Since last week when the debate was adjourned there have been statements from the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. These have added to the confusion about this Bill. Yesterday there was a highly selective version of the Attorney General's advice published in The Irish Times and I will be dealing with that later. It has been stated:
In addition the proposal would not permit an abortion to prevent serious injury to the physical or mental well being of the mother as distinct from her death. Although such abortions are not permissible under existing legislation the effect of the amendment would be to close off the possibility of the Oireachtas even considering that they might be permissible in some circumstances.
That is exactly the type of situation which the amendment is supposed to close off. Virtually all abortion Acts in the western world allow abortion on the basis of serious injury to the physicial and mental well-being of the mother. In many western countries, for example, the United Kingdom, that has in effect become abortion on demand.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland have issued a document on abortion which states:
We have already seen that the provision for abortion for these reasons has been grossly abused. It is not easy to prove to what extent health, particularly mental health, is at risk. Ninety per cent of abortions in Britain were performed in 1979 for reasons of the mental health of the mother or risk to her existing children.
It is clear from this extract that one of the reasons for the Attorney General's objection — perhaps the real reason — is that it would effectively prevent the introduction of abortion in Ireland.
Also appearing in The Irish Times was the statement that an alternative wording had been presented to the Government by the Attorney General. The wording was stated to be as follows:
The Oireachtas may, by its law, prohibit the practice of abortion, and no provision of this Constitution shall be regarded as conferring any right to have an abortion.
That would be unacceptable to us because one of the principles in this Bill is that the people by way of referendum should have the final choice if abortion is ever to be introduced here. If we were to accept that wording it would mean that the Oireachtas could at some time introduce abortion and that the 1861 Act could be amended in the Dáil without a referendum. That wording would not constitute a pro-life amendment.
My party fail to understand the change in attitude in Fine Gael. Perhaps it has something to do with being in Government or with the attitude of the Labour Party. The Taoiseach was very emphatic about his position and nowhere more so than during an interview with Brian Farrell on RTE's "Today Tonight" on 4 November 1982. He stated:
When the formula was produced we were pleasantly surprised because we had feared that it would be a negative kind of formula which would attempt to lay down the conditions in which abortion should be illegal and you get into problems of definition there. What we had proposed, and I pressed this very strongly in my Ard Fheis speech, was that it should be literally a pro-life amendment which would strengthen the protection of life, the life of the unborn, and I was very relieved the amendment took that form. I feared it might take the other form and when we examined it carefully and saw the wording of it and took advice on it, it seemed to us that it was about as good a formula as you could get. I have to admit that in the Government's favour.
Later in that interview he said:
I think it is the best amendment you can get and it seems sensible to say so in those circumstances.
I fail to understand why there is such a change of attitude now. It is extraordinary that the opinions coming before us now did not come over the last three months. When the Bill was brought before the House last week for a Second Reading there were doubts of this nature. It was obvious from this side of the House last week that there was confusion on the Government benches.
The pro-life amendment is all about the most fundamental right, the right to life. There have been arguments that there has been no need for a change in the Constitution or to add this amendment to it; but if one looks at Article 40 of the Constitution, which deals with the right of the citizen, one will see it does not refer to the unborn child. Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956, an Irish citizen is defined as a person born in Ireland, which in effect means that the right that we have comes after we are born and not before. It is obvious that in 1937 there was no need to put a protection for the unborn into the Constitution because at that time it was never envisaged that Governments would legalise abortion. The 1861 Act makes abortion illegal and it is interesting to note that that Act is still the law in England but there has been a holocaust of abortions in that country in the last 15 years — more than two million to date. The 1967 Act merely exempts a doctor from culpability under the 1861 Act if two doctors, acting in good faith, believe that a woman should have an abortion. That is the reason why the wording suggested in The Irish Times that might be put forward to give the power to the Oireachtas would be unacceptable. There is no doubt that at the time the 1961 Act was introduced in the UK it was not intended that there would be abortion on demand but it is accepted that there are doctors who are prepared to carry out abortion on demand there. In December last efforts were made in the House of Lords to amend the Act to bring it more into line with the intention of the sponsors of the Bill when it was first introduced.
The courts here could decide that the 1861 Act was unconstitutional. While that is highly unlikely at present, nevertheless it is a possibility in the future. If one wants to consider how long that might be one has only to look at the American situation. There was no political movement in America before 1968 for the repeal of the abortion laws but in that year the lobby started. After two years they were able to overthrow a 140-year-old law that prohibited abortion in New York city and in 1973, five years later, in the case of Roe v. Wade the right to privacy was extended to include the termination of a pregnancy. Within five years of the start of the lobby abortion was legalised in the US.
It is also interesting to note that in every country where contraception was legalised the lobby commenced immediately afterwards for abortion. In many countries abortion is used as an alternative, particularly in women over 40, as, if one might term it so, a means of contraception; in other words, the women do not take any precaution and have an abortion later. The Oireachtas could amend the 1861 Act to allow abortion. That is an alternative to the courts declaring that Act unconstitutional. It is fair to ask this question: what would be more democratic now than to give our people the right in a referendum to decide this issue?
