience, lost a ministry, was expelled from her party, and parted without rancour.
Lucinda Creighton, a 33-year-old rising star in the Fine Gael party, and Minister of State for European Affairs in Enda Kenny’s coalition government, voted against a bill which allowed women access to abortion at any stage of their pregnancy if they threaten to commit suicide.
When the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 came to a vote in the Dail, the Irish parliament, it passed by 127 votes to 31.
The bill, if it passes in the upper house, could allow abortion on demand. Abortions will be legal if “there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide” and if an abortion is the only way of averting the suicide. Three doctors must sign off on each case. No time limits are mentioned in the legislation.
Ms Creighton objected vehemently to this clause. She argued that it was unworkable and “has the potential to normalise suicidal ideation by enshrining suicide on our statute book for the first time”.
After the vote Ms Creighton said that she was very sad to be forced out of the party. But in a lengthy apologia, Ms Creighton told the Dail that she was not a “pro-life campaigner” but that that abortion was not a “liberal” cause. It was “a tool for the oppression of women”. In traditionally Catholic Ireland, restrictions on abortion are widely described as a backward views imposed by the Church. Ms Creighton disavowed a religious motivation for her principled stand:
“There is an emerging consensus in Ireland which suggests that having a sense of morality has something to do with the Catholic Church. It is automatically assumed that if you consult your conscience, you are essentially consulting with Rome. This is deeply worrying. It is a lazy way of attempting to undermine the worth of an argument, without actually dealing with the substance. This is not just a Catholic issue, any more than it is a Protestant or Muslim issue. This is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue… We all have the right to conscientious objection. It is enshrined in Article 18 of the United Nations, Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”