An Bille um an Dóú Leasú ar an mBunreacht, 1992: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).

Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara Uair."
Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Atógadh an díospóireacht ar leasú a 3:
Go scriosfar an focal "anois" agus go gcuirfear na focail seo a leanas i ndeireadh na tairisceana, eadhon "an 15 Eanáir, 1993, nó ar cibé dáta is luaithe ná sin a chinnfidh an Dáil, tar éis don Dáil i dtosach plé a dhéanamh, go dtí Céim an Choiste agus an Chéim sin san áireamh, ar reachtaíocht atá ceaptha chun léiriú breise a dhéanamh ar an gcaoi a gcuirfear forálacha an Bhille seo i ngníomh go praiticiúl".
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
To delete "now" and add at the end of the motion the words "on 15 January, 1993 or on such earlier date as may be determined by the Dáil, after the Dáil has first discussed, up to and including Committee Stage, legislation designed to elaborate on the practical implementation of the provisions of this Bill".
—Deputy Shatter.

I have nine minutes to contribute to three Bills. That is very restrictive but I will address the issues as best I can. Before the debate was adjourned the Leader of my party described the proposal enshrined in the legislation as a brutal divisive attack on the rights of women and on the idea of a republic. Those are strong words but they are merited in the face of the propositions that are being put before this House and guillotined through in this truncated debate.

There is a principle which has overwhelming support in this land, the principle of respect for life, indeed love of life. It defines in a real sense our national characteristic. It has many manifestations. It is manifest in our genuine welcoming of foreigners. Virtually all who come here comment on it. It is manifest in our ability to mix with people abroad. Those who watched television last week saw the Irish attendance at a football game in Denmark and the way in which Irish supporters are unique in mixing with, welcoming and embracing foreigners. It is manifest in our generosity in the face of tragedy, when we see the outpouring open generous hearts of the Irish people in the face of Somalia or Bosnia Hertzogovina or in other crises that affect this planet. Most especially it manifests itself in our sense of community and in our sense of caring.

That principle of love and respect for life has been distorted and perverted by some. It was exploited to railroad this nation in 1983 to insert into our Constitution, into the fundamental law of our land, a form of words which purported to mean, in the words of Deputy Flynn, now Minister for Justice as reported in the Dáil Official Report of 2 March 1983 at Column 1576:

that abortion could not be made legal either through legislation or by a judicial decision of the Supreme Court.

There was no threat of legalised abortion in Ireland at that time, but that was not good enough. It had to be copperfastening, and what a good job of copperfastening they did. One would expect some modicum of humility from those who got it so badly and awfully wrong in 1983, but not so. They have exonerated themselves from all blame for getting it absolutely and fundamentally wrong. Now it seems that it was the Supreme Court who were at fault. The Supreme Court misinterpreted the views of the Irish people as expressed in the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, or so their view of history goes. They are wrong. Subsequent to the X case, and all that flowed from it, it was clear that in an issue as complex, as difficult and as striven with complications as this, the Constitution is not the place to seek to enshrine such principles.

There is one other principle adhered to by the Irish people. They are compassionate. Subsequent to the judgment in the X case it was clear that the Irish people love and respect compassion, and that compassion engulfed the whole nation earlier this year when a child was impaled on a legal hook put there by well intentioned people who were fundamentally wrong in 1983. There was relief in the country when the Supreme Court judgment was announced and that child was free to act on the advice of her family and medical advisers in her own best interests. From that decision has flown consequences that have these Bills before us tonight. It was a judgment on a hard clear case that captured the imagination of the country.

The issues of travel and information are before us because we have to restate this basic freedom which the Eighth Amendment, as subsequently interpreted, removed from Irish women. More than one woman — and there is a Government Minister who is a woman present tonight — has expressed to me their personal outrage at the motion that the idea of free movement has to be put to a referedum of the people and that such a basic right should have to be restated, but that is what we have come to.

We have fundamental problems with the wording put forward by the Government on the substantive issue. The Government took six months for internal discussions, presumably with the full backing of the law officers of the land and the advice of the Attorney General's office and such medical advice as deemed appropriate from the Department of Health. Indeed the Minister for Health is a member of the sub-committee. At the end of six months they could not even agree among themselves, and the Progressive Democrats, it is now clear, could not agree with the form of words the sub-committee recommended to Government.

However, undaunted by their inability after six months to even build consensus within the Government they presented their set of words to the Opposition leaders and gave them 48 hours in which to make up their minds or come up with a better set of words as long as they meant the same thing. That, apparently, is the Government and the Fianna Fáil view of consensus. When the form of words was presented to the Opposition leaders with it came a memorandum that purported to be a memorandum of explanation. Within hours of that memorandum being handed over it was being contradicted by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on television programmes. Confusion was heaped upon confusion when clearly the Government did not know the import and meaning of the words or were unwilling to spell it out in clear detail.

The proposed wording makes a fundamental distinction between the health and the life of the woman. Medical opinion, as we have seen in the last week from the letters columns of newspapers and the calls that no doubt everyone of us have been receiving from concerned doctors, is that they do not want to be left as the arbiters of the distinction between a woman's health and life because if they make the wrong decisions they will find themselves before the courts. It is wrong to expect them to do this. The Government's answer to that is that they do not intend to legislate subsequent to the passing of these Bills, if they are passed.

A clause which causes concern to those concerned with the issue of women's health and rights is the distinction between mental and physical health. It is a throwback to 40 or 50 years ago that we feel there is no reality about mental health and that mental infirmity or the threat of suicide is some sort of con job that women will pull to get around the view that abortion should only be available when a woman's life is at risk.

I believe that the words put before this House are mortally dangerous to women and I appeal even yet, that in the hours of debate to come the compassionate Minister who is present in this House will use here influence with Government to ensure that the substantive issue so-called can be dealt with in a compassionate and generous way by legislating in this House.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The debate we are having today, which I hope will continue for a number of days and will not be guillotined by the Government as was proposed earlier today, is an important one for our Constitution. Almost ten years after the country had to endure one of the most divisive referendum campaigns ever seen in the history of this State, this Government, through a combination of political cowardice and electoral expediency, are risking a repeat of all the ugliness of 1983 by proposing another totally inappropriate constitutional amendment on abortion.

An analysis of the events since 1983 would surely lead any rational observer to conclude that the sectarian and divisive amendment, which was introduced in response to intensive lobbying by right wing fundamentalist groups, has been a disaster. The then Leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, Deputies Haughey and FitzGerald, who willingly caved in to the mullahs in Irish society in the hope of securing some electoral advantage, have a lot to answer for.

Many of the warnings that those of us who opposed that amendment gave at that time about its likely consequences have, all too tragically, been shown to be accurate. Since the amendment was inserted in our Constitution we have seen it used to secure the forced closure of pregnancy counselling clinics. This has not done anything to reduce the flow of Irish women travelling to Britain for abortions, but it is has meant that they are denied the skills of properly trained counsellors at what can often be a very difficult and traumatic time. We have seen a virtual legal witch hunt against students, and we have seen a range of respected medical publications, dealing with a wide range of health issues including abortion forced off our library shelves and copies of internationally renowned newspapers likeThe Guardian dumped into the shredder.

We also saw a young 14 year old rape victim subjected to further legal humiliation and degradation by being injuncted from leaving the country by the High Court at the request of the Attorney General.

Given these events the response of a Government with any shred of honesty or courage would surely have been to admit that the whole 1983 Amendment was a disaster and urge the people to repeal it in another referendum. Honesty and courage have never been the mark of Fianna Fáil Administrations, especially in regard to social affairs, and the Government of Deputy Reynolds is no exception.

While they are proposing constitutional amendments which will restore the right of Irishwomen to travel abroad for pregnancy terminations and ensure that they are in a position to get some information — how or how much we still do not know — the Government are going to compound the error of 1983 by proposing another amendment which will pose a further threat to the lives and health of Irish women, and which will cause major problems of interpretation for the medical profession.

This abortion amendment raises questions about the nature of the Republic we live in, the role of majorities and minorities and individual rights. The amendment suggests, first, that we are not a republic in the true sense in that the Constitution reflects the values of only one of the religions, albeit the majority one, practised in this State and ignores altogether those who profess no religion; second that the majority are entitled to impose their will on the minority — a "winner takes all" policy which diminishes democracy; and third, that in areas of sexual politics the individual has no democratic choice, or cannot be trusted to make the "correct" choice, which therefore has to be made for him or her.

The referendum is being presented as the democratic way to decide the issue. The flaws in this argument were exposed a long time ago in the statement by the Methodist Council on Social Welfare prior to the 1983 referendum:

It may seen undemocratic to oppose a referendum, but real democracy means an open, balanced society in which there is free play for opinion. Democracy is achieved slowly by a process of growing maturity and tolerance and trust. It can be destroyed at a stroke by a doctrinaire edict.

Real democracy may even be damaged by a popular referendum following an emotive ideological campaign, which may persuade people to vote in some degree for a closed society. It would be especially unfortunate when we seek a society of open understanding for all of Ireland, that one part of Ireland should be asked to define itself in this respect as a closed society on conservative Roman Catholic lines.

Democratic Left does not believe that it is possible or appropriate for a modern democratic state to attempt to deal with complex matters of personal morality such as abortion, in the Constitution. The 1983 Amendment which sought to impose the views of one section of Irish society, who oppose abortion in all circumstances, on those who take a different view was fundamentally antidemocratic and contrary to the principles of genuine republicanism.

Members of Fianna Fáil, including the Taoiseach, on Sunday last made their annual pilgrimage to the grave of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown. Do they ever pause to consider what Wolfe Tone stood for? Do they ever give any thought to the political philosophy espoused by Wolfe Tone? Have they forgotten, or did they ever know, that Tone stood for a lot more than simply breaking the connection with England? Do they not realise that the 1983 Amendment and their latest proposal for the abortion issue are totally in conflict with the sort of democratic pluralism which Tone advocated?

Despite what Fianna Fáil and other right wing groups claim about the Irish people being implacably opposed to abortion, there is no unanimity in Irish society on abortion, there is no national consensus. While many remain fundamentally opposed to abortion under any circumstances — and their personal views must be respected — all the opinion polls taken since the "X" case, show that the public now acknowledge that the issue is a lot more complex than they were led to believe in 1983. In addition, the fact that some 5,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year for terminations, suggests that there are a substantial number of Irish people who believe that abortion is a legitimate response when faced with a crisis pregnancy. This is the equivalent of almost 10 per cent of the birth rate and is a higher rate of abortion than among Dutch women, where terminations are relatively freely available.

We have a serious abortion problem in Ireland. The Government may seek to close their eyes to this and to create conditions where that problem can continue to be exported to Great Britain, but that does not deny the fact that the problem is already there. The interests of democracy can never be served by one group using the Constitution to force its views of a complex matter of personal morality on others who take a different view. It should not be the role of the Constitution or our laws to impose majority — or minority — ethics on everyone.

A US President, William Taft, said almost 80 years ago.

Constitutions are checks upon the hasty actions of the majority. They are the self-imposed restraints of a whole people upon a majority of them to secure sober action and a respect for the rights of the minority.

He was speaking of the US Constitution but the philosophy behind his comments is universal and is as valid today here in Ireland as it was all those years ago.

This debate is first and foremost about women's lives and women's health. One might be forgiven for thinking otherwise over the last few weeks as legal, medical and theological minutiae have bombarded the country. People keep talking about the "experts", but the one person who really is an expert on her own life and health — the woman — is being treated with contempt. The very wording of the amendment on abortion tells us to dismiss her views even if she is suicidal. "Go on, kill yourself. See if we care" seems to be the message from the Government in this proposed referendum.

Why is there such enormous fear of allowing women some moral autonomy? Do we here in the Dáil — predominantly men — mistrust them so much? We all know that it is still primarily women who bring up children in our society, who care for them, make enormous sacrifices for them and carry the heaviest burden of family welfare in tough times. Who are we to say that they are not fit to make decision about a life or health-threatening pregnancy?

The sexual and reproductive functions of women have of course been the subject of taboo, mystery and male control, since the beginning of time. The direct insight of women into the unique and intimate relationship they have with their own fertility is totally absent from the theology, mores and laws which govern this society, and it is men primarily who for the next few days in this House will interpret what ordered and civilised society must mean in Ireland for Irish women. The least we should do is acknowledge our inadequacy in this area and acknowledge it with some humility.

The sexual conservatism of post-independence Ireland is the result of centuries of male perceptions dictating law in this land. Many aspects of Irish law and the Irish Constitution oppress the civil liberties of women as individual citizens and reflect ancient, sometimes biblical, taboos. Ironically the very symbol of our nation is one linked to fertility, "Mother Ireland" in her suffering, a recurrent symbol in the folklore of independence and nationalism.

The function of maternity is so venerated that it is identified in our Constitution as the focal point of the family, and therefore Irish society. Yet, our Constitution, along with the theological ethos which still dominates many areas of public policy hardly reflects the social upheavals which have led to women becoming citizens in their own right.

The roles, participation and input of men and women in society have up until very recently followed strict lines of financial and social dependence for the woman, due to her role as mother and the needs surrounding it, security, freedom from want etc, in order to nurture her children.

The increased participation of women in the workplace, and more importantly, the generalisation of safe contraception have totally disrupted the codes which have dictated the respective role of women and men in society. As women can now postpone, often indefinitely put off, the function of procreation within a relationship, the role of male "provider" has become less vital in the relations between the sexes.

Indeed, how many young couples in this country, with one of the highest rates of home ownership in Europe, would not be capable of taking out a mortgage were it not for the financial contribution of the woman who, in order to keep her job, will plan her child bearing? No one can deny that relations between the sexes and their common role within society have changed fundamentally and perhaps nowhere more than in the area of decision making with regard to fertility. It is time that our Constitution, the laws of our State and this House reflected that reality.

