: This is a black day for democracy and will be seen as such in 30 or 40 years' time. I hope, a Cheann Comhairle, that you will not rule me out of order if I touch on things about which I have not had an opportunity to speak as yet. I would remind you that I was not allowed to speak on Second Stage because of a guillotine. Therefore, there are some comments I should like to make all of which will be relevant, I am sure you will agree, to the referdum which it is proposed to hold.
I want to mention the constant references to pro-life in this debate particularly by Deputy Woods. He referred to the pro-life amendment, pro-life people, and said: "We are pro-life". I want to declare to this House that I am pro-life and I have been pro-life in many campaigns over a long number of years. I was pro-life in campaigns against the Vietnam War, against other wars, against NATO, against nuclear missiles, against terrorism and against legal executions.
I wonder what record of pro-life the so-called pro-life people have, the small fanatical group who began what they called the pro-life campaign. In many cases they are the very people who support legal executions, nuclear weapons, joining NATO, whipping, lashing and hanging. They are the type of people who have moved into politics in the United States in the past five or six years also. They are known as the fundamentalist groups, the Bible thumping fundamentalists who are pushing the United States to the brink of war almost. They dominated the election of Ronald Reagan and they succeeded in having some of the most liberal and progressive representatives in America defeated in the last election. They are aiming to defeat others, including Senator Edward Kennedy, in the next Government. They have become quite a force in American politics.
This is the type of group who have been started here, the type of group who are fundamentally fascist in nature and who are attempting to dominate politics in Ireland as this group have dominated politics in America. The final outcome of such domination of political life would be theocracy of the type in Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini. We can see from what is happining in Iran how pro-life are the religious Government in that country, the daily executions, the cutting off of hands and other dreadful actions in the name of God and religion. This is what we would be faced with, the type of fanatical theocracy that will be followed by the small group of people who began this campaign of political blackmail on political parties. The Roman Catholic hierarchy were not at any time campaigning for such an amendment but they have been forced into the position of having to back this Fianna Fáil wording which came from God knows where.
I want to nail the pro-life suggestion that those who oppose the amendment are anti-life and that those who support it are pro-life. The case is almost the reverse. Many babies who were unborn in 1945 when the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are dying today and have been dying for many years. Therefore, the actions of governments in relation to nuclear weapons and all weapons of war should be as vital a concern to the so-called pro-life people and members on the Fianna Fáil benches who have followed this line. They have attempted to be more religious than the Pope himself, more on the side of the angels than the hierarchy and now sit smugly in this House. One might call them "Charlie's angels" but if we think back to a few months ago we might remember them as the angels with dirty faces. This is the type of smug hyprocrisy which has led to this amendment being put before the House and which is leading the whole process of parliamentary democracy into the sewers.
It is no great credit on the Taoiseach either who has shown such political ineptness and lack of political integrity. On his own admission he went into this at the last election knowing it was wrong but for political purposes he went along with it. He says now he knew at that time he should never have done it but he did it to win an election as though that made it all right. This is not political integrity or courage of the type needed here. People should stand up and say what they believe in, and on this question it is even more vital that people speak out with courage and guts whatever their political future. It is important for the unborn and for the future of the country that we have political integrity and that we give some meaning and credibility to this House. In 1983 we are supposed to be grown up as a nation. We are not even grown up as individuals in the carry-on we have had in the past three months. We are proving we have not advanced very much since 1951.
Fianna Fáil brought forward the amendment two days before they left office. It came from the great republican party. They used to be the republican party in brackets but they became somewhat brave in recent years and took away the brackets. Now they are the republican party without any brackets. What kind of republicanism is it that would bring forward an amendment like this? Would a republican party in the tradition of Wolfe Tone or Davis do that? Fianna Fáil are supposed to be against sectariansim, for democracy and pluralism, for the type of society Wolfe Tone wanted when he gave such tremendous support to the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, out of which the seeds of republicanism came to Ireland.
Republicanism is not just a matter of getting the Brits out. Surely after all these years Fianna Fáil realise that republicanism must be shown as something more than calling the Taoiseach a blueshirt or some ridiculous slogan like that at election times? They must realise it must be proved by their actions in endeavouring to unite the people of the country, in endeavouring to developing a society where there is separation of Church and State, the type of society Tone and Davis wanted. Surely they recognise the fundamental difference between the republicanism of Tone and the Catholic nationalism of Daniel O'Connell who in '98 was actually hunting down the rebels. That type of republicanism is not understood by Fianna Fáil and I should like either Deputy Haughey or Deputy Woods to define for the House what they mean by their republicanism. In bringing forward this amendment to the Constitution, they have abandoned all credibility to their claim to be republican. They have no understanding of the concept of republicanism.
