The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has committed to spending scarce health funds on free abortions should the electorate repeal the 8th Amendment. Speaking on Friday Harris said that the state would fund abortion in public hospitals and that it was his belief that “if people make a decision about a health service, it should be available in the public service.”
Harris's remarks were made at the launch of the implementation plan for the National Maternity Strategy.
There are over 600,000 people waiting for surgery in Irish hospitals, with some cardiac patients waiting for over 18 months. Consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Michael Tolan, said in May that people in need of heart surgery were dying on waiting lists. Mr Harris gave no explanation as to how abortions would be prioritised over life saving surgeries. Waiting lists have grown by almost 60,000 during Harris's 17 month tenure as Minister for Health.
Harris dismissed concerns that religious ethos of either hospitals or staff would interfere with his abortion program, saying that he was certain that the “publicly funded institutions would operate under the law of the land”.
Harris has previously claimed to be pro life, even emailing a large pro life organisation seeking their endorsement in the 2011 General election on the grounds that
“I am happy and proud to assure you I am pro-life.” and that
“Please be assured of my support. I need No1 votes on Friday so I can be in a position to support these positions in Dáil Eireann.” Harris now says he is in favour of a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.
Harris was speaking after the chaotic Joint Oireachtais Committee on Abortion voted to repeal the 8th Amendment before it heard less than half of the witnesses it had listed. That vote led to hard-line abortion campaigner Ruth Coppinger, the Solidarity TD, writing to her committee colleagues demanding a second vote that would commit to more radical change. The committee's already slanted witness list took another blow when the vote prompted the distinguished psychiatrist Dr Patricia Casey to withdraw her name as a witness, citing the obvious numerical bias in membership.
The Government is anxious to have the joint committee report before December in order to schedule a referendum before late May 2018, avoiding the absence of students later in the summer and any build-up to the visit of Pope Francis I in August of next year.
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