David Quinn The Irish Independent Tuesday May 22nd 2007
Precisely this issue was brought into sharp focus right at the start of the election campaign when news of Miss D broke, namely the 17-year-old in the care of the Health Service Executive, who discovered she was pregnant with an anencephalic child - that is, a child with a major part of its brain missing.
Miss D decided she wanted to end her pregnancy, and just under two-thirds of the Irish people agree that she has a right to do so.
What the question doesn't ask is whether they believe she should have the right to an abortion under these circumstances in this country. Presumably they do.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have made their position on abortion clear in this election. Neither will legislate for it if elected.
This appears to put them out of step with most Irish people.
The consolation for both of them is that, because they have the same policy, neither is in a position to gain votes at the expense of the other.
On the other hand, Labour might because it is prepared to introduce legislation that would give substance to the X case of 1991.
This would allow abortions to take place in Ireland where a woman is diagnosed as suicidal.
However, and this can be easily missed from any analysis, the specific case of Miss D would not have been covered by X case-style legislation.
In order for a future Miss D to have an abortion here, a new constitutional referendum would be required to clear the way.
This is because the Constitution at present allows for abortion only when the life of the mother is at serious risk.
Miss D's life was not at risk and Judge Liam McKechnie in the High Court praised her for not pretending she was suicidal so that she would fall under the X case requirements.
The question, then, is whether the Irish people want another abortion referendum. As recently as 2002 they narrowly rejected an attempt to rescind the X case. What would happen if the Miss D case was put before them?
On the strength of the Irish Independentopinion poll, a constitutional amendment based around this case would pass. But as we know, such a referendum would be extremely heated and probably, in practice, closely fought.
So this is probably the main reason politicians are shying away from the issue.
We can call it cowardice or we can call it prudence, but we the voters, every bit as much as they the politicians, must decide whether we really want another abortion referendum.