This amendment is anti-life and antiwoman. The 1983 amendment, which was the basis for the Supreme Court judgment in the X case, specified the equal right to life of the woman. In rolling back the Supreme Court judgment, this proposed wording gives women an unequal—and lesser—right to life than a foetus. It places major qualifications on her right to life — qualifications not placed on any other category of person in the Constitution. It is claimed that this referendum emphasises respect for life, but it actually undermines a woman's right to life. In this it is profoundly misogynistic and, in my view, immoral.

The anti-abortion groups like to give the impression that they have a monopoly on morality. They do not. To reduce complex moral and ethical questions to simplicities and certainties may be comforting for them, but for most of us, things are not so clear-cut. Legislators charged with making laws for all citizens, must wrestle with the complexities of issues and make the best decision we can in the particular circumstances. We cannot evade our responsibilities by allowing one particular denomination to define morality for the whole of society. Nor can we evade them simply by declaring women free to travel to another jurisdiction for abortions while refusing to legislate for the necessary medical provision at home. Morality, responsibility, respect for life all dictate that we should face up to this very real and very painful dilemma. It is no longer acceptable to sub-contract our social problems and moral dilemmas to Europe or elsewhere. It is time, as I said last week, that we stopped asking British doctors to do our "sinning" for us.

Democratic Left have said all along that the correct response to the judgment of the Supreme Court in the "X" case was legislative action by the Dáil, and everything that has happened since the Government published their wording has demonstrated the folly of attempting to deal with a complex medical and social issue like abortion through a brief constitutional amendment. There is still utter confusion in Government circles as to what the wording means, with both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on the record contradicting key passages of the briefing document prepared, we must assume, by the Attorney General. If there is such confusion among Government Ministers — and we know that the Government themselves are divided on the issue — as to what the amendment means, what prospect is there of the ordinary voter being in a position to make an informed judgment on the matter if it is put before the people in a referendum?

The Taoiseach, at last week's meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, apparently produced a list of doctors who he said had indicated that they had no problems with the meaning of the wording of the proposed amendment. It would be quite easy to produce another list of doctors who have indicated that they will have very great problems in interpreting the words. I have received a letter signed by nine obstetricians who express grave concern about the possible implications of the wording. I am sure all the Deputies in the House have received the same letter. The medical profession is just as deeply divided on this issue as any other section of Irish society. Despite what the Taoiseach has implied on a number of occasions, the Irish Medical Organisation has no specific policy on this matter. The real danger is that, if it is passed in its present form, doctors will differ and women may die as a result.

The decision of Fianna Fáil to go for a constitutional amendment rather than legislation was dictated by political cowardice and electoral opportunism. They wanted to be seen to be doing something so as to appease the ultra right-wing groups who demanded the 1983 amendment, insisted on that wording, and then reacted with indignation when the Supreme Court decided that it allowed for abortion in certain very limited circumstances. With a constitutional amendment the Government knew that they would get away with a fudge, that they could come up with a brief and vague wording which, in the end, would have to be interpreted by the Supreme Court in any event. They did not have the courage to produce legislation where they would have to spell out in detail what they stood for and what they were proposing. With legislation, for instance, the first thing they would have had to do was define the terms they mean. Every Bill has to have definitions of the terms it uses. Even everyday terms have to be defined. The recent Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill had to contain a definition of a contraceptive. The Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill contained a definition of a spouse.

I want to challenge the Minister, in his response to this debate, to provide an acceptable definition of the noun "unborn" used in the proposed amendment. He will not be able to do it, because this is a very difficult question and there is no unanimity among the medical profession as to when life "begins". While the Minister is at it, perhaps he could also come up with acceptable definitions for the words "termination", "disorder" and "substantial". He is dodging providing definitions of these terms by bringing forward referenda Bills.

Abortion is one of the most complex social and medical issues facing modern society. It is ludicrous to try to deal with it in an amendment of 56 words when a relatively non-controversial area like entitlement to holidays requires legislation of more than 6,000 words. The Government's insistence on proceeding with this amendment is likely to lead to another legal and constitutional quagmire. In the end it will not matter what the Taoiseach or Minister say it means or what they believe it means. If it is inserted in the Constitution, as was the case of the 1983 Amendment, it will in all probability be up to the Supreme Court to decide what the wording means.

In 1983 the promoters of the amendment, inside and outside this House, insisted that the amendment would change nothing, that its only purpose was to prevent the Dáil from legislating at some time in the future to legalise abortion. In fact, it changed a lot and, as I said earlier, led to the closure of pregnancy counselling services, the banning of books and magazines and the horror of a young child being dragged before the court. Nobody can say for definite at this stage what this amendment will result in if it is passed.

However, what is most incomprehensible to women is the Government's refusal to allow for termination of pregnancy that arises from rape or incest. The myths and stereotypes surrounding violence against women, such as, "she must enjoy it or she would leave"; "she must ask for it"; "she deserves it", lay the blame on women. It is a failure of our society that we have not debunked these myths. Victims of physical and sexual violence of both sexes are traumatised by their experience, but in the majority of cases the victims are women, and it is only the female victime who must bear the extra psychological trauma of unwanted pregnancy.

How cruel a society we are that having failed to address the widespread problem of violence against women we then impose a second form of guilt by justifying enforced pregnancy on the woman. What some have argued is an additional form of guilt, the decision to terminate a pregnancy which is the result of violence, is invented by theocratic beliefs and the taboos they perpetuate surrounding sexuality. Nowhere is this hypocrisy of society more apparent than in this area. We deny that our teenagers have a sexual life; we deny them the possibility of responsible behaviour within sexual relationships by denying them knowledge; indeed, we deny that they are sexually active at all. For instance, we refuse to provide for the sale of condoms through vending machines in public houses and elsewhere.

Most modern affluent societies postpone the time at which a young woman procreates. We prolong childhood into adolescence, preferring to educate our young women and encourage them to marry only some years after their bodies have biologically become capable of reproduction. Indeed, their function as citizens does not become official until the age of 18; yet we are subjected to the heinous argument of some who, as during the `X' case, would impose motherhood on girls of 14 or 15 who have been raped. It is a repulsive argument which demeans us all. During the drama of the `X' case I got many letters urging compassion for that young girl, and one such letter stuck in my mind. It was from a young woman who felt that a quotation from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was appropriate in the circumstances, when Juliet's father said: "my child is yet a stranger in the world; she hath not seen the change of 14 years; let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride". That was written hundreds of years ago, yet today we insist on forcing young girls to carry the full term pregnancy arising from rape or incest. Have we forgotten so quickly the sympathy and concern for the young rape victim whose case precipitated this governmental response? Our concern then was, and our concern now should be, that no girl or woman in that position should be forced by our laws to carry through with such a pregnancy.

The decision to ignore the particular trauma of rape or incest victims who may become pregnant is particularly inexplicable. Many people, who would oppose abortion in other circumstances, would concede that those who have been the victims of rape or incest should not be compelled to carry to full term such a pregnancy. The Government apparently want to draw a discreet constitutional veil over the whole problem of pregnancy following rape and incest.

While there are clearly deep differences of opinion in Ireland and in other countries regarding women's freedom to choose to have an abortion, there is surely no civilised person, man or woman, who would question the right of a woman to exercise freedom of choice in regard to with whom she will have the most intimate of relations. In acts of rape or incest, women are denied choice. This House will be compounding the original offence if we approve of a wording which seeks to deny women any prospect of terminating a pregnancy resulting from such a crime. Society agrees that rape and incest are heinous crimes, but the Government are saying in this amendment that where the victim becomes pregnant, the pregnancy supersedes the crime. This thinking can only be described as the dark side of civilisation.

If the three amendments are passed in their present form, the ability of a woman or girl to secure a termination of a pregnancy arising from rape or incest will be determined by the level of her income or that of her family. If her family has the money to pay the considerable cost of travel to Britain for an abortion, then she will be able to get one. If her family is poor then what the Government are saying in these amendments is tough luck: we will force you to endure this pregnancy and all the trauma and distress that goes with it; we will force you to carry this foetus for nine months even if every day it brings back haunting memories of the assault on you. We do not care what damage it causes to your physcal or mental health, we will do this rather than sully our "holy little island".

The use of the words "...a real and substantial risk to her life, not being a risk of self-destruction" arrogantly implies that a woman's own feeling and mental condition, even if severe enough to constitute a real risk of suicide are not to be classed as "real and substantial", that however serious a woman's mental condition may be, this in some way is "not real". This has echoes of pre-20th century attitudes to mental illness and is completely inappropriate for a Constitution that will, presumably, be a basis for Irish law well into the 21st century.

We have heard sweeping statements from promoters of this amendment that "pregnant women never commit suicide", but the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Anthony Clare, together with his colleague Dr. Tyrell, have produced evidence showing that the threat is far from imaginary. It is true that the rate of suicide among pregnant women is lower than that for the population as a whole, and that is because for the majority of women a planned and safe pregnancy is a joyous event.

Drs. Clare and Tyrell point to statistics in Britain which show that the suicide risk in pregnancy has been falling steadily. Dr. Clare quotes what he describes as a "highly respected and cautious social psychiatrist", now Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Robert Kendall, suggesting that the decline was due to a number of social changes, including the provision of legal abortion and the increasing availability of contraception. Dr. Clare quotes a Hungarian study involving over 200 women who had attempted suicide while pregnant and found the reasons for the attempt included unwanted pregnancy and the desire for an abortion. In another American study quoted by Dr. Clare, Dr. Gabrielson and his colleagues reported on 105 pregnant teenagers, 14 of whom had attempted to kill themselves. They claimed that women who were single, Catholic and not living at poverty level were more likely to attempt or threaten suicide than other women who had borne children in their teens.

This research shows that we simply cannot afford to take a risk and totally ignore the reality that an unwanted pregnancy, especially one conceived as a result of rape or incest, can drive a woman — particularly a young girl — to suicide. Last February and March the Members of this House seemed to have been as anguished as the rest of the population about the awful plight of the young girl at the centre of the X case. However, that now seems to have evaporated as far as the Government are concerned. In his speech today the Minister drew on medical experts to show that it was necessary to provide abortion, which was not indirect abortion, on the basis that there was a rare risk that, as a result of a heart condition, an ectopic pregnancy or some other condition, a termination might be necessary. There is also medical evidence that there is a risk — which may be a rare risk — that some woman may kill herself as a result of a pregnancy, yet this is being deliberately excluded.

I accept the Minister's argument in relation to the necessity for direct termination in certain medical circumstances. However, you cannot then on the other hand rule out other medical circumstances simply because, as the Minister argues, this may provide or may have been used as the basis for widespread abortion in other countries. Whether that happens in Ireland is a matter for this House to decide. To ensure that no such risks are taken Democratic Left will be proposing on Committee Stage that the Government's amendment should be redrafted along the following lines:

Subsection (3) of this section shall not limit freedom to provide or obtain, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, termination of a pregnancy in order to protect against a real and substantial risk to the life or health of a pregnant woman.

If such an amendment were passed and incorporated in our Constitution the Dáil would then be free to legislate for the circumstances where an abortion is necessary.

Last week Democratic Left produced a detailed policy document entitledWomen's Life, Health and Welfare, which sets out our policy positions on a number of matters relating to sexuality, reproduction and health. Among other subjects it covered education for sexuality, family planning, women's gynaecological health, AIDS-HIV, counselling services, genetic counselling services for the infertile and termination of pregnancies. In publishing this policy document we were the first party in the Dáil to clearly and unambiguously set out the circumstances in which abortion should be permitted in this jurisdiction.

Democratic Left believe that termination of pregnancy should be made available in the context of the information programmes and services we also call for in our document, where a registered medical practitioner has certified that certain conditions apply and where the woman has been counselled and all options have been fully explained to her. The conditions which would warrant a termination would be any one or more of the following: where it is certain that the foetus cannot survive the pregnancy; where the life of the woman is seriously at risk; where the health — physical, psychological and emotional — of the women is seriously at risk and the pregnancy has not advanced more than 16 weeks; where the woman has become pregnant as a result of rape or incest and the pregnancy has not advanced more than 16 weeks.

We believe that information is the key which enables people to exercise their sexuality with confidence and responsibility. It should be made available through a lifeskills education programme in schools, advice about the full range of contraceptive methods from GPs, family planning centres, etc., counselling services, including genetic counselling for people with particular difficulties and information programmes aimed at particular target groups such as those at risk in relation to AIDS-HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and women who should be screened for breast or cervical cancer, etc.

Along with information, services must also be provided in this country to allow people to make informed and responsible choices. Thus, a comprehensive counselling service including amniocentesis testing in early pregnancy should be available locally to everyone who needs it, including medical card holders. Abortion is not and must never be allowed to become a trivial matter. Abortion should not be used as a method of contraception. But crisis pregnancies are a fact of modern life and totally outlawing abortion is simply to add to the trauma and distress of many women.

There must be greatly improved support for those women who will decide to go ahead with a crisis pregnancy. There must be improvements in maternity services; there must be a radical development in the level of child care services; and serious steps must be taken to ensure that all parents are provided with an adequate income and support services. Most of all, if we are serious about reducing unwanted pregnancies, we must have a comprehensive family planning service and education on sexuality in their schools. One of the reasons there is a relatively low abortion rate among Dutch women is that they have access to a first-class family planning service. I would be more impressed with those who rail against abortion, if they were prepared to promote comprehensive family planning. But those who are most opposed to abortion are generally those who are also most vociferous in their opposition to any reform of our family planning laws.

Democratic Left have put their cards on the table in regard to abortion, and I think it is time that all other parties did likewise. It is clear that Fianna Fáil, as a party, are opposed to abortion in all circumstances, even where the life or health of a mother is threatened, although individual members of the party like the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, and Deputy McDaid have had the courage to express different personal views. But what of Fine Gael, Labour and the Progessive Democrats? It is time that all parties stopped sheltering behind constitutional generalities and came out and told the electorate exactly where they stand on what is one of the biggest social issues facing modern Ireland. Do you oppose abortion in all circumstances? If not, what are the circumstances in which they believe it should be allowed? That debate is necessary and it should take place in this House.