Doctor Natheson, one of the promoters of abortion on a large scale in the US visited Ireland last November and he stated that he had turned very much against abortion. He was anxious to see a new amendment to the Constitution in the US and he made it clear that the pro-life groups in Ireland should learn from the American experience and campaign for the passing of an amendment to our Constitution before abortion is imposed upon us.
The medical profession have a long history of working with unconditional respect for human life. That goes back more than 2,000 years, before Christianity, to the time of Hippocrates. The hippocratic oath states that nothing should be given to cause an abortion. The World Medical Association in the declaration of Geneva in 1948 called on all doctors to maintain respect for human life from the time of conception even under threat and not to use their knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. The two major medical organisations here, the Irish Medical Association and the Medical Union, although it may not have been within their general terms of reference to discuss such matters, at their annual general meetings both passed unanimous resolutions condemning abortion because of the strong feelings in the profession against abortion.
In the past 15 years a number of countries have assumed the power to take the life of the unborn child through their abortion laws. The role of doctors has been extended. Indeed, in some countries it is obligatory for them to take this life. Abortion is not and should not be a medical problem. It is a social problem. Life starts in some form at conception. At that time it is fair to say it is human life with potential rather than potentially human. At 12 weeks the infant is fully formed with discernible eyes, ears, face, limbs. Sir William Lily, an expert in the study of unborn children said:
We know the infant is responsive in the womb to touch and light, to sound and to stimuli which you and I would consider painful.
A number of arguments have been made against the amendment many of them on the basis that we should have abortion in some circumstances, for example, when there is concern that the mother's life is put at risk to save the child. I should like to come back to the Attorney General's statement reported in The Irish Times yesterday. Under the heading “With due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” he said:
If a doctor were to be faced with the choice as to saving the life of one, and thereby terminating the life of the other, then I believe that the only lawful conclusion to this dilemma would be that he could do nothing, absolutely nothing, which infringed on either right. It is only where there is no possibility of the foetus surviving, even without the doctor's intervention, that no difficulty will arise.
I will leave legal comments on the Attorney General's statement to those who are qualified to make them, but I would have to say, in my opinion as a medical doctor, that that paragraph is rubbish. I am absolutely sure, knowing my colleagues, that there is no situation in which a doctor would stand by and do nothing, or absolutely nothing, whatever the difference is. Doctors are not confronted with the sort of situations where they have to sit down and study what action they will take in a particular case.
Medical ethics are based on the natural law with due regard to the equal rights of mother and infant. A doctor would never have to say: "I will save one life and I will let the other go." The type of cases which have been mentioned by those who are opposed to the amendment are very rare, for example, where a woman has cancer of the womb. Cancer of the womb in a pregnant woman is a very rare condition. Where it does occur, if it is necessary for the womb to be removed, it will be removed. If the woman needs radiotherapy she will have radiotherapy. The fact that there is a pregnancy in the womb does not mean there is an abortion, because there is no intent on the part of the doctor to merely kill the child in the womb. The doctor's intent is to remove the cancerous womb. The same can be said about ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy outside the womb. It is possible that in years gone by there were medical conditions which might have caused problems for the woman who had such a pregnancy. Nowadays with modern medical treatment that would be extremely rare.
Professor O'Driscoll and Dr. Murphy of the National Maternity Hospital studied 74,317 deliveries in the National Maternity Hospital and found that 21 women died during pregnancy in that period. There was no case where they could say abortion would have saved the mother. They published their work which was a very detailed study, in the Irish Medical Journal of August 1982. I should like to quote from one paragraph in that article:
The final conclusion is that therapeutic abortion would have had no beneficial effect on maternal mortality in this hospital during the seventies and, by analogy, women do not die in childbirth because therapeutic abortion is not practised in Ireland today.
From my own experience as a medical practitioner, from what I have read in literature and from what I know from my colleagues, I do not believe it is necessary to introduce abortion for the medical cases which are quoted by those who are against the amendment because they want abortion legalised.
Rape is another case in question. However, it is very rare for a woman to become pregnant as a result of rape. There have been various studies carried out and the general consensus seems to be that, on average, one woman in 500 who is raped becomes pregnant. That would mean it would be a very rare occurence and years would go by without any woman becoming pregnant. If abortion was made legal for women who had been raped it is possible that a woman could come along to her doctor and say she had been raped, even though that was not the case, in order to procure an abortion. It would be very difficult for the medical profession to decide in a case like that. I believe it would open the door to abortion on demand.
While, obviously, one must have compassion for the victims of rape, if they go along quickly enough to their doctor or to the outpatients' department, something can be done to prevent them becoming pregnant under the present law without any infringement of that law, by way of contraception, which is not abortion. It is interesting to note that Dr. Alec Byrne, who was before the UK courts in 1938 for carrying out an abortion on a girl who was raped, was opposed to the 1967 Act when it was introduced.
