Some of the major political pressure on Fine Gael in relation to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill is in respect to a promise pro-life organisations have claimed Fine Gael made before the 2011 general election not to legislate for abortion.
On webpages such as this one, the Life Organisation agitate for a letter campaign to ensure that Fine Gael keep their promise. However according to the Fine Gael manifesto from the last election, no such promise exists. Rather they say the following:
We will establish an all-party committee, with access to medical and legal expertise, to consider the implications of the recent ruling of the ECHR and to make recommendations. Such a process would, we believe, be the best way of examining the issues in a way that respects the range of sincerely-held views on this matter.
In a response to a direct question by Youth Defence, they gave the following answer:
- Fine Gael is opposed to the legalisation of abortion.
- Fine Gael will establish an all-party Oireachtas Committee, with access to medical and legal expertise, to consider the implications to the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and to make recommendations. Such a process would, we believe, be the best way of examining the issues in a way that respects the range of sincerely-held views on this matter.
- Fine Gael’s representatives will bring to the proposed all-party committee a clear commitment that women in pregnancy will receive whatever treatments are necessary to safeguard their lives, and that the duty of care to preserve the life of the baby will also be upheld.
- Fine Gael is opposed to research conducted on human embryos, and favours alternative stem cell research that does not involve human embryos such as adult stem cell and umbilical cord research.
Although the first bullet appears unequivocal, the rest of the answer appears to give them sufficient cover to implement whatever an Oireachtas committee recommends as long as it safeguards their lives (that is, the lives of women in pregnancy).
Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign released a press statement claiming that Taoiseach Enda Kenny misrepresents Fine Gael’s commitment based on this response. It appears to be the same response Youth Defence received and thereby contains a declaration on their position but no promise not to legislate.
Arguably, the Pro-Life side have every right to determine Fine Gael’s stated position as a commitment not to legislate at all (edit: this article mentioned by Cora Sherlock in the comments would appear to show that Fine Gael encouraged this interpretation), however that isn’t what Fine Gael literally said (whatever individual candidates said during their own campaigns). This appears to be a typical case of adding deliberate ambiguity to a statement should the conditions mean that the party needs to legislate. That’s exactly what has happened and if the Pro-Life campaign weren’t aware of this technique before the general election in 2011, they are now.