This whole exercise reeks of hypocrisy. The Government have opposed a unilateral deadline to have the referendum on 3 December, which means that the time the Dáil will have to debate it is derisory. It has not been explained why the referendum cannot be on 3 January, 3 February or even 3 March. There is a great contrast between the response of the Taoiseach to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case and the judgment on Cabinet confidentiality; for instance in relation to Cabinet confidentiality the Taoiseach said that the Supreme Court had spoken and everyone must accept their judgment but in relation to the X case he said that the Supreme Court had spoken and everybody must reject their judgment. It is not hard to find the reason for the different approach: Cabinet confidentiality protects Fianna Fáil, abortion threatens them. They cannot even bring themselves to use the word "abortion", they prefer to hide behind a meaningless euphemism like the "substantive issue". "Abortion" is used only as a term of abuse and anyone who opposes a blanket ban is accused of advocating abortion on demand. This is a cynical exercise by a politically bankrupt Government which will choose to dance with the angles on the heads of women rather than face the reality of the problems which women face.

The Government will now facilitate the traffic of Irish women to Britain for abortion because they know that, without the safety valve of the British health system. the demand for the introduction of abortion here would be immense. What of the Progressive Democrats? Not for the first time, the fate of a measure before this Dáil will be decided by the attitude of the Progressive Democrats. People like the Minister, Deputy Harney and Mr. McDowell have been vocal in their criticisms of the Government's decision to have a referendum and particularly of the wording in the Twelfth Amendment. They have pointed to the potential dangers for women if this wording is passed. Apparently the six Progressive Democrat Deputies will vote for the Bill but will not campaign for it and may urge the public to vote "no" in the referendum. How can they credibly urge people to vote against a measure they will have voted for in the Dáil?

On a number of occasions the Progressive Democrats have brought the Dáil to the edge of dissolution and the country to the verge of a general election, most notably in 1990, when the matter at issue was the truthfulness of a member of the Government. The only conclusion that can now be drawn is that the Progressive Democrats consider the admitted threat to the lives and health of Irish women to be less important than whether Deputy Lenihan told the truth about events which had taken place some eight years previously. If Government Members go through with this hypocritical charade of voting for something in which they believe it will be the final nail in their political coffins.

In conclusion, I suggest that the Dáil must now do its duty and bring this cynical charade to a halt. It must protect the lives and health of women and defend democratic principles by rejecting the Government's wording for the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution. The Democratic Left Party's amendment proposes that the House decline to give a second reading to the Bill.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Durkan if that is agreeable to the House.

Is that proposal satisfactory? Agreed.

In his speech opening the debate the Minister for Justice stressed the duty of the Dáil "to ensure that nothing is put into the Constitution which might, even in the remotest possible case, mean that action that was necessary to save a woman's life would not be taken". The Minister added, "we are not prepared to take any chances where the life of the mother is at stake" However, the reason that in the House we are discussing three further amendments to our Constitution is that in 1983, for opportunist reasons of short term political advantage, the Fianna Fáil Party and the Minister for Justice in particular as an Opposition front bench Deputy at the time, insisted on the introduction into the Constitution of Article 40.3.3º, despite the clear warning of the Attorney General of the day that that wording was open to several unintended interpretations. The Attorney General of the time said that one of those interpretations might open the way to the legalisation of the termination of pregnancies incases where such termination had not hitherto been lawful and that another interpretation could prevent the life of the mother being saved in certain instances when under previous law it was protected.

In the X case both of those fears were seen to have been realised. On the one hand, a Fianna Fáil Attorney General felt constrained by the Fianna Fáil 1983 wording to seek an injunction to prevent the termination of a pregnancy in the case of a rape victim, in respect of whom the Supreme Court subsequently decided that there was a real and substantial risk to her life as distinct from her health. Here we had a Fianna Fáil amendment pushed through regardless of the warnings as to what it would mean and a Fianna Fáil Attorney General going to the courts to insist that that was what it meant and that the right to life of a woman should not in that case be vindicated. He was turned down by the Supreme Court on that issue, although his right to seek an injunction was accepted. So much for the concern of the Fianna Fáil Party, and the Minister for Justice, to ensure that there would not be the remotest chance of bringing any provision that would put at risk a woman's life.

The warning was there from the Attorney General of the day in the clearest possible terms, reiterated by me as Head of the Government, with the support of all members of the Government, yet the Fianna Fáil Party decided to ignore that and it was their Attorney General who subsequently proved how wrong they were. The Supreme Court decided that a termination of pregnancy was permissible on grounds of a threat of suicide — a decision which the Government are now seeking to reverse, a decision not contemplated by Fianna Fáil at the time of the 1983 Amendment. At the time, Fianna Fáil told us that that could not possibly happen, that there was no possibility of that Amendment facilitating abortion. Both fears put forward by the Attorney General of the day were vindicated in terms of what the Fianna Fáil Attorney General sought to do and in terms of what the Supreme Court decided.

Against that background, the Minister comes to the House to tell us of his concern to ensure that nothing is put into the Constitution which might, even in the remotest possible case, mean that action that was necessary to save a woman's life would not be taken. Nine years ago that was not his concern not was it the concern of his party. Then they were quite unconcerned about the risk to a woman's life that might be involved as put to them by the Attorney General of the day. That legislation was pushed forward, with the consequences we now witness. The party and the Minister who refused to listen to the views of the Attorney General in 1983 and who insisted on forcing through that dangerously ambiguous amendment that the Minister now seeks to put right tell us today that we must take no risks with the life of the mother and that we have a duty to ensure that nothing is put into the Constitution which might, even in the remotest possible case, put a woman's life at risk. The hypocrisy of those two irreconcilable stances is stunning.

But there is worse to come, for the amendment now proposed by the Minister is patently ambiguous — as I shall demonstrate — and creates fresh doubts in an area in which the Supreme Court had at last, at least and belatedly introduced certainty. The Government propose to introduce ambiguity where the dangerous ambiguity of the 1983 Amendment had been resolved by the Supreme Court. The excuse for the ambiguous words that it is now proposed to introduce is that it is necessary to negative the Supreme Court decision in respect of suicide. This, indeed, was stated by the Minister in his speech to be the only modification of the court's decision that is to be affected. He said: that the amendment negatives the decision in respect of suicide but in no other respect.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the suicide case should be excluded and granting for the sake of the argument the legitimacy of this intention—it is a difficult issue which I shall come back to if I have time — the Minister has completely failed to explain why, if this is the sole intention in respect of the substantive amendment, the wording of the amendment, is not confined to this issue, which is in fact addressed only in the final six words. Given that the existing wording of Article 40.3.3º is to be retained, why has it not simply been qualified by those six words, with whatever linking phraseology may be grammatically required? The addition of four lines of text unrelated to suicide simply has the effect of reintroducing ambiguity into the interpretation of Article 40.3.3º where that ambiguity has happily been eliminated by virtue of the Supreme Court decision. One can argue as to whether or not the suicide option should be retained — that is a legitimate point of disagreement and people from both sides of the House may disagree within their own parties on that issue — but if that is the only purpose, as the Minister has stated, why do we have four lines of verbiage reintroducing ambiguity where it had been removed by Supreme Court decision?

I recognise at least three fresh ambiguities unnecessarily introduced by the unhappily worded initial four lines of the amendment. Given my experience in 1981 and 1982, when I accepted without legal advice the wording put to me, because, as a non-practising lawyer of now 45 years' standing, I did not recognise any ambiguity in it, and that I subsequently discovered how wrong I was and that the wording that had seemed to me to be innocent and harmless had these dangers, I would have to say, that if I can find only three ambiguities in the proposed wording of this amendment the lawyers and the Supreme Court will undoubtedly find more when they set their minds to it if put to that task by some future challenge, and I have no doubt that they will be. The Minister has referred to two of those ambiguities; the word "necessary" to save life and the phrase "as distinct from the life of the mother". I must add a third ambiguity, the word "save" life.

In his speech the Minister endeavoured to allay fears that the amendment "does not provide adequate protection for women in a situation where there would be a risk of the life of the mother being shortened rather than of her immediate death". I have several comments to make in this regard. The Minister relates that fear to the use of the word "necessary" to save life but he does not address the effect of using the word "save" life rather than "protect" life, yet, very interestingly, the Minister chooses to use the word "protect" rather than the word "save" when he refers to the death of the foetus "in the course of a medical intervention to protect the mother's life or her health". That is the word the Minister naturally uses, because in his ordinary language he is concerned with the concept of protecting the life or health of the mother. However, the word used in the text of the amendment is "save", not "protect". Clearly, the word "save" implies a very direct threat while "protect" has a much more long term significance. I trust that in due course the Minister will accept an amendment to substitute his own preferred choice of the word "protect", as evidenced in his speech, for the word "save" in the Amendment.

The terms in which the Minister addresses the issue of whether the amendment will deal with the danger of the mother's life being shortened are in any event, unsatisfactory. The Minister denies that the threat to life must be immediate for the provision to come into effect and asserts that the amendment will permit a termination where a medical condition would result in an "early" death. But shortening a woman's life, while not threatening an early death, could cut years off her life. The Minister is careful to avoid that issue. A woman faced with such an alternative cannot avoid it, nor can the doctors who have to decide whether to act and who are left, because of this wording, in a state of doubt and uncertainty as to where their rights and their duties lie. The Minister's wording and his speech leave a woman, and her doctor, in that serious difficulty. It is simply not tolerable that we in this House should enact something with that effect.

I stress once again that this and the other ambiguities arising from the word "necessary" and from the phrase "as distinct from the health, of the mother" are there because, despite the stated objective being to eliminate the suicide case, the amendment, as drafted, contains four additional lines unrelated to suicide which have the effect of undoing the certainty introduced by the Supreme Court in respect of the rest of the originally ambiguous wording of Article 40.3.3. Yet, the Minister has not offered any apparent explanation, let alone justification, for this additional ambiguous verbiage. What is it doing there? Why is it there? If suicide is the only concern why put in four lines? If they were in substitution for the original amendment. I could see the sense of it, although I might not agree with it, but adding them to introduce ambiguity when the original amendment is there and the only issue in the original amendment that was found to be unsatisfactory in the clarification by the Supreme Court was the suicide issue. Why then put in four lines of ambiguous matter and offer this House no explanation why it is being done?

The Minister's and Government's approach to an issue which has been in the past so disastrously confused by ambiguities because of their insistence on the original amendment — to which this amendment proposes to add a further rash of ambiguities — is intolerably slapdash. Clearly he and his party have learned nothing from the hash they made of this issue in 1983 in an attempt to pin on this party a label of being proabortion.

Despite the evidence of the "X" case, as to the impossibility of prejudging how the Supreme Court will interpret the constitutional provisions, he has peppered his speech with personal assurances as to what the amendment really means. In the text distributed it is stated:

I think I can provide reassurance on this point... It is not the intention of the amendment to affect in any way the degree of probability of risk to life that is necessary to warrant treatment. ... There is nothing in the proposed wording which would change that... There is no basis for such fears.

Who does he think he is? What have his intentions or his Government's intentions or his reassurances got to do with the way the Supreme Court interprets legislation? He is not a naive men; indeed, he is thought by many to be subtle, though there is a shorter four letter word "cute" which is used about him from time to time.

He is like a Messiah at times.

He is not naive; no one has ever accused the Minister of being naive. He has been accused of many things — some of them complimentary, some less so — but never of being naive. He knows as well as anybody in this House, and better than most as Minister for Justice, that the intentions and reassurances of legislators are totally irrelevant so far as the interpretation of legislation by our courts is concerned. He is fooling nobody with the rubbish he produced here today on that subject.

Once again, as in 1983, he is storing up future problems and creating fresh uncertainties about the mother's right to life by putting forward a wording which is unnecessary to his stated intention of ruling out the suicide option and which is riddled with ambiguities which no amount of assurances as to the Government's intentions can resolve.

I want now to deal with other specific points. The words "as distinct from the health of the mother" have been described as offensive to women. I do not think any man in this House is so lacking in imagination as to be incapable of imagining what he would feel if, as Deputy Shatter said, such a phrase were used about his health; but when it is women's health it is different. I find it hard to understand that the women on the other benches can accept this. The party whip is a powerful weapon—all of us are subjected to it. All of us have gone along with it, with a lack of enthusiasm at times, on matters we were not happy with but they were not vital. I find it surprising that women on the other side can go along with this particular insult and seek to enact it in constitutional legislation.

His answer, his reassurances and his intentions on the use of these words are in the text. I would like to read three successive sentences because I have been trying to understand their logic. He states:

There is no basis for such fears. Under the amendment women will continue to receive all necessary medical treatment to protect their health.

That is one of the reassurances he gives without the slightest idea whether the wording he produces will have that effect.

Current medical practice in this regard will not be affected.

I do not know whether that is right, nor does he.

Under current medical practice the question of termination of pregnancy only arises where there is a threat to the mother's life.

How does he start this synergism with a proposition that under the amendment they continue to receive all necessary medical treatment to protect their health and when he comes to the third proposition of the synergism he can only have termination to protect her life. I would ask Deputies to read those three sentences one after the other. Try changing the order, put the third first and the first last and see what you get. It is rubbish, it is absolute nonsense. It is a contradiction in terms. He does not know what he is talking about. I do not know who wrote the speech but he does not seem to have read it before he came into this House. As I say, he is a subtle man, he is not naive. Had he read it carefully, or even semi-carefully, he would have, I think, reworded that in the interest of his own reputation.

He goes on to say that dropping the words "as distinct from the health", would mean termination when there is no risk to life. Let us try dropping the words and see what we get and see how he reached this conclusion. If you omit the words you say "It shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn unless such termination is necessary to save the life of the mother..." How does he reach the conclusion to drop the words that have the opposite meaning to those which even the Supreme Court will find they have? I do not think the Supreme Court would find those words to mean anything but what they do. The word "save" or "protect" is a problem but in terms of the issue being life, leaving out health, how does dropping the reference to health reintroduce health as an issue? How do the words "save the life" or "protect the life"— whichever word is better, and it is essential that one of those words be used —"unless such termination is necessary to save the life of the mother" introduce the possibility of a termination involving health? Any Minister who puts propositions so directly contrary to their plain meaning to this House and expects in a constitutional amendment the House to accept it, is not naive but is trying to be too clever by half, which I am afraid is a particular disability this Minister has been known to suffer from since he came into politics.