Some people believe that an abortion should be available to a woman whose unborn child is severely handicapped. That has already been dealt with by my colleague, Deputy Woods, and, from my own experience of working with the handicapped, I see no reason why they should be denied the right to life. Many of them have made a valuable contribution to our society in the field of literature, art and science.
It has also been suggested that the amendment would ban contraception. The amendment will not change the existing law. It has been argued that some of the present contraceptives act as abortifacients, for example, the intra-uterine device. Nobody can say in any given case how that device works, whether it is working as a contraceptive, an abortifacient or not working at all, because it is possible for a woman to become pregnant and come to her full term with the intra uterine device inserted. Again it is a question of intent. It is hard to see how, under existing laws, anybody could be charged as a result of using an intra-uterine device. As the law will not change when the amendment is added to the Constitution, then the question will not arise.
There is also an argument that the woman should have the right to choose and the freedom to control her own fertility. There is no such right in our law and, therefore, the amendment cannot diminish or interfere with a right that does not exist. It is important to point out that the unborn child is not a part of its mother's body but a unique individual with the same, fundamental right to life as any other person.
It is true that the pro-life amendment will not stop women going abroad for an abortion but I hope the debate here and the amendment to the Constitution, when carried, will force the Government and society to take a more enlightened and positive attitude towards those women who find themselves forced by social pressures to have abortions. I also hope there will be a positive attempt to prevent discrimination against the unmarried mother as a result of this amendment. There should be a build-up of support services for those who need them, for example, financial help, emotional support, medical services and whatever other support is necessary so that these women will be able to continue their pregnancies happy in the knowledge that they will have their baby without any fears or guilt.
It has been suggested that the amendment is sectarian, that it represents the Roman Catholic stance. It is hard to understand this argument although churchmen seem to have varying views on this. Nevertheless, it has been suggested as a reason why we should not proceed with the amendment. It is important to state once again that the amendment is about a basic human right — the right to life — which transcends all religious views. It is the same for an agnostic as it is for a member of any religion. It is no harm to note that the 1861 Act was brought in by a British Parliament and nobody has stated that it was sectarian. When the amendment is introduced into the Constitution it will not change the 1861 Act. It is difficult to understand the argument that it is in some way sectarian.
As a member of a union affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions it came as a surprise and a disappointment to me to find that the executive were opposed to the pro-life amendment. I would have expected that in proper democratic fashion they would have been anxious to give the people the opportunity to decide for themselves if they wished to have an amendment to the Constitution. The cost of holding the referendum should not be an issue. That cost is estimated at £750,000 but most of that money will give employment on polling day and to the printers. In my view the money will be well spent. I believe that when the people get an opportunity they will vote to write into the Constitution an amendment that will protect the life of the unborn.
I cannot accept the suggestion that the amendment would make this State less acceptable to the Unionists in Northern Ireland. I know the Northern people and I believe they would be much impressed by this part of Ireland being prepared to stand up for the most fundamental of human rights than if we were carried away by the rising tide of liberalism that has beset western civilisation.
The Reverend Sydney Garland, President of Life, speaking on behalf of a number of Protestant Churches in Northern Ireland, made it clear that he positively welcomed the amendment and he rejected the suggestion that it was sectarian. I should like to quote the Reverend Ian Paisley, Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, when he spoke last November on the subject of abortion. He said: "Life is a gift from God and no one has the right to take it away except the giver, whether that life is in the womb or in the world." It is also significant that the Reverend Ian Paisley, Jim Molyneaux and others were vehemently opposed to the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
It is important that the Fianna Fáil position on the amendment be quite clear. We do not want any postponement of this legislation. It was not Fianna Fáil who stated that the referendum would be held before 31 March. We want the legislation through the House as expeditiously as possible. Fianna Fáil believe the wording we put forward is correct and nothing that has been said has convinced us that we should alter that view. Having regard to numerous statements by the Taoiseach, particularly his interview with Brian Farrell on the "Today Tonight" programme, and also to statements by the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, one might ask why at this stage, having circulated the Bill, is there any question of change? We should get a speedy answer to that question. Do Fine Gael and/or Labour want a pro-life amendment? As I said earlier, some of what has been suggested as an alternative would not be pro-life. Are we witnessing an orchestrated move to prevent the amendment? We are entitled to answers to these questions.
In May 1981 before the Taoiseach formed his first Coalition Government he promised he would introduce the necessary legislation to bring forward the referendum on such an amendment. We know that when in Government at that time he distanced himself from his promise and he went off on a constitutional crusade. Before the last general election he promised again to introduce the amendment and it was he who stated the referendum would be held before 31 March.
During the motion on Dáil reform there were many references to this House and the perception of the public with regard to this House. I am concerned that the credibility of the House and the Government — not the credibility of Fianna Fáil who have taken a consistent stand on this matter — and particularly the credibility of the Taoiseach is at stake here. He should gather his courage, honour his commitment, hold the referendum on the wording presented and give the people an opportunity in the most democratic way to enshrine protection for the unborn child in our Constitution.