We have seen the effect in this House and outside it in the past few months where confusion and division has been growing. Just imagine how that will be during the course of the campaign throughout the country at the time of a referendum on this amendment. We saw the kind of picket outside this House last Tuesday, when busloads of fanatics came with their posters about the slaughter of the innocents, about Herod and Hitler. This is precisly what will happen during the course of a referendum campaign when high emotional feelings will be built up and when there will be divisions even in families. Meanwhile the world outside just gazes in wonder and laughs at us. They wonder what we are at while the economy is in absolute ruins, when we have the highest unemployment rate in the EEC and growing rapidly, when our finances are in bits and when we are dependent on foreign borrowers. Here we have an amendment to the Constitution which is totally meaningless, of no benefit to anyone, but a grave danger to many women in the future.
This is the type of campaign in which people's rights to express their views will be attacked and an endeavour made to suppress them. I do not blame the Fianna Fáil Party for their smugness. All they need do is sit back complacently and look on as the Taoiseach's party are torn apart and the Labour Party go in three or four different directions. They see it as the only possibility of a breakthrough in the electoral scene and will use the electoral and political possibilities of this issue to their utmost to get back into favour on the political scene.
The Taoiseach has shown that he is the leader of the people in Government. He is the person that the people look to for leadership. He is the person who should have made some decision a few months ago when he saw the situation. We put down an amendment here months ago to have this matter referred to an all-party committee. Surely the Taoiseach could have seen the difficulties being caused to the country, to himself, to his own party and the other Members and at that time could have referred it to an all-party committe where there could have been discussions and, perhaps, all-party agreement.
So far, in this debate all the speakers in favour of the amendment have confined themselves to condemnation of abortion. They have done so day after day, week after week. If a motion were before this House that it condemns abortion, there would be no problem and the motion would be passed. However, that is not the issue. The issue is a constitutional amendment which is before the House. Surely we should be grown up enough to discuss this in a rational way; how it is going to affect us now and in the future; what the legal, medical and social implications will be. Let us get information, statistics and so on and examine this question. We have come in here with no background information, just hearing people shouting at us as we come in and we adopt these positions.
Our party put down a number of amendments and, true to say, we thought long as to whether we should do so, or just leave the matter as it was. The Workers' Party are totally opposed to any amendment being made to the Constitution on this issue, totally opposed to the Fianna Fáil amendment and also to the Fine Gael amendment. Then why put down amendments ourselves? We put them down as a fall-back — presumably, that is what the Taoiseach did also — to try to avoid the worst elements of the Fianna Fáil amendment and to have a discussion on these so that, at least, the House would be aware of what precisely we are talking about in the Fianna Fáil wording. As a result of the collapse of the Taoiseach's authority in his party, which should result in his resignation, we are coming before this House knowing that the Fianna Fáil amendment will be passed.
We put down these amendment for the purpose of discussing the issues. The first was on the question of the life of the unborn. We put down an amendment referring to the unborn human being, to substitute the concept of a human being for that of anything that is living and to allow account to be taken of developing what constitutes a human being, and not to restrict the courts, in construing the text, to a mere concept of life which, in fact, if one considers the wording, could include animals, or other sub- or prehuman life. There is no definition whatsoever. Unborn what? In the two months in which we heard speaker after speaker on the Fianna Fáil benches, they never told us this. What unborn is it and what affects it?
What is perhaps the most serious concern of any responsible elected representative here is the enormity of what this amendment proposes to do. Here, in Ireland, in 1983, in Dáil Éireann, we are proposing to define what no other country at no other time in history had the temerity or audacity to do — we are proposing to define precisely when human life begins and what, in essence, is a human being. If this amendment is passed it will have to be interpreted and that interpretation will mean such a definition. We are proposing to do what medical science, the philosophers and even the theologians have been unable to do. The theologians are finding it as difficult as in the days when they were trying to count the number of angels that would fit on the head of a pin. We are making the decision here. Fair dues to us. We are away ahead of the world at least in one thing. Throughout history, according to what medicine and science have been able to tell us, there have been varying definitions taken as the starting point of life. For instance, at one stage the time of quickening, which was in about the sixteenth week of pregnancy, was the view put forward. At one time some theologians held that the moment when life in the womb became truly human differed between male and female — it took longer for the female to become human than for the male. There is, in fact, no consensus among scientists or theological experts as to when human life begins. Although dogmatic stands have been taken on a definition of human life and taken by the Fianna Fáil benches here as the moment of fertilisation, in practice the more common reference point is taken as the point of implantation in the uterus.