I am glad this is entertaining Deputies on both sides of the House.

We know from the advice we have had — we sought it from the relevant people in medicine and law—and from what has been stated publicly by representatives of the medical profession that if those words are left in, doctors will be faced with the dilemma as to whether in a given case at the margin of life or health, they will find it more difficult to reach a clear decision. In those circumstances, some, undoubtedly, will feel they must play safe by the Constitution and the law given that the alternative is to commit an offence. If it is unlawful it is not covered by the 1861 Act and the doctor goes to jail. If these words are taken out doctors will be put in a position — and they have told us unambiguously — where they will find it more difficult to take decisions and some at least will feel an obligation in law not to take action in certain cases where the issue is marginal. Surely that is not what this House wants. It is not what the women in this House want. It is not what the men on this side of the House want. Do the people on the other side really want that? Can they have so little conscience, so little regard for the issue of the life of women as to go ahead with this in the face of what the medical profession have said? I do not understand it.

I know that in politics we all have to compromise. I have compromised since I entered politics, that is something we all have to do. You get overruled and outvoted and very often in Government —I must not say this because it is against the Constitution—I was outvoted, but I will not say on what. I accepted that and went along with things. There are some issues which go beyond that; there are some issues of conscience.

I wish to recall for the House what happened when this matter arose. As a result of the mistake I made in accepting the wording without adequate advice, I found myself at the end of January 1983 being advised by the then Attorney General that if we proceeded with the wording the lives of some women would be put at risk and there was also a possibility of abortion being introduced. I faced my colleagues with this. The Labour Party Ministers had formed a conscientious view on this issue——

From the beginning.

Yes. That says they were wiser than we were. I admit that freely, and have always done so. I called all the Fine Gael Ministers together to discuss the issue. I can tell this House that, faced with the issue of conscience —that by proceeding with the wording, some woman's life might at some time be put at risk — every Fine Gael Minister agreed within 20 minutes that we must change the wording. We knew we would probably be defeated, that the party would be split and that we would be humiliated and damaged politically, but given that some woman's life could be affected we felt we had no choice.

That is what happens ultimately when you are faced with a genuine moral issue in politics. This is a genuine moral issue. Is there no one on the benches opposite who has the kind of concern which led us to take that action then regardless of the consequences? Are the party opposite without anyone of conscience, anyone concerned about the issues I am raising, who would walk through the lobbies in defence of them? What kind of a party are they? At times in the past that party served the country well. I have frequently made that case within my party and elsewhere. I find it hard to believe that it has got to the point where no one on the benches opposite is concerned about the issues of life and death with which we are dealing here, that the words do not matter and that ambiguity is unimportant. It seems to have got to the stage where all that matters to them is that they should try to split the Progressive Democrats or Fine Gael so that they will fail, and that they should buy off the pro-life people. Regardless of the cost, they want to avoid creating any problems for themselves such as disagreeing about the wording by bringing in legislation. The important thing seems to be that they keep the party together. Nothing else seems to matter; women's lives do not seem to matter. I find this intolerable. I do not like living in a country where even a party I am not a member of behave like that. I find this intolerable.

I do not want to dwell further on that issue. I feel strongly about it and I do not want to pursue it further. Perhaps somebody opposite will have listened to what I have said.

I wish to refer to other issues. None of us is without fault in this matter. We are legislating here to export our problems. We are saying we will look after cases where the life of the mother is clearly and unambiguously at stake — as I said, we are trying to do this but not very effectively — but that if it is a question of a threat of suicide, rape or incest we will export those cases. As a people we are concerned about these issues. After all, we are here because of the X case. What was our reaction to the X case? What was the unanimous reaction of the country to that case? People were horrified at that case because of the threat of suicide and the fact that the raped child was not being allowed to have an abortion. It was the shock and horror of that case which has led us to where we are now. What are we doing now? We are saying — none of us is exempt from this — we will deal with the issue which was not really raised in that case, but the British can look after those cases involving suicide, rape or incest. I do not think we are doing ourselves great credit by adopting that approach. I understand and share the concern that if we act differently it will have a divisive effect on our society and we will be giving people who have already done damage to our society a field day. I can understand why we do not want to face these issues. I also understand that in not facing these issues there will be the other answer whereby people go to England until we get around to being sufficiently mature to deal with them ourselves. I can only say I am not very happy at what any of us are doing in regard to these matters. I believe we all share a common concern in this regard.

In cases where the actual issue of life is involved we have to stand firm, even if we are not prepared, to face up to the full implications of everything we are doing and not doing. I appeal to the people opposite to look more seriously at what is involved. They should not play party politics with this issue. As we have shown in the past, this is not an issue for party politics. They should show us that they can measure up to the kind of position we took on the issue. They should show that they are not going to allow party advantage to be the determining factor when genuine issues of life and death are at stake.

Unlike the previous and very eminent Members of this House, I cannot say I have looked into my heart to find out what the Irish people are thinking. However, like many of my colleagues on all sides of the House I have tried to find out what is in the best interests of the Irish people, particularly women and children. One must first look at how we have arrived at this position.

I agree with the comments made by my colleague Deputy Garret FitzGerald on the events of 1983 and the very cynical attitude adopted by the Fianna Fáil Party. It is clear that they deliberately exploited that situation in the hope of maximising their political advantage and used every possible ploy to ensure that the then Government were made to feel as embarrassed as possible at the situation which was developing. They did absolutely nothing to ensure that there was a rational debate on the issues of concern to people at that time. Rather they did everything possible to exploit the situation from local to national level, with obvious disastrous consequences.

It is important to recall the profound wealth of knowledge and expertise offered to all parties on who was right and who was wrong. We found ourselves in an extraordinary position at that time where two vehemently opposing sides were convinced that they were correct and capable of providing beyond any shadow of doubt that their interpretation of the wording was correct. These people have all now been proven wrong. Having regard to what happened in the past, I do not think anybody can be absolutely certain in this debate that they are right. That is the one lesson we should have learned from the debate which started in 1983 and which was revived during the X case.

What are the public saying about this issue at present? I accept that one should not necessarily go along with the populist view; one should have one's own opinions and try to impart one's knowledge and experience to the public in the hope of setting them on the right road. Nevertheless we have to listen to what the people are saying. From what I have heard, the majority of people are opposed in principle to abortion. I would go along with that view. The majority of people are equally in favour of freedom of information and the right to travel, and I would certainly go along with those views. Obviously there is a conflict in this area. In view of the fact that the Government partly contributed to the confusion at an earlier stage, I believe it was their responsibility to remove some of the ambiguity in that area. Unfortunately they have not done this: neither will they do it in the debate which will follow. Because they have not tried to get rid of the ambiguity in this area over the past seven or eight years it is highly unlikely that they will change their views now. The public can change their views. In the immediate aftermath of the X case people were very emotional. One must always recognise that emotions are somewhat charged at times like that and that people on both sides will go further than they intended. This is unfortunate. I hope in these calmer times that the Government will take on board some of the points raised by my colleague, Deputy Garret FitzGerald, and other Members on this side of the House. I hope they will keep in mind also some of the other comments by members of the public. Some of them are advocating that somehow politicians contrived this issue at present to deflect public attention from what they see as more serious issues. In my view the issues involved are of equal importance. Many people complain that there are other serious issues, such as that of unemployment, which have not received the same attention in this House, despite the fact that our unemployment level has reached alarming proportions. This is not my view but that of the people I meet on a daily basis. They regularly make this point and did so quite forcefully to me at a function recently.

The question of suicide was a very pivotal issue in the X case. Suicide has been a very tragic and traumatic experience for many Irish families; over 1,200 people committed suicide in the past 12 months and that figure is rising. I doubt any Member does not know of somebody who committed suicide. I can think of many families in my constituency who experienced that trauma recently. Having consulted with families who have been affected by the trauma of suicide I have asked myself what can be done about this problem and what are the signs. Usually the person concerned is suffering some stress or worried about something which they have not been able to resolve or discuss openly with another person in order to assuage their fears. That obviously causes problems. There is no doubt that an unwanted pregnancy for a young girl could cause such distress. In years past that certainly was an issue that could not readily be discussed with parents or, indeed, with friends and we have had ample evidence to that effect. It is tragic that that should be the case. I hope something has evolved from that period which will benefit the community at large.

Who can decide when suicide is imminent? That is a very difficult and exacting task. There are those in the medical profession who will say that a girl who indicates she is suicidal in the course of her pregnancy could very well end up committing suicide. However, an equally eminent branch of the medical profession will disagree with that view. Therefore, it is difficult for politicians to make a decision in that regard. The prospect of a pregnancy of a particular type could cause such trauma to a girl or woman as to result in suicide. Then we would be condemned.

In the final analysis, the medical profession should be in a better position than most, from dealing directly with the patient concerned, to have a reasonably good idea as to the tendencies of the patient concerned. There will also be situations where members of the medical profession will be able to say that they have attended patients over a period of time and never suspected that they were likely to commit suicide. From my experience, the suicide rate among the male population is at least as high, if not higher, than among the female population. That is not an authoritative statement as I have no evidence to support it other than my own personal knowledge.

In regard to the right to life and who should decide, the medical profession should be in the best position to advise a mother. In so doing, their interest should be, first to the right of the mother and, second the right to life of the unborn baby. In regard to the life — as distinct from the health — of the mother, at what stage does the health of the mother lead to a position whereby her life might be in danger? At what stage can the medical profession, eminent though it may be, determine when the health of a person is such that it will deteriorate to a state where the life of that person is in danger? That is crucial and, unfortunately, it is not dealt with in the amendment before us but it was in contributions from this side.

I put forward those views not as an expert and certainly not as a medical practitioner, but as one who has dealt with people, as has every Member, who have been traumatised at some stage in regard to this or similar issues. Does the amendment provide for the rights of both the mother and the child? I do not believe it does. The amendment, by concentrating on the mother's life, seems to have forgotten about her health which could ultimately threaten her life. That is a difficult issue.

Nobody or no party should be labelled as abortionists. I certainly am not and neither are my party and I make no apology for expressing my views in this regard. No pregnant woman or girl should have to worry that if something goes wrong during her pregnancy the Constitution might determine whether she lives or dies. The same applies to an unborn baby. I do not understand why the Constitution should suddenly become involved in matters concerning a maternity hospital, a gynaecologist's waiting room or surgery. A consultant should be able to state that in his or her opinion the correct decision was made. They should not have to ask themselves if they are telling the person what is right for them and for their child or what is right for them having regard to what is in the Constitution.

We could be talking about a dying woman.

We are then entering into an area where the State is becoming involved in what should really be the business of the professionals concerned. If we had not had the debate in 1983 I do not think we would have had the problem that arose from the X case. If we had not had those divisive debates in 1983 we would not have had the equally divisive debate on the Maastricht Treaty, which had no bearing on the abortion issue, and the issue of the economic and monetary union became entangled in a debate of this nature. Likewise, this debate should not transgress into the areas to which I have referred.

These are my views and the views of many of my constituents who have told me that they are opposed to abortion but in favour of the freedom of information and the right to travel. The issues of the right to travel and freedom of information have arisen as a result of a decision of the Supreme Court, following on a decision in the High Court, following on the famous debate of 1983. If I could return to that debate for a moment. I do not think that there was any eminent medical and legal expert who at that time did not put forward views which left many of us mere human beings floundering for words in regard to two matters. First, the expert source from which these views emanated and, second, the profound wealth of knowledge with which they put forward their particular opinions. What is sad about that is that they were all wrong. We will now have a further debate on semantics which could be proven wrong in a couple of years time.

No doubt.

That is the saddest part of all. Again, I raise the question whether the State, or the Constitution in the form of the State, should lay down guidelines as to what should prevail in this situation. There are those who say it should. There have been debates in the United States and throughout Europe over the past several years regarding abortion and freedom of choice. I am a man and, therefore, am not in the best position to give an authoritative opinion.

That is right. The Deputy will never have an ectopic pregnancy or have his uterus removed because of cancer.

I would say this, and it is a sobering thought which has been mentioned by previous speakers; if there was a male medical condition in respect of which guidelines were enshrined in the Constitution which ensured that the medical profession proceeded in a particular fashion, I honestly believe there would be a justifiable outcry.

It would not be there; you have drawn up the Constitution.

We certainly would not put it in if we were the Deputies.

A good point.

The Deputy appreciates that that profound statement he has made has encouraged the co-operation he is getting from his colleagues.

These parliamentary meetings should be held in private.

For many years we were trying to hold our parliamentary party meetings in private and failed.

That will be reported on more than this one.

As a matter of fact, at one stage I used to read the Sunday papers to get a full account of our parliamentary party meetings.

In all seriousness, it is worth noting that women generally, and the women to whom I have spoken throughout my constituency, feel strongly about this issue even though they are opposed to abortion and anything associated with abortion. They do not want abortion at all but they feel resentment, and justifiably so, that the Constitution should say that, in this situation, the patient must now be judged by the medical profession and the practitioner must have due regard to what is laid down in law. If there is an interruption of the pregnancy which does not have due regard to the constitutional requirements, the medical profession are at fault——

Committing a crime.

——committing a crime. That is farcical and I say that with all due respect to the various opinions.

I do not believe we should introduce abortion so that we can boast to the international media that abortion is freely available here. For some unknown reason we have taken it upon ourselves to include this qualification, and that includes the legal profession, a member of which was sitting across from me a few moments ago, the Supreme Court and the High Court. Incidentally, this House was criticised with a certain amount of justification, for not legislating on this issue. Legislation should have been in place so that everyone would know during the referendum what the position will be as a result of voting in a particular fashion. The present position is that the people will vote in a referendum and if the Legislature is not satisfied with the outcome, it will legislate for what it sees as the failings of the people. That is a very peculiar situation and one with which I have considerable reservations.

