I had all but concluded when I spoke here last week. At some length I had put on record the extracts which had been published of the opinion of the Attorney General on the proposed wording. Since then there has been further public debate on the wording and it is not unfair to suggest, as some have done, that we have been over-cautious in our concern to get the wording right. I do not want to travel the same territory again, but I want to make very briefly and bluntly this point.
We have been asked to bring in an amendment not because anybody suggested that the status quo is unsatisfactory, and not because anybody suggested that there is an immediate danger of the Supreme Court upsetting that status quo, but against the possibility that at some date in the medium or long term the Supreme Court might interpret the Constitution in a way not now foreseen. If it is appropriate, and such a view has gained support from both sides of this House, to take account of that possibility in the medium term, then it equally behoves us to take particular account of the wording, and to take into account, not just what the Supreme Court might do today but what it might do at some stage in the future.
Earlier I said I was distressed by what seemed to be a lack of respect for the Supreme Court that had emanated from both sides during this debate, but if it is ever the case that we are so ill-served by our Supreme Court that its members would interpret the Constitution as it now stands, and the fact that it is silent on the question of the right to life of the unborn as providing for abortion, is it not equally likely that those members who compose the court would in turn take advantage of any conceivable ambiguity in an amendment to achieve the same results? Does it not make basic, common and logical sense that if we ever had a Supreme Court which wanted to take advantage of the fact that there is no reference in the Constitution, as it now stands, to the right to life of the unborn child, and take the view that there is a personal right to have an abortion, they could place that interpretation on the amendment? Our responsibility is to put the status quo beyond doubt now and for the foreseeable future. We know what the members of the Supreme Court would do under the Constitution as it stands, but we do not know what might happen at some dim and distant date in the future.
If anybody who is unconvinced by the views of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions that the amendment as presently drafted is imprecise and vague, may I suggest that the situation would be put beyond doubt if they took the trouble to read the speech by Deputy Woods. On 9 February 1983, at column 1386, volume 339 of the Official Report he said:
Despite what would undoubtedly have been the wish of the promoters of this amendment and the majority church in this island, there is no attempt in the wording of the amendment to define the moment at which the life of the unborn begins. The amendment does not attempt to make this definition. Most, of course, would argue that it begins at the time of conception, but this is a matter of theological and scientific argument and in preparing the wording of the amendment we felt it was not appropriate to the Constitution to have such definitions.
Deputy Woods, Opposition spokesman for Health and the Minister who had charge of the Bill when first brought before this House, admits openly and without shame that the Bill is deliberately vague, deliberately bland, keeping a foot in both camps and an eye in every direction.
We were asked to bring in this amendment for one purpose, and one purpose only, to copperfasten the status quo and to meet the fears that had been expressed by responsible people in the legal and medical worlds. In those circumstances we have an absolute obligation to get this wording right and to ensure that there are no ambiguities and no double think. That means we must look beyond the wording which is being presented to us.
In the course of the debate a number of Deputies expressed concern about the tenor of the debate in sections of the media and in the contributions made. Any proposal to amend our Constitution deserves to be seriously examined and scrutinised, and all must be free to engage in that exercise without any fear or pressure that their concern to do their duty as legislators, would leave them open to the charge of somehow being concerned with technicalities and, in an unspecified way, being soft on abortion. Those who attempt to make that sort of point do no service to the cause they seek to promote.
I notice Deputy Flynn is sitting on the Opposition benches. He is a good humoured colourful contributor to our debates, one to whom it is a pleasure in times of light relief to listen, but he did himself, his cause and his party no credit when, while in Government, he purported to suggest that the Fine Gael commitment to oppose abortion was in doubt. If he shares our total opposition to abortion — and I have no doubt that he does — he has a responsibility to go a little beyond his usual colourful exchanges and to look very seriously at what he proposes to put before the people. He should ask himself whether, in conscience, he is prepared to put to the people a wording which might, just might, provide for abortion up to perhaps 25 or 28 weeks. It is precisely because we on this side of the House are absolutely determined that no such mistake is going to be made that we are determined to look at this wording very carefully and see that the wording the people are eventually invited to vote on will put the matter beyond doubt.