In so far as society wishes to express its opposition to abortion in general in an expression of the value of human life, it is a positive aspiration and certainly one with which no socialist would quarrel. But in so far as this country—specifically this small body of politicians — decides to impose on society a precise definition of the moment of humanity, then we are making ourselves preposterous. There is a view put forward by the advocates of this amendment that human beings exist from the moment of conception. Many people are undoubtedly sincere in this view and have every right to hold it. But there are many other views which are equally unproveable, equally possible, equally valid, that human life begins when the fertilised ovum is implanted in the womb, that human life begins when the brain begins to function many weeks later, or that a human life can be said to exist only from the point of viability. Scientific research may well yield new information which will and must change our views in the future. Meanwhile we are to be burdened with an amendment which will have to be tested in court. The definition passed in court will be ours to live with, whatever the consequences or whatever may be the changes in medical science or anything else.
The irony of this amendment is that it might very well affect adversely the very people who want children, who are prepared to go to great lengths to have their own children. Those infertile couples who seek the most modern medical treatment to help them conceive and bear children may well be victims. The word "unborn" is defined as life from the moment of fertilisation and this could affect the possibility of their having children in the future.
The other amendment which we put down was to discuss the issue of the equal right of the mother with the right of the unborn foetus. When the wording of the amendment was first announced many people were reassured that what was being said was after all an expression of the sentiments of the majority of the Irish people, an acknowledgment that we do, on the whole, regard abortion as abhorrent and feel that the child in the womb is a human and entitled to the same rights as other humans. Moreover, the fact that the amendment referred specifically to the mother's right to life as equal was seen in the beginning as particularly reassuring because we are not very far removed from the days when the moral dictate was that in the case of a conflict at childbirth between the mother's and the child's life, then the child was to be saved. Many a pregnant woman, and many a man watching his wife in labour was haunted by the fear that this impersonal dictate would be carried out without reference to either of the parents' wishes, as was so often the case.
There is no doubt that while most Irish people are opposed to abortion they also feel very strongly that the life in the womb, in all justice, cannot possibly have a stronger claim on life than the woman concerned, a woman, who, in very many cases, is responsible for the care of other children. Thus this phrase "with due regard to the equal right to the life of the mother" was seen in the beginning as an acknowledgment of the woman's claim on her own life, an enshrinement in some way of what we all truly believe. However, this is not the case. A close scrutiny of the phrase itself and the context in which it is set shows that it means practically nothing in real human terms. In fact it may be interpreted in such a way as seriously to jeopardise present medical practice. For instance, the right to life, as defined in the Constitution, is quite distinct from that concept of health which is implied in the Constitution as "bodily integrity". This distinction is important for, in terms of the proposed amendment, it seems to mean that the mother's life only, as opposed to her death, shall have equal status with the life of the foetus; it does not mean her life of any particular standard of health or well-being. In other words, the risk to the mother — it seems from this amendment — would literally have to be death for her to have any possible constitutional right to interfere with the survival of the foetus.
As we know, conflicts of this kind, thankfully, are much rarer today than they were once but there are still today diseases affecting women which require forms of treatment in which such conflict could arise. The most important of these is cancer, frequently treated with radiation or other drugs designed to kill malignant cells. Obviously they may cause damage to other living cells, particularly those of the foetus. One of the major causes of cancer deaths among women is cancer of the uterus. In one out of four cases this cancer affects the body of the uterus. Hormone treatment of this type of cancer is usually followed by surgery. In this country now the surgical removal of the womb of a woman with cancer is tolerated even when the woman is pregnant on the grounds that the aim of the surgery is to remove the cancerous organ and not to terminate the pregnancy. This was stated specifically by Deputy O'Hanlon when he spoke on Second Stage at column 465, volume 340, of the Official Report, and I quote:
Medical ethics are based on the natural law with 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.
He said that about five times.
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.
Deputy O'Hanlon is there repeating a myth which has been propagated for months that termination of pregnancy in the case of cancer of the womb, or in the case of ectopic pregnancy, is not abortion, in other words that you can have termination of pregnancy which is not abortion. That is a nice type of concept to relieve the conscience. But when it comes down to legal practice as against medical practice, one is in an entirely different field. The point Deputy O'Hanlon is missing is that it is grand now, there is nothing in the Constitution, nothing in the law, to prevent us from having this ethical, medical practice. Therefore, we can save the life of the mother because we can say to ourselves that it is not really abortion. But if that is put into the Constitution, once it is put into the Constitution, it is taken out of the hands of the medical profession and placed in the hands of the legal profession.