I do not wish to become embroiled in an argument between the legal and political professions but I hope the debate continues in a rational manner. We must realise the importance of this issue to women who represent over 50 per cent of the population and I hope that when it comes to decision making the Government will have regard to the legitimate views and the deeply held convictions that have been expressed by Members on all sides of the House. The Government might consider allowing the people to make their choice after the legislation has been laid before the House when they have had an opportunity to vet it.

I have listened with interest to what Deputy Durkan said and while we may differ on how to achieve the same end, I feel there is much agreement between us. It is important that we achieve the objectives he has expressed.

I welcome this opportunity to participate in this debate and to commend the Government's three Bills to the House and, indeed, to the Irish electorate.

The contents of these three Bills reflect several months of careful reflection and preparation by a Cabinet subcommittee. That subcommittee, in turn, drew on the knowledge and practical experience of a wide range of expert medical and legal opinion before formulating and finalising the proposals now before us. These are proposals which I can fully endorse and support unequivocally, drawing on my own experience of the realities of life in Ireland as it is today.

A number of persons, mainly it must be said, from outside of this House, have attacked the Government's proposals from mutually exclusive positions. At one end of the spectrum, our proposals have been denounced as being excessively permissive, amounting in practice to an attack on the rights of the unborn. At the same time, our proposals have been derided with equal vehemence by those who wish to have abortion more freely available in this country. Those of the latter view misrepresent the Government's proposals as a curtailment of women's rights, actual and potential.

Does that include the Council for the Status of Women and the Commission on the Status of Women?

I will be glad to listen to the Deputy's view later.

The Minister will not be here.

The sole point of consensus common to both extremes is to query the good intentions and basic credentials of Government speakers. I have no hesitation in meeting either such challenge head on. I am as much in touch with public opinion in Ireland as any other Deputy. I say so because of my experience both as a private citizen and as a politician, drawing on my first hand knowledge and experience of the many facets of life in Ireland today, both urban and rural. I was born in rural Ireland and drew some part of my formative experiences from there. My political career is based in Dublin South, an urban constituency with a broadly representative spectrum of the electorate, young, old, affluent and disadvantaged alike. Prior to becoming a full-time public representative, I was a teacher. I am still in close touch with many of the pupils I taught — now young adults — as well as their parents. I can draw on that wealth of practical experience in coming to debate here today and, in the weeks ahead, in the course of other public debates on this topic elsewhere. It is certainly my intention, if I may borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln, to speak with malice towards none and with charity for all. I hope other speakers will operate within the same parameters.

The reputation of this Government in terms of the advancement of women in Irish society rests on demonstrable achievement, not just well meaning but unfulfilled aspirations. I believe that considerable progress has been made by this Government in advancing the status of women in our society and I would refute any suggestion that the proposed Amendments go against this trend. Since taking office in 1989, this Government have put in place comprehensive and effective structures to combat inequality. These structures include the explicit assignment of responsibility for the promotion of the position of Irish women to all Government Ministers, within their own areas of responsibility; my appointment as Minister of State for Women's Affairs, to complement the activities of all Government Ministers and all Government Departments, by exercising a monitoring and co-ordinating role on all aspects of Government policy as they affect women; the re-establishment of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights, a committee on which I had the honour to serve; and the establishment of the Second Commission on the Status of Women in November 1990, chaired by an eminent High Court Judge, Justice Mella Carroll, and including among its ranks the chairwoman of the Employment Equality Agency, Catherine McGuinness, an eminent lawyer in her own right. It also includes both the chairwoman and chief executive of the Council for the Status of Women.

Listen to the Council for the Status for Women.

I have been listening.

If the Minister had been listening he could not make this speech.

It is mandated to identify and recommend the means by which women will be able to participate on equal terms and conditions with men in economic, social, political and cultural life. Having regard to the very considerable expertise which is available within its membership, its imminent report is awaited with keen interest by all who care about the advancement of women in Irish society.

I believe it would be helpful to this debate to remind the House of the types of substantive initiatives which have been taken by this Government since 1989 towards the achievement of gender equality. Some of these initiatives represent important gains for women, yet very often do not attract the level of media attention which they objectively deserve. The types of initiatives I have in mind are the enactment in December 1990 of new legislation on rape which introduces new offences with more severe penalties and abolishes the marital exemption in relation to rape; the Criminal Evidence Act which provides protection for the victims of violence in the home, by clearly establishing the circumstances in which the spouse of an accused is competent or compellable to give evidence; and the Criminal Justice Bill which provides for the judicial review of lenient sentences. This is a record of demonstrable achievement. It will, I trust, help to put the Government's good faith in relation to the three proposed Amendments into context.

In relation to the proposed Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution it is worth emphasising, I believe, at form a mother's viewpoint it is an advancement on the position adopted in 1983, and enshrined in Article 40.3.3º. That Article provided for the equal right of life of the unborn and the mother, but it was silent in legal terms on alleviating any threat to the life of the mother. Article 40.3.3 remains but, for the first time, this proposed Amendment will ensure that, in all life threatening situations, there will not be any legal ambiguity to prevent an expectant mother from getting whatever medical and surgical treatment she needs. It will have the very positive effect of clarifying the legal balance.

Did the Minister read the debates in 1983? His people said the same thing then.

I was not here in 1983. I wish so many Deputies would not go back to 1983 and rehash those debates. I should much prefer——

I heard Deputy Durkan say, and everybody agreed, that this would be a debate where each would be given the opportunity of airing his or her views. We all seemed to welcome that, but it would appear that Members are taking licence to interrupt a Minister of State. I appeal to them not to do so. Apart from the fact that it is not in order, they might find they have to endure the same type of interruption.

The Minister is stimulating us by his words.

The Supreme Court decision in the X case affirmed the right of the mother to a medical termination of pregnancy where there would be a real and substantial risk to her life if the pregnancy continued. It is important to recognise that the medical condition giving rise to the "risk to life" need not be absolutely immediate. Medical decisions are taken on the basis of probability. This Amendment will clarify the legal position for doctors and others involved in the medical care of women. The enactment of the Twelfth Amendment will enable them to carry our essential treatment.

The proposed Twelfth Amendment is consistent with the Supreme Court decision, except for the exclusion of "the risk of self-destruction" provision. I believe that the 1983 referendum demonstrated, clearly, the strongly held wishes of the majority of the Irish people against the widespread availability of abortion, as has been pointed out by Deputy Durkan. It is still not desired nor is public opinion likely to change dramatically in the foreseeable future. Other countries, acting in good faith and motivated by compassion, have permitted the theat of suicide as a grounds for the legal termination of pregnancy. Experience has shown time and time again that such latitude leads to a high incidence of suicide threats and a correspondingly high level of legal abortions. That is clearly a scenario which the vast majority of people on this island, North and South, find morally repugnant and so reject.

In line with the best legal advice available, the Government's proposed wording provides for a termination of a pregnancy to "save the life, as distinct from the health" of a mother. While this may, at first reading, appear severe and an impossible distinction to define it is necessary, from a legal point of view if the Amendment is to stand on its own.

What about the woman's point of view?

I hope the Deputy will hear me out. I am talking about the effect of the legal provision. The language is taken directly from the Supreme Court judgement and those who favour the implementation of the Supreme Court judgement, in whole or in part, can scarcely object to the incorporation of that court's language. The phrase "as distinct from health" must be seen in the overall context of the Twelfth Amendment. That phrase must be coupled with the phrase "giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life". The latter phrase does not require, nor did the Supreme Court require, that the risk be immediate. This, taken with the phrase "necessary to save the life" means that the pregnancy could be terminated if the best medical advice was that, even after childbirth and recovery of the mother therefrom, other treatments for whatever she was suffering from would be ineffective to save her life.

I believe that these referenda must be approached in a calm, rational manner. In comparison with 1983 we are proceeding in a relatively calm and rational manner. I know they are being so considered by many women. Since my appointment as Minister of State for Women's Affairs, I have met and exchanged views with many concerned women on these issues. My appointment in February coincided with the Supreme Court decision on the X case. My European Affairs portfolio afforded me an opportunity to explore the implications of the Maastricht Treaty for Irish women in the context of that decision of the Supreme Court. Those exchanges are fruitful and, I hope, mutually beneficial. These referenda are a fulfilment of the undertaking given at that time that these issues would be resolved, by referendum, prior to the coming into force of the Maastricht Treaty.

There have been calls for a postponement of these referenda, for time for further consultation but sufficient time has been afforded to permit debate.

An opportunity for an all-party consensus was presented by the Taoiseach but was not grasped by the leaders of the Opposition parties.

Was not grasped by the Taoiseach.

That was a missed opportunity.

Forty-eight hours.

If some people had their way we would still be debating this in another ten years. Some of the language in the debate on the abortion issue is very offensive to women and to many men. Many of the groups fail to take women's views fully into account and have no answer for some of the situations which may only rarely arise, where both the woman and the unborn child will die in the absence of life-saving medical treatment for the mother. There is no medical consensus that such situations can never arise. What I regret is that many so called pro-life campaigners will not admit in public what are the consequences of this position. There is no room for extremism in this debate. The Government amendment will afford protection to the mother by ensuring her entitlement to any treatment necessary to save her life. It is pro-woman and reflects the views of the majority of the people who, I am certain, are not prepared to see their wives, sisters or mothers die for the sake of dogma.

I support this proposed Twelfth Amendment and I make no apology to the zealots, lacking basic human compassion, who would stand back self-righteously and refuse medical intervention to a pregnant woman whose life is at risk. Charity, surely, is the greatest of virtues? Neither do I yield to those who see abortion on demand as an expression of social justice. Those who would sanction widescale abortion as a remedy or solution to women's problems are, in effect, attempting to make the unborn pay the price for injustices inflicted by others. That is contrary to social justice and an affront to the strongly held moral convictions of the vast majority of people in this country.

The Government's proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in relation to the right to travel is the least contentious of the three proposed Bills. The positive consensus in this House towards the terms of this Amendment is a reflection of the reality that the right to travel is a basic human right which can and should be exercised freely by every citizen irrespective of class, creed or gender. While the underlying thrust of this Bill may have merits evident to all of us, it is, nonetheless, essential for the Government to go on record to allay fears formented by some individuals and organisations outside of this House and to dispel any possible ambiguities.

The general consensus on the right to travel should not induce any complacency on our part. Anything less than a wholehearted endorsement of that constitutional right will send out a very negative image of Ireland to the world.

To attempt to curtail the rights of any sizeable number of our citizens to travel between this State and another would necessitate the creation of an extremely authoritarian regime — in essence, a police state. No one can seriously suggest that we should attempt to curtail the right of Irish women to travel unless we wish to regress socially, economically and culturally to the unhappy level in which the people of Albania found themselves until relatively recently.

In which Ireland still finds itself.

The very small, unrepresentative but vociferous minority urging some curtailment of the right to travel have in mind in particular the right to travel of Irish women of child bearing age. This is philosophically repugnant to me and, I am sure, to the entire House. Its anti-woman basis does not merit or require detailed rebuttal.

We are here mandated in Dáil Éireann as legislators, acting for and on behalf of the electorate. We have a duty and obligation to legislate in the best interest of all our people and for those reasons I commend this Amendment to the House. It is an Amendment which bears out the good faith of the commitments which the Taoiseach and I gave in course of many meetings with women's groups during the course of the Maastricht referendum campaign. The Thirteenth Amendment is positive proof that we have kept faith with those undertakings.

I turn now to the Fourteenth Amendment which will enhance the right to information in our Constitution. A right to information is a general principle enshrined in many written constitutions throughout the world. That principle is also set down in general terms in the charters of various international agencies, including the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

The right to information is a fundamental necessity in the fair administration of justice, in the process of facilitating freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. As long ago as 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined a right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

As with all general principles, individual rights cannot be exercised in an unlimited way in a democratic society. Restrictions may and are sometimes necessary on various grounds, including public health and morals and protecting the rights and freedoms of others. The wording which the Government are commending to the electorate by way of the proposed Fourteenth Amendment reflects the reality of that constraint. The enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment will enable people who may contemplate an abortion abroad to make an informed choice with the help of non-directive counselling.

Any serious analysis of the factors which bring women to have recourse to abortions must be wide ranging and comprehensive. The problem cannot be tackled unless the root causes are identified, analysed and dealt with in a logical, rational and determined manner.

In a case of rape or incest, what do you do?

Access to objective, impartial information in relation to abortion is not simply exclusively a matter for pregnant women. It is a matter which should and must concern their partners and their families. The wider community, including voluntary and statutory organisations, must also take a more proactive role in counselling women who consider abortion as an option. It is my sincere hope, a hope which is shared by all sides of this House, that access to non-directive counselling on the abortion question will actually help to reduce the incidence of abortion. Society must make a concerted effort to alleviate or remove the various pressures which induce women to seek abortions.

These three proposed Amendments were drawn up by the Government to meet the needs of Irish women as we near the end of the 20th century. The Amendments have been drawn up with care and taking cognisance of the best legal and medical advice available. Anyone who proposes to dismiss them, either for short term political gain or because they care more for ideology than the alleviation of human suffering, has a moral obligation to produce a better alternative. I doubt very much if any such better alternative will be forthcoming, now or in the near future. I commend, therefore, these three Amendments to this House.

I understand that Deputy Fennell is sharing her time with Deputies Sheehan and Therese Ahearn.

As the first women speaker in this debate, for the information of the Minister of State for Women's Affairs, I would like to put on record the extensive degree of anger and resentment that is being felt by women outside this House because once again their needs and issues are to be manhandled in a most despicable way in this House and throughout this debate. There is a great deal of anger not just among feminists but among women who perhaps in 1983, voted in favour of the Amendment. Women are angry because so much confusion has been created and there has been so much ambivalence by the Government on this issue. The Minister will find that this will manifest itself in the very surprising vote against this proposed Amendment.

