The mammoth task facing the Government in legislating for abortion in limited circumstances in this country has become very real again in the wake of Galway West TD Brian Walsh nailing his colours to the mast on the issue.
Mr Walsh, who is generally very good at toeing the party line and not blotting his copybook on pretty much anything, has become the first Fine Gael TD to confirm that he will not vote for the legislation when it is put before the house this summer.
However, he is unlikely to be the last, as the issue continues to divide and polarize Irish society. Indeed, most people will probably have difficulty deciding where they stand on the issue or when, if ever, it is OK to terminate a pregnancy.
Deputy Walsh questions legislation providing for abortion in the case of suicidal ideation, considering it is seen as a steppingstone to abortion on demand by some. He says scientific evidence and the testimony of psychiatrists affirms that abortion is not an appropriate treatment for suicidal ideation in pregnancy.
Others, including the pro-choice groups who staged a protest in Dublin on Monday evening, probably question whether it will go far enough or whether it will do anything to meet the needs of the thousands of women who are traveling abroad every year to have abortions.
Even if the limited legislation is passed, it could meet roadblocks, as it looks unlikely the Government will be able to find one doctor, never mind six consultants, to sign off on whether a pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s life. The Irish College of Psychiatrists have said they will not participate in any compulsory assessment of pregnant women who have suicidal ideation and are seeking an abortion, as forcing vulnerable women to undergo mandatory psychiatric assessments of up to 12 people is abusive. Other specialists are likely to be as conflicted.
Deputy Walsh wants the issue put back to the general public, but it is unlikely we can decide, as previous referenda have failed to reach a definitive consensus on the issue.
Is it a woman’s personal right to choose? Should there be a focus on prevention? How late in pregnancy would the abortion be permitted? Would those who have had more than one abortion be given the same rights as those who present for the first time?
Abortion legislation throws up more questions than answers and therein lies the problem. The Government is going to have its work cut out for it.