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Abortion debate: Single Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin defends ‘fornication’ remarks

By Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor
Irish Independent, Friday April 20 2012

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny's constituency colleague has defended her controversial "fornication" comments during a Dail debate about abortion.

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin described "fornication", consensual sex between two unmarried people, as the biggest cause of unwanted pregnancy.

The 40-year-old Ballina solicitor won a seat last year as Mr Kenny's Fine Gael took a historic four out of five seats in Co Mayo.

She caused controversy with her use of the archaic phrase during a debate on abortion legislation yesterday.

But Ms Mulherin, who is single, defended her use of the term 'fornication', which dates from ancient times and is normally used in a religious or moral way.

She said the phrase "lended itself to the context" of her speech. "It needed a bit of a hearing. I don't find it that peculiar at all," she said.

She said she was trying to open a broader debate, some of it from a liberal, feminist perspective and some from a religious perspective.

Ms Mulherin said she would not classify herself as pro-life, but added: "I don't agree with abortion."

She said she had received a lot of positive response to her speech.

"I've got a lot of feedback on it and people on both sides of it saying well done and fair play to you for broadening it out," she said.

The Government defeated a bill brought forward by Socialist Party TD Clare Daly to legislate for the X case and allow abortion in cases where the mother's health was in doubt.

But Ms Mulherin's contribution stood out as she strayed into a theological debate and asked if responsibility for moral issues should rest on Government.

She said the religious argument was "abortion is murder, therefore sin". But she said it was no more sinful than other sins that are not banned by law, such as "greed, hate and fornication".

"Fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country," she said.

Ms Mulherin also said nobody should be having unsafe sex, "with AIDS and all the sexually transmitted diseases we know about".

Bodies

"That has to be questioned as well. How well and how much are we respecting our own lives and our own bodies in the process?" she said.

Ms Daly sarcastically said Ms Mulherin's observation on fornication was "very astute" because "generally speaking, pregnancy does arise from sex".

"It's indicative of some primitive views that still exist within the chamber. But it is still a minority view," she said.

The bill was defeated by 109 votes to 20. Fine Gael and the Labour Party voted against the bill. Labour TD Patrick Nulty -- who lost the party whip last year, three weeks after being elected in the Dublin West by-election -- voted for the bill.

Labour TD Tommy Broughan, who also lost the whip last year, voted with the Government.

Fianna Fail also voted against the bill, as did Independent TDs Noel Grealish, Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae and Denis Naughten.

Sinn Fein voted for the bill, as did technical group TDs, Ms Daly, Joe Higgins, Catherine Murphy, John Halligan, Richard Boyd Barrett, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Mick Wallace, Maureen O'Sullivan, Joan Collins and Stephen Donnelly.
All you need to know about fornication

Pronounced: fawr-ni-key-shuhn

Dictionary definition: Voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.

Origin: It derives from the Latin word fornix, which means "an archway" or "vault". Roman prostitutes commonly solicited from under the arches of buildings. More directly, fornicatio means "done in the archway"; thus a euphemism for prostitution.

- Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

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