What we are doing here is most regressive. We are putting another constitutional policeman on women's lives. I know the political, legal and medical objectives of this exercise are represented as a measure to protect the foetus, or at least to protect it more than it is already protected in our laws and by our existing constitutional provisions. However, we are doing this in a society whose entire value structure and ethos is pro-life in the truest sense. Broadly speaking, we celebrate and enjoy our children. We welcome new life into our families. We put a high premium on family support and family happiness and we have the highest ratio in developed countries of mothers who opt to stay at home and make sacrifices in terms of their own interests and their own professions to be closely involved in the care and rearing of their young children.

There is no ambivalence on this. No one wants, nor would promote nor work for the idea of easy abortion in this country. The notion is so far-fetched as to be ludicrous. However, there are plenty of people who now realise that we must make provision for legal abortion in certain limited circumstances. The issue of abortion is no longer a black and white issue.

The campaign that follows this vote presumes that an "abortion on demand" regime is highly likely, in fact, is just around the corner if this Amendment is not passed. To this end we will be intimidated, frightened, even threatened into voting "yes" to another insertion of irrelevant and simplistic words into our Constitution and most voters may not even know or understand what these words mean or how they might be interpreted by doctors, or, in the longer term, by the courts. They are dangerous words and I sincerely hope that all sensible people, men and women, who care for the health and lives of their daughters, their sisters, their mothers, their wives will reject that.

I am convinced that many people will realise that this debate is more about manipulation of the political process for Fianna Fáil Party gain than about reassuring women or securing their rights. Personally I find aspects of this debate very unacceptable. I believe nothing whatever will change in regard to our abortion statistics after our speeches here or after the campaign or after the vote. All we will do is bring greater medical uncertainty into the whole area of pregnancy and childbirth. Our deliberations are negative in the extreme. This debate is, more than anything else, about controlling women. It is about restricting their powers. It is about taking away their integrity and their right to make decisions about their lives. At many points the debate is fuelled by threads of traditional misogynism, contributed to by people who regard women as "less equal" than men, undeserving of equal rights. These people cannot change their idea of women as objects and breeding machines that can be manipulated and controlled through law, practice and custom.

This debate is masquerading as a solemn attempt to restrict abortion in Ireland and it is being railroaded through by a party that is showing itself to be totally insensitive to the views of women, to their organisations, to the doctors who have serious reservations about the likely outcome of the proposals. I regret that what is happening now is a direct replay of the Fianna Fáil role in the referendum of 1983 when, under the leadership of Deputy Charles J. Haughey, that party aligned themselves, with the full and active support of many of the people still sitting opposite, with narrowminded, fundamentalist groups like SPUC, PLAC and the Knights of Columbanus. They took the high moral ground and collaborated in bullying the electorate into a most inappropriate and misguided vote. All chance of reasonable argument was sacrificed to intense emotion and bitter division during the entire campaign. The reasonable proposals for alternative wording put forward by Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the former Taoiseach, and Mr. Peter Sutherland, the Attorney General, were rejected. They warned that the Fianna Fáil proposal would lead to Supreme Court challenges. They warned that it would restrict freedom of travel and they warned that it would inevitably lead to legalisation of abortion here. We have lived to see this happen.

Earlier this year the whole country lived through the awful trauma of the High Court and Supreme Court cases involving a young pregnant girl. The vast majority of people opposed what was happening to her and her family. It was only when we saw how this girl was trapped in this country by an injunction of the High Court, coping with a pregnancy that was life-threatening, her family powerless to help her, that we realised the full extent of the inadequacy of Article 40.3.3º. of our Constitution.

If the so-called X case and the varying interpretations of the 1983 amendment have shown us one thing with clarity it must surely be the impossibility of reducing to a sentence or two a concept of such complexity and variability that it will be different in every set of human circumstances in which it arises. This is a matter which should have no place in the Constitution. It requires a detailed and graduated framework which can only be provided in legislation.

At this point I would appeal to the Government to change course, to put whatever differences exist between us in this House behind us and make the right decision now, that is, to introduce legislation first and let people know exactly what they will be voting for and the likely implications of their vote. How can Members of this House once again turn their backs on the criticism levelled at us by the late Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy for our failure to give legislative effect to the 1983 amendment? Perhaps one can understand to some extent why this House never went back to necessary legislation which was left in abeyance after the 1983 amendment. We were, perhaps, paralysed into inaction by the dreadful hostility, the dreadful bitterness, the dreadful division which we ourselves created through our divisive approach to the 1983 amendment. It was very unpopular to question the lack of legislation and people just stayed away from it. It was as if people were afraid they would get burnt. We now see the havoc wreaked as a result of that. It was the wrong approach.

In the last few weeks I have listened to many consultants and gynaecologists and have heard their real concerns and confusion. Unlike 1983, on this occasion we have had the benefit of the considered views of many eminent consultants. I would like here to commend Dr. Mary Henry for her responsible and clear enunciation of issues on the media in recent weeks. There are many more doctors who feel equaly strongly but who, for reasons of their employment conditions or fear of public hassle, are unable to speak out. Many of them have made their views known privately to the Taoiseach. One such group of 12 eminent consultants contacted me privately to express their very real fears and their opposition to what is happening. Surely these fears must be recognised and cannot be dismissed.

One man from the Opposition benches, Deputy McDaid, has publicly expressed his reservations despite his party's opposite policy and despite considerable local vilification of himself. In anIrish Times article he wrote:

Until it can be proven otherwise, I am firmly of the opinion that rare cases can occur where the prolonging of a pregnancy puts the life of the mother very seriously at risk. These would include such conditions as serious cardiac disease, congenital and otherwise, and cancers in which metastasis is greatly intensified by pregnancy. Early termination of pregnancy seems to me to be indicated in such cases and should, I believe, be done here.

In the same article Deputy McDaid said:

I strongly believe that if even one case should occur every ten years where the life of the mother can only be saved by a termination of pregnancy then a total constitutional ban would be very wrong indeed. Such a ban could only be justified in my view if medical science were advanced to the stage where we could guarantee that no woman's life would ever be seriously threatened by pregnancy.

I want all doctors dealing with pregnant women to be confident and sure that they will be able to freely diagnose according to the total needs and interests of that woman's life and health. Women are entitled to know that the doctor carrying for them, with their best interests at heart, will be free from constraints under Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution. What we do here must be clear and specific; we must not contribute to a sense of suspicion and mistrust within the medical world and to an atmosphere in which self-appointed moral guardians in hospitals could indirectly influence a woman's treatment in a way which is inconsistent with what her medical doctor recommends and wants.

Let me quote an instance which is allied but not directly concerned with this subject. Such a thing happened in a Dublin hospital in 1985 when I was hospitalised for a hysterectomy operation. A woman patient came into my room to tell me about her experience. She, too, had been admitted for such an operation having had severe bleeding for many months. She was 35 years old and had four young children. Both herself and her husband, along with her consultant had fully discussed and accepted the need for her operation. Despite that fact when that woman was under the anaesthetic in the operating theatre a theatre nurse intervened and challenged the surgeon saying that this woman was still of child bearing age and as far as she, the nurse, was concerned her symptoms did not warrant radical surgery. At that time the surgeon was in no position to argue in the tense environment of an operating theatre. He could not assert his right over his patient and so the operation never took place. The woman was brought back to her bed without having the operation that she so badly needed carried out and told me that she was in the process of making plans with her surgeon to transfer to another hospital so that this necessary operation could be carried out.

I should say that I found this to be intolerable interference by a third party in a decision that was taken privately between doctor and patient but I wonder whether this was an isolated incident or can this type of action still happen in our hospitals perhaps indeed with conditions of a more serious nature than a hysterectomy needing treatment.

I could perhaps put the matter in context if I propose in an exaggerated way to the men present in the House that they should reflect for a while on how they would feel if such a thing were to happen to them while on their backs in the operating theatre waiting for an operation for testicular cancer or some such operation and a third party in the operating theatre said that the operation could not take place because they were still capable of having children. I accept that I am exaggerating and that one cannot have a direct parallel but I ask them to think about this question where a woman is in an operating theatre having made her decision and believes that an operation is going to be carried out and someone else intervenes. Indeed, it says something about the system that a third party can have the confidence to intervene.

Similar arguments apply regarding the issue of women and suicide. This should be a matter between a woman and her medical adviser and I reject the notion that a threat of suicide from pregnant women could or should be regarded as a frivolous threat and excluded from the amendment. I fail to understand the basis for this decision and find it both cruel and insensitive.

Would the Government accept that their thesis will disintegrate, morally and ethically, when the first pregnant woman or girl does commit suicide? I do not want to examine my conscience if that happens because of a decision taken in this House. What I would like to know is what consultation did the Government have on this issue before arriving at this wording. We are entitled to know the answer.

Did they examine the considered views of psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Clare as quoted in theIrish Independent of 17 October? These have been quoted by other speakers. He said that the Government decision failed to take account of the mental state of a minority of women who were particularly at risk because they might be under age or victims of rape or violent abuse. He further rejected accusations that taking account of the suicide risk would lead to an open door abortion policy and suggested that risk could be strictly interpreted in line with the cultural and ethical views of the country but that the Government's position seemed to be that psychological ill-health and suicide were out of the question as grounds for abortion and that to even consider such things in a professional and skilled way was impossible. He further said that the thin edge of the wedge argument had been widely used and accepted as if trained psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers were not to be trusted to judge someone in a precarious suicide state who was pregnant. It appears that, like most doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, women are not to be trusted to make decisions about themselves.

In the same article Dr. Clare said that in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment he and a medical colleague carried out a study of literature on suicide and pregnancy. They had established that the risk of suicide was lower in pregnant than non-pregnant women but it was not the majority they were concerned with but the minority of women who were particularly at risk and that the most recent review showed that the rate of suicide was higher among pregnant teenagers than in other age groups.

Let me turn for a few moments to deal with the other proposed amendments. The amendment dealing with the right to information is generally welcomed but I would add the proviso that the conditions to be laid down in law to give effect to it must be made known in advance and should have been made known prior to this week. I am uncertain as to the reason we need conditions surrounding the right of women to information about a very important and intimate issue. We need to know how restrictive this information is going to be and the reason it is restrictive. We also need to know if it will be broadly spread as outlined by the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Connell, on Olivia O'Leary's programme on RTE recently. According to the Minister that night, there would be no censorship of magazines or newspapers and that facts and information would be readily and easily available. I am sure most people would agree that this is perfectly satisfactory but we need to have express information about that matter before we vote on this issue.

Finally, let us consider the reality of our abortion problem. We have to accept frankly and honestly that, despite the constitutional ban, the information blackout and considerable hostility, these figures are rising every year. The fact that the abortions in question are carried out in England does not change the equation. Given our present approach we are effectively denying the great difficulties of these women and banishing them to find their solutions in other countries instead of trying to understand the circumstances which forced them to have foreign abortions, every one of which is a terrible human tragedy. We need to know the conditions surrounding the departure of every women who makes her decision such as her attitude to contraception, her financial and social needs, her relationship with the father of her child, who it was who helped her make her decision, who her advocates were, what counselling she received before and after the abortion, if any. I am aware that the Department of Health consider that they have no role to play in regard to these women, who do not even exist as recorded statistics. This has to change because unless we know the circumstances surrounding these women's lives we cannot begin to help them and reduce the number of abortions.

There are many things we need to do and these have been outlined already by other speakers from this side of the House. We need to help the women concerned with their exported social problems and reduce the number of people who have to go to England for abortions. We also need to introduce proper sex education in schools with a special focus on boys and young men to instil in them the need to adopt a responsible approach to sexual activity and parenthood.

There should be a contraceptive advice service, aimed specifically at young men and women, as well as a pregnancy counselling programme. I deeply regret that the Minister in his speech today did not deal with these issues. He gave no indication of the practical action the Government might take on contraception, research and counselling. That is an indication that once the referendum is over women will once again be left high and dry and nothing more will be done.

The reason we need proper research programmes — I would stress this — is that most of the research that is available deals with abortions in America and the UK where totally different structures exist. Such research cannot be used here to measure the psychological distress of women before and after abortion. We need follow-up studies as well as examining all the factors which contribute to the decision to abort. In this context I would refer to the briefing document which all of us received from the Psychological Society of Ireland which indicates the need for research and the fact that we have to find out information on many matters that have been already examined and analysed in other countries about the women in question. I recommend this very useful briefing document. As someone who has worked for 25 years in all areas of reform for women I passionately reject this amendment and I will be asking voters to do the same.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Paddy Sheehan.

That has been approved earlier.

It is worrying, although not amazing, that even before the debate on the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution Bills had started in this House the public at large were already fed up with the issue. Almost everybody I have met in the past few days said that they switch off the radio and television when the subject is being discussed. The reason for this is clear: the public are confused. They are disillusioned with the manner in which this most fundamental and serious issue of the right to life is being hastily introduced and passed through the Dáil. The extent of the confusion, misapprehension and misunderstanding that exists among the people should surely be a warning signal to the Government that it is vital at this stage to have an adequate, proper and detailed debate in this House in an attempt to clarify the enormous clouds of fear and the questions that have arisen. Had the Government properly understood what they were about to impose on the people it would at least have helped to avoid the misunderstanding that now exists. It is blatantly clear that not even all the members of the Government have the same understanding of the proposed wording to deal with the substantive issue of abortion. This is totally inexcusable and is the reason the public are clueless as to what is the precise meaning of the amendments that will be put to them on 3 December.

Now that the Government have created the confusion — they alone have caused it — surely it is reasonable, if not logical, to conclude that the only means whereby some degree of clarification can be provided is by allowing a very detailed and lengthy debate in this House on the issue. The Government's approach to this important issue is disappointing if not unacceptable. Having created such confusion they are now compounding their mistake with a blatant and dangerous kind of dictatorship, ignoring the genuine and sincere concerns of all the Opposition Parties. The outcome of the Government's actions will be that the people of Ireland will be forced to vote on a wording that has not been clarified and in relation to which they have been given no reasonable chance to discover its precise meaning. This is grossly offensive; it is unfair and unjust. To ask the people to vote in the dark is the same as giving them no vote at all.