It is going to be a lovely day for the legal profession when they get their hands on that. Will they decide on ethical practice, on moral values? Are they even going to make the decisions on the basis of justice? No, they are going to make their decisions on the basis of law. They will make their decisions on the basis of definition — abortion is abortion, termination of a pregnancy is abortion, regardless of the circumstances. Therefore, the law will decide what the medical profession may do and that is precisely what will be the difficulty facing Irish mothers and fathers if this amendment is passed.
Recent developments in the treatment of cancer aim to avoid surgery. Medical scientists believe that within a few years we may have a situation in which a woman could be treated effectively by way of drugs and radiation for cancer of the uterus and still retain her womb. In other words, she could have children afterwards. Obviously, if a woman is pregnant at the time the cancer is diagnosed, the problem presents itself: if the womb can be saved by drugs or radiation the decision is whether to abort the unborn and to give to the woman the opportunity of having children in the future. Would that also be a termination of pregnancy that would not be abortion or would it directly be abortion? I am merely mentioning these matters to draw attention to the issues that were not raised when this amendment was put forward glibly, when it was hoped to make abortion the issue and thereby avoid the issue of the economy. In order to avoid abortion being the issue in the November election, the only reason put forward by Fine Gael for the amendment was that they were walked into it. The question of the protection of mothers or of the protection of future children has not been considered. The situation facing Irish women and their doctors in the event of this amendment being passed may well be the old fashioned surgery that is acceptable, although it involves termination of pregnancy, but with the same risks to the mother and to the unborn.
Ectopic pregnancies now represent one in 150 of all pregnancies. Yesterday we were told in answer to a parliamentary question that in 1982 there were 500 ectopic pregnancies. There are complicated moral and legal questions to be asked. At present the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, that is pregnancies occurring within the fallopian tubes, in Irish hospitals is by way of surgical removal of the entire tube. Again, the operation is justified on the grounds that the intention is to provide medical treatment for the damaged organ of the woman with the termination of pregnancy being a secondary effect. Nevertheless it is termination of pregnancy. A new procedure under development would involve sucking out the misplaced embryo, leaving the fallopian tube intact and leaving the woman with the possibility of conceiving again. However, the interpretation of "unborn" as life existing from the moment of fertilisation might mean that Irish women would be denied the benefits of this improvement in medical science and would be denied the opportunity of ever again conceiving.
In terms of the rights of women it would appear that this amendment would mean that only in extreme and rare cases in which a woman's death was a certainty due to her pregnancy, could she present a case for having that pregnancy terminated, not in medicine but in law. Even in that rare instance her rights would be only equal with those of the unborn.
I should like to quote from a statement from Archbiship Ryan and which was circulated on Sunday last. The quotation from the publication, The Archbiship Speaks, is as follows:
In the context of the current debate in Ireland, yet another criticism has to be looked at. It is the suggestion that the Catholic Church is so concerned with the life of the unborn child that the life of the mother somehow becomes secondary.
This is a calumny, sometimes supported by medical testimony of very doubtful accuracy. It is the clear teaching of the Catholic Church that every human being, born or unborn, has exactly the same right to its God-given life. If a situation should arise which threatens the lives both of a mother and her unborn child, it is the obligation of the doctor and of everyone else involved to do everything which medical science makes possible to save both lives.
There can never be a question of "sacrificing" any one life for another.
Is that not an impossible situation for a doctor? This amendment puts the whole matter into the hands of lawyers. In all other cases in which the mother's quality of life or standard of health or risk to life are concerned, it may well be that the right to existence of the tiny embryo would be superior. Is this a just and right principle to enshrine in our Constitution now and for all time regardless of, and even heedless of, medical developments?
We have put down an amendment to substitute the words "subject to" rather than "equal to" in the Fianna Fáil amendment. This change would give added protection to mothers, a protection to which they are entitled. The rights of mothers have not been considered by the framers of this constitutional amendment. Little thought has been given to its effects, first, on the political life of the country, the divisiveness which it will create and, secondly, on medical practice if the amendment is passed. Let not Fianna Fáil be too smug about this because they might get some dirt on their faces. People are not such fools as to walk into this type of thing with their eyes shut and just blindly follow Charlie. They may get quite a suprise because people are gradually realising that this is not a vote on abortion and that this is a political issue which is being foisted on them. They are getting more and more confused and coming to the conclusion that it would be far better if this issue was never raised at all, far better for the unborn as well as for the born.
After the referendum there may be some surprises when the result is announced. If the referendum is passed the issue then moves into the social field and some of the difficulties in that field were raised by the Minister for Health. It is significant that the Minister for Health said on two or three occasions in the House — it certainly has never been denied — that all the officials in the Department of Health, from the top to the bottom, see the grave difficulties of the amendment and are totally opposed to the Fianna Fail wording because of the problems it will cause.