The real questions that must be answered are: why does the referendum have to be held on 3 December and why is it more important to the Taoiseach to get the issue out of the way rather than to get it right?

I thought the Deputy said that the people are fed up with the issue, yet she wants to drag it out.

Why have no lessons been learned from Fianna Fáil's mistakes of 1983? Most of all, why are the lives of women and the unborn not worthy of a full serious discussion to avoid the dilemmas of the recent past? Do the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government not realise that it took nine years to interpret the precise meaning of the wording of the 1983 amendment, yet the Government expect the present wording to be fully debated and outlined in three days?

No human right is more fundamental or important than the right to life. Fine Gael as a party are and always have been opposed to abortion. It is interesting that during the debate this afternoon the Minister, Deputy Flynn, stated that there are some who support abortion on demand and no consensus could be achieved with them. To whom is the Minister referring? He is obviously referring to somebody in the House. Is he referring, perhaps, to some of his own backbenchers? I demand that he clarify this matter. He must know to whom he is referring, otherwise why would he make such a statement? That kind of dangerous statement must not be left unqualified and the Minister should ascribe it to those to whom he believes it applies.

I respect the sincere and compassionate attitude of my colleague, Deputy Nuala Fennell, to the question of whether suicide should remain as an issue in determining whether abortion should be allowed.

Does the Deputy agree with her?

I respect her views on this issue. However, I would personally find it extremely difficult to believe that it is possible to administer a law or a constitutional provision which would provide for those cases as outlined without the fear of abuse. The complexities of the issue are outlined by the varying views held within the parties, but that does not lessen the degree of compassion and understanding I have for those cases.

Fine Gael believe that the substantive issue of abortion cannot be justly or correctly addressed without legislation. The six mark question is, and we have not been able to get an answer to it, why is the Taoiseach so reluctant or indeed downright opposed to legislation on this issue? Is it because he fears he cannot bring his own backbenchers with him through the process? The request by Fine Gael for legislation is a reasonable, logical and balanced one. Our objective is to ensure detailed explanations on the meaning of the proposed amendments. It is basically irresponsible to knowingly and willingly leave in the hands of the medical and legal professions the duty to interpret the amendment without any attempt by the legislators to clarify by legislation the interpretation of the proposed wording.

The overwhelming majority of the people on this island do not want to see abortion available generally here. We had hoped that the Taoiseach would deal with this difficult social issue in a very honest and open way.

That is what he did.

However, his performance to date clearly shows that this is not to be. The reality is that so difficult and complex is the issue of abortion that it cannot be dealt with by the insertion of a new sentences in the Constitution. One attempt has failed, sadly we cannot hope that the present attempt will be other than a failure also. It is astonishing that the Government do not propose to publish any legislation, particularly as the advice of the Attorney General was to provide legislation. Fine Gael believe that prior to a referendum being held on the substantive issue detailed legislation addressing the difficulties involved should have been brought before the House for discussion by the Government. I would ask, why a different approach is being taken on this issue from the approach that will be adopted on the issue of divorce? There is no justificable reason for proceeding in the manner as outlined by the Government.

Finally, as I pointed out earlier, there is considerable conflict among Government Ministers as to the meaning and the intent of the proposed amendment. It has caused alarm among the medical profession and concern to many women throughout the country. It is alarming that even at this early stage of the debate such conflict and confusion is evident. The lives of women and of the unborn should not be subjects for political gains.

The problem of abortion should be recognised for its complexities; simplistic constitutional solutions have never been, and never will be, the answer. Tragically, the Government, by refusing to provide comprehensive legislation, are abdicating their constitutional duty. We must avoid, as far as possible, the options which so many have to choose, the option of abortion. In those cases there is an urgent need to provide better support, advice services, information on the choices and options available to women, counselling and care.

Adoption should be encouraged and people should be informed of that option. After all, 10 per cent of couples are infertile. Who will speak for them? Why not devote time and resources towards providing the back-up support which would limit the numbers opting for abortion? This would be a positive response to a sad and serious problem.

It is unwise and reckless for the Government to push these Bills through the House with unnecessary haste. They will regret their outrageous, impetuous decision but, sadly, in the meantime I hope no one will suffer as a result of their actions.

This evening we have embarked on a discussion which has led to a long debate in the House; indeed, that will be the case for the next few days. This is not a new issue but one which has flickered in this country for many years. I speak on behalf of thousands of people in my constituency in south-west Cork who are mesmerised by the actions of the Taoiseach and the Government. The Taoiseach stated that if you vote "yes" in the referendum, it is for limited abortion and that if you vote "no" he will introduce abortion by legislation. What choice does the ordinary voter have? There will be neither winner nor loser in this referendum.

The Taoiseach should repeal the Eighth Amendment.

This is a Hobson's choice.

It is very difficult to understand why the Government should reject the advice of people whose business it is to deal with this matter. All the sections of the proposed Amendment are meant to displease the general public. Is this a camouflage by the Government to distract the people from the serious problems which beset the country today?

The Deputy's colleagues want to continue the camouflage until after Christmas.

The Government are shying away from their responsibilities, which is to solve the problem of unemployment and lack of jobs. They are very lucky in being able to distract the people from our true situation. We are living in cloud cuckoo-land by asking the people to decide on this issue. I know it is a vital issue to the well-being of our community but it overshadows the real issue of unemployment. I wish to remind the Ministers of State — and the Minister for Health — that the situation in Ireland is as serious as it is in Great Britain. We are told that the recession there has deepened to a depression. God knows there will be a major depression in this country after 3 December because everybody knows that the issue being put before the people is a smokescreen for the more serious problems affecting our economy. It is difficult to understand why the Government have embarked on this course. Each section in the Amendment is meant to approve of abortion, one way or the other. Let nobody think differently. The Government are wolves in sheeps' clothing.

All abortions should be rejected by the people. Why did the Government not have the courage to put before the people a formula which required a simple "yes" or "no"? Why will three ballot papers be required?

They are three different colours.

I know three different issues are involved but there was a right to travel and information long before I was a Member of this House and it will be there after me. The Government are merely clouding the issue. The question of abortion should be buried once and for all to ensure that it will never again raise its ugly head in the Dáil or in the country. As I said, the electorate do not have a choice. I wonder if the Taoiseach will have a mandate from the Dáil to introduce legislation when the electorate reject the amendment. Many Deputies across the House will have the courage of their convictions to speak up for the people whom they represent and they will make sure that he does not put through legislation which will lead to abortion being made available. There are many men and women in the Government parties who will ensure that abortion will never be tolerated——

There seems to be a split in Fine Gael.

There is not a split.

The Deputy should be on the Fianna Fáil back benches.

Fine Gael are unanimous on this issue. There is no record of any woman in this country losing her life for lack of medical attention while expecting a child. Expectant mothers were treated by the medical profession without consulting anyone. If there is a right to life in the womb the mother also has a right to life. This medical procedure was practised down through the years and it was practised very well. I recognise no reason that we should now go back and make abortion in this country legal, even on a limited basis. As I have said, this issue has clouded more important issues confronting the country. It has kept people's minds off the major issues.

I should like to share with the House a quotation relating to the 1861 legislation. Treatments were lawful under the 1861 Act even when their indirect result was the loss of an unborn child, since that Act forbids only action taken with intent to procure a miscarriage. The established medical practice of more than a century has always allowed mothers to be fully and properly cared for during pregnancy. It is important to realise that a mother may not be denied treatment because of possible but undesired and unintended consequences for her baby, even in some cases resulting in death. Treatments intended to protect the life of the mother and not involving any direct attack on her unborn child have always been ethically and lawfully proper, even though the loss of a child may follow as an unsought and unwelcome side effect. That statement clearly outlines the powers that exist under the present administration. I really think that the issues now put before the people will cloud their minds to such an extent that they will not even go out to vote, and I have heard decent, responsible electors in my constituency say that they will not exercise their vote in the referenda.

The time has come to call another Member.

It is a sad reflection on the case that is being put forward by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and his Government. God help Ireland with that kind of an administration.

If I should complete my speech ahead of the prescribed time limit, might my colleague Deputy Ben Briscoe be granted the extra available time for his contribution?

Is that proposal satisfactory? Agreed.

I propose for the main part of my contribution to this important debate to address the proposed Twelfth and Fourteenth Amendments, that is, those on the substantive issue and on freedom of information.

In 1983 Article 40.3.3º amended the Constitution to state that:

the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Arising out of the X case earlier this year the Supreme Court decided that under the wording of Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution, an abortion is permissible if there exists a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother. They also accepted that such a real and substantial risk existed in the case before them because of the threat by the pregnant woman to commit suicide.

And now the Government want women to commit suicide.

As a member of the Cabinet subcommittee set up to deal with the implications of this decision, I have had the opportunity, with my colleagues, to examine very carefully all the options open to the Government, taking account of very extensive legal and medical advice. I believe, for the reasons which I will now outline, that the proposed wording for the Twelfth Amendment represents the best and most balanced solution to a very complex set of issues.

The Government's intention in relation to the Twelfth Amendment, that is, the amendment on the substantive issue itself, can be expressed very simply: it is to protect the right to life of the unborn child subject only to ensuring that a doctor may carry out whatever treatment is necessary to resolve a life-threatening medical condition of the mother.

Thankfully, maternal deaths are now very infrequent in developed countries. In Ireland there are, on average two to three known maternal deaths per annum. This figure, related to the number of births, compares favourably with the rates in the UK and the US and the majority of our EC partners, and reflects a very good ante-natal care and obstetric service. Nonetheless, there are medical conditions which have the potential to cause a risk to the life of the mother during pregnancy. These can be divided into three categories. First, certain conditions are directly associated with the pregnancy itself. These include haemorrhage, toxaemia, pulmonary embolus and infection. In most cases it is possible to treat the condition without losing the foetus. However, another condition in this category, ectopic pregnancy, is potentially a very serious situation which may be fatal for the mother unless there is prompt surgical intervention. The second category includes life-threatening conditions which are not related to the pregnancy but which may be exacerbated by it. These include cardiac disease, hypertension and kidney failure. Deputies will be aware that medical opinion is divided as to whether circumstances can arise in which the termination of the pregnancy would be the only effective option to save the mother's life. The third category includes certain other medical conditions which cannot be treated without causing or risking the loss of the foetus. Examples of such conditions include cancer of the womb, breast cancer and brain tumours.

Much of the public debate in this whole area has revolved around drawing a distinction between types of life-saving treatment of the mother. As a doctor and as a legislator, I believe very strongly that any treatment which is necessary to save the mother's life must be seen as having that objective as its definitive intent.

As far as I am concerned, the term direct abortion has no relevance to a situation in which a doctor sets out to treat a life-threatening medical condition in an expectant mother. To me, the concept of direct abortion is relevant only when an abortion is carried out for other reasons, so that the primary intent is to end the pregnancy rather than to save the life of the mother.

The problem with using the term "direct abortion" in the way that it has been used by some groups can be particularly well illustrated by looking at ectopic pregnancy. There are two possible approaches to the treatment of this condition, both of which result in the loss of the foetus. The first involves the removal of the fallopian tube, with the foetus. The second involves removal of the foetus alone, so that the fallopian tube is preserved and the woman has a better change of becoming pregnant again in the future.

To make a distinction between direct and indirect terminations implies that the first treatment, which involves removing the tube, is acceptable because the loss of the foetus is in some way a side-effect whereas the second treatment is not acceptable. I am afraid that the logic of this argument escapes me completely. The need for treatment arises only because of the location of the foetus, and the sole purpose of the treatment is to remove the foetus in order to save the woman's life. We can then go to ask how it could possibly be considered less acceptable to achieve the same end, where this is medically possible, without having to remove the fallopian tube, so that the mother has a better chance of conceiving again, given that under either form of treatment the foetus is lost.

Let us now consider a different type of medical crisis — an expectant mother suffering from rheumatic heart disease who is at risk of cardiac failure during pregnancy. It is of course the case that medical opinion differs as to whether it will arise in practice that a woman's life may be lost through heart failure where the termination of her pregnancy would have averted this. Deputies will have heard expert opinions on either side.

There are few black-and-white certainties in medicine, and it is very difficult to assert categorically that such a situation could never arise in an individual case.

Let us assume that, in an individual case, the expert medical opinion is that, on the balance of probability, the continuation of the pregnancy will pose a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman. Her doctors will, of course, have considered every possible alternative option. If it is the case that none of the alternatives can save her life, her doctors may consider, in consultation with the patient herself, the possibility of termination of the pregnancy in order to save her life. In my view, such a decision would have to be made on the same basis as that in the case of the ectopic pregnancy — the objective and intent of the treatment is to save the life of the woman.

The examples I have quoted show the dangers in trying to frame an amendment based on terminology such as "direct" and "indirect" termination in a situation where the life of the mother is at serious risk.

I would like to put a question to those opponents of the proposed amendment who have argued that the wording should be more restrictive. The question is: if an individual patient suffering from a heart condition can only be saved by means of a termination of her pregnancy, is it their preference that she be left to die? As far as I can see, the only response so far to such questions is to deny that such a possibility could arise. I can only describe this as avoiding the question. It cannot be stated that such a situation could never arise, because expert medical opinion cannot agree that this is so.

I believe that the vast majority of the Irish people would be appalled at the suggestion that a woman in such a situation should be left to die, and that they would wish to see her receive whatever treatment was necessary. The Government's wording is designed to ensure that, if it should ever be necessary in an individual case, the medical profession has at its disposal whatever means are necessary to save the life of the woman.

I must reiterate that it is my view, and the view of the Government, that it is wholly inappropriate to use the term "direct abortion" in the context of such treatments. Indeed, I would imagine that any woman who was unfortunate enough to have to suffer the loss of her expected child, as well as having to battle with a life-threatening illness, would be deeply hurt by the callous and unfeeling use of such terminology by those who should know better.

There has, of course, been criticism of the wording also from those who feel that it is too restrictive, and it has been suggested that it could in some way weaken the protection available to the life of the mother under existing medical practice. Much of this criticism has focused on the phrase "life, as distinct from health". It has been suggested, for example, that the wording would only permit a termination of pregnancy where the risk to the life of the mother was either immediate or certain. Neither of these interpretations is correct.

The Government have been advised that the wording does not require the risk to be immediate. If the doctors believe that unless the necessary treatment is given now, there will be no other effective way of saving the mother's life at a later stage, they may proceed with the treatment even though the death of the foetus may result.

Where does that leave the woman who is threatening suicide?

In relation to certainty, normal medical practice can only operate on the basis of probability — there are no certainties. The Supreme Court's test referred to the establishment, as a matter of probability, of the real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, and the proposed wording is consistent with this. It follows therefore that all current medical practice in this country will continue to be permitted under the wording.

The Government gave very careful consideration to the suggestions that the phrase "as distinct from health" should be omitted. Unfortunately, the inclusion of this phrase seems necessary to avoid a possible future interpretation that health unrelated to a life-threatening condition was a ground for abortion. The Government believe that such an outcome, which has in other jurisdictions led effectively to abortion on demand, would be entirely unacceptable to the Irish people, and the possibility of it occurring should not be left open.

Does the Minister not trust us as legislators?

The proposed amendment follows exactly on the interpretation of the Supreme Court except in so far as threatened suicide will not be a ground for the termination of pregnancy. The decision to exclude suicide was not an easy one and was only taken by the Government after thorough and exhaustive examination of the research which was available on the relationship between suicide and pregnancy.

The international literature concerning suicide and pregnancy is very complex and needs very careful and objective analysis. However, some important conclusions can be drawn. One is that suicide in pregnancy is extremely rare. Indeed, for the majority of women pregnancy seems to be good for their psychological health and may indeed protect against suicide.

What would happen if they were raped or if it was a case of incest?

This is exemplified in much of the literature I read during the summer. A second important finding is that the psychiatrist's task in assessing the risk of suicide is beset by serious theoretical and practical difficulties.

It is when we take these two findings together that the dilemma which faced the Government comes into focus. If it is the case that suicide in pregnancy is extremely rare, but if it is very difficult to predict accurately in an individual case, accepting suicidal tendencies as a ground for a termination would be likely to lead to the certain loss of many unborn children, without any certainty that even one suicide had been averted.

Without exception the experience in other countries has been that the inclusion of mental health grounds such as risk of suicide has effectively resulted in abortion being made available on demand.

The Government accept that unwanted pregnancy can lead to emotional and psychological trauma and that a caring society must be able to respond to this. However, in balancing all the rights and wrongs involved in this very complex issue we should learn from the mistakes made in other countries and recognise that abortion is not the answer. The answer lies in how as a Government we take care of women with unplanned pregnancies and how as a society we respond and care for these women.

Do we not allow them go to Britain?

The exclusion of suicide as a grounds for abortion has been presented by many both inside and outside the House as a failure on the Government's part to respond to the needs of women in Ireland today. I would like to take this opportunity to say nothing could be further from the truth. A wide range of help and assistance is available for women for whom an unplanned pregnancy may result in psychological problems. I am thinking here not only of the support services provided in each health board area by multi-disciplinary teams of health professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, community psychiatric nurses and social workers but also the wide range of support and counselling services provided by voluntary agencies.

If the people decide not to adopt the Twelfth Amendment, the Supreme Court interpretation of Article 40.3.3º will stand. The Government have decided that in that case it will be necessary to introduce legislation to regulate the position, so as to minimise the possibility that the wider grounds set out in that interpretation would lead to unjustified terminations of pregnancy.

Blackmail.

I am at present working on a summary of what this legislation would have to contain. I must, however, make it very clear that I would regard the introduction of such legislation, instead of the adoption of the proposed constitutional amendment, as a far less desirable outcome. For all the reasons I have outlined earlier, it is far preferable to remove threatened suicide from the grounds for legal terminations, and I urge everyone both in this House and in our society to appreciate the importance of so doing.

The complexities of the issues raised in this debate have implications not only for individual Members of the House and for the general public, but also for the medical profession. It is quite clear that medical care and the provision of that care at the margins for women when life is at risk should remain at the forefront of debate.

It is the medical profession who are called upon to deal with issues of life and death, with the complex legal and treatment considerations of patients under their care. It is individual doctors who will be at the forefront of the decision-making process implicit in the issues raised by the referendum on the substantive issue. It is not the referendum itself that brings this about, it is a fact of medical life.

Every day, the medical profession provide expert medical and surgical care for pregnant women regardless of the medical complexities, rarity of diagnoses or the trauma that may arise in exceptional individual cases. It is necessary to reassure people generally and women in particular that that caring and expert treatment will remain fully available in our health services regardless of the outcome of the referenda.

It should be stressed that such treatment and care has been the hallmark of our health services for many years. It should be clearly acknowledged that the medical profession are obviously to the fore in deciding on matters that are the essence of life or death. That reliance on the profession has been well placed as evidenced by the high national and international reputation of our obstetric and gynaecological services in particular. This faith is clearly shared by the general public and must be safeguarded at all costs during the referenda debate. This will be a major element of my contribution as Minister for Health to the debate both in this House and outside.

The medical profession either as individual doctors or within their representative or professional organisations will assess the implications of the referenda, particularly those on information and especially the substantive issue. I have no doubt that the profession will look to the Medical Council to give them guidance in matters of ethical conduct and behaviour. This is as it should be as they have the statutory function to so advise. It will be the case that the current code of ethics of the council will require scrutiny in the light of the outcome of the referenda. Whether this scrutiny will result in changes is, of course, a matter for the Medical Council in the full knowledge of the legal situation which will pertain at the time.

The fundamental principles will remain that a doctor must do his best to preserve life and promote the health of the sick in accordance within the existing legal framework. I am aware that there is some concern among individual members of the profession at the implications of the referenda if approved by the people and the implications in relation to the current practice of medicine. It is important that given the pivotal role of the profession in the treatment and management of cases that any concerns of the profession generally in relation to the issues raised be addressed properly and adequately. If those concerns warrant it, I am fully available to the representative organisations to tease out the issues in so far as their members are concerned and offer whatever assistance is appropriate in the best interests of the profession and of medical care.

The Fourteenth Amendment provides for the freedom to obtain, or to make available, information relating to services lawfully available in another state, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law. I now propose to outline for the House the Government's proposals for legislation in this area.

It is proposed to distinguish between two types of information. The first concerns information provided by, for example, a doctor or an advice agency, to a pregnant woman who seeks advice concerning her specific circumstances. It will be a requirement that, in such circumstances, information must be given in the context of non-directive counselling on the full range of alternative options available to the person concerned. "Non-directive counselling" means setting out all the available options in order to let the person make an informed decision for herself.

I have been told that many Irish women arriving at clinics in Britain for abortions are found to have received no counselling before leaving Ireland. Quite apart from adding to the anxiety and stress of the women concened, there is no doubt whatsoever that this results in abortions which could have been avoided. Some women who would otherwise have had abortions choose, after counselling, to continue with their pregnancies.

It has been submitted to me that, following the 1988 Supreme Court decision concerning information, doctors have been unsure of their legal position regarding counselling in crisis pregnancies. The proposed legislation will not only resolve this uncertainty, but will go further in a positive way by linking the provision of abortion information in crisis pregnancies with the provision of full non-directive counselling.

The second type of information distinguished in the legislation will be information of a more general nature, which is not directed at the circumstances of an individual case, for example, general factual material which may be published in books or magazines or transmitted on radio or television. Such information will only be permitted in so far as it is factual in nature and does not seek to promote abortion in preference to alternative courses of action. It will also be a requirement that the services concerned, and the content of the information, must be fully in compliance with the law of the country in which the services are provided. It is also proposed to include in the Bill a provision enabling the Minister for Health to make regulations on more detailed aspects of these controls, should they prove necessary.

The legislation will completely prohibit certain methods of providing information such as billboards, wallposters or the distribution of unsolicited leaflets. I am very much aware that there is a deep abhorrence of abortion on the part of many Irish people. While there must be freedom to obtain information when it is needed, I do not think it would be considered acceptable that people would be confronted by abortion information on billboards or notices in public places, or on leaflets delivered through their doors. As in so many of the other issues in this entire debate, it is a matter of balance and the Government will strive in the detailed legislation to get the balance right.

In finalising this legislation, I will, of course, take account of any relevant findings of the European Court of Human Rights in the case involving the Well Woman Centre, the decision on which is due to be issued on 29 October.

In conclusion, I want to stress again that the Government's proposals represent a careful and balanced response to very complex issues. They will reinforce the constitutional protection of the right to life of the unborn, while ensuring that all necessary care is available to women suffering life-threatening medical conditions.

There are those who consider the Government's approach too restrictive; there are those who consider it not restrictive enough. I think that this debate will show that most of the genuine concerns expressed by those on each of these sides are in fact resolved when the Government's approach is examined carefully.

I have dealt in detail with two of the three amendments. The arguments in relation to the Thirteenth Amendment. on the freedom to travel, have been spelt out by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, and I fully support these.

I am certain that the people, when called upon to vote in the three referenda, will edorse the balance in these amendments, and I urge all Members of the House to do likewise.

First, I compliment my constituency colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Connell, on his clear speech. I am certain that when copies are available they will be sent to various people——

In his constituency.

——who will be very relieved that it is not quite what the Opposition wished for. I should like also to compliment my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn, on his excellent contribution today.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy should thank us all.

It would be nice if we could approach matters in a spirit of peaceful co-operation.

The Deputy should try that approach.

However, the Opposition have made it clear that that cannot be the case. I congratulate the Government on having fulfilled their commitment given at the time of the Maastricht Referendum, to hold a referendum on travel and information, and to put forward a solution on the substantive issue. The sceptics, who predicted this would not be possible or who doubted the Government's good faith, have once again been confounded.

The travel and information referenda have been broadly welcomed. They also arise from the X case. Interference with the freedom to travel is not acceptable in a modern, democratic state. There is also a wide consensus that anyone in the situation that she would wish to seek an abortion abroad should at least be given all the alternative options and non-directive counselling.

It would be illogical, however, if the Irish people were to be consulted about these matters and not the main issue of abortion itself. Indeed, such a strategy would run the risk of having a negative impact on the chances of success particularly of the information referendum, if the opinion of the voter was to be confined to those more restricted aspects. The principle underlining the 1983 referendum was that the people would be consulted again, if there were any question of the legalisation of abortion in this country. This question has arisen, unexpectedly, as a result of the recent Supreme Court judgment in the X case and therefore has to be addressed. It would be a denial of democracy to allow the legalisation of abortion in this country, without the Irish people being consulted again.

There are those on the Opposition benches who say that dealing with this matter by way of referendum has demonstrably failed. I reject that argument. First of all, abortion as a public policy issue was bound to have arisen in some form or other in the past ten years. It has been a deeply controversial and divisive subject in America, Britain, Germany and Italy. In Belgium the King even abdicated temporarily for 24 hours, rather than sign the legislation passed in parliament. But we have to be able to grasp nettles and deal with them. This the Government have done in putting forward these proposals.

Fine Gael should not be allowed to forget the key role they played in 1981 in the decision to have this issue dealt with originally by way of referendum. It was Deputy Garret FitzGerald and the then Senator Gemma Hussey who met the pro-life amendment campaign on 30 April 1981 and gave them an instant pledge without proper reflection as to whether this was the proper way to proceed. It left Fianna Fáil with little choice but to give a similar commitment a few weeks later. Unlike Fine Gael, who had the cynical attitude to election pledges that they could be forgotten or watered down once they had achieved their purpose, Fianna Fáil back in Government in 1982 proceeded conscientiously——

And blindly.

——to find a suitable wording in accordance with their pledge.

Even if they did not get it right.

Deputy Briscoe has a sense of humour anyway.

When the first wording was published in November 1982 Deputy FitzGerald had it legally examined and made an unequivocal public commitment to put it to the people before 31 March 1993, once again trying to go one better on Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil, the lily whites.

I know Deputy Carey does not like the truth but he will have to sit there and listen. He will have his opportunity to contribute.

I am listening to the Deputy.

I am glad he is.

Deputy Briscoe is reinventing history.

Deputy FitzGerald wrote to PLAC on 6 November promising that: "The referendum would not be delayed by any other consideration. This is an integral part of our programme and will be undertaken by any Government that I may have the responsibility of leading after the next election."

A couple of months later, safely back in Government, Deputy FitzGerald backed away from this solemn commitment with some legal cover provided by the then Attorney General, whose objections were dismissed as petty by the late John Kelly, regarded by many people as one of this country's foremost constitutional lawyers.

That is not true.

Legal queries are, of course, possible in relation to any law or constitutional provision that is subject to interpretation by the courts.

The Deputy can explain away.

However, the fact is that Deputy FitzGerald's gross breach of faith with the electorate could not be stomached by several of his back-benchers——

The X case has proved our point.

I would remind Deputy Owen and, indeed, Deputy Carey, that they are not in ringside seats at a boxing match. They must listen to what is being said.

We are listening to a pugilist of some fame, Deputy Briscoe.

If Deputy Carey persists in interrupting I will have to ask him to leave the House and I will not ask him a second time. The same applies to anybody else who is not disposed to listen.

I hope I will be allowed some injury time. The fact is that Deputy FitzGerald's gross breach of faith with the electorate could not be stomached by several of his backbenchers or by nearly half of the Labour Party who voted to ensure that the original November 1982 wording chosen by Fianna Fáil was put to the people.

The judgment of the Supreme Court decision in the X case was very controversial, has not been accepted as valid by many lawyers and was not reasonably foreseeable.

Why are we going through this now?

The question of suicide was not raised by the then Attorney General or anybody else in 1982-83. The 1983 amendment was based on the excellent principle of the equal right to life of the mother and of the unborn. Few people other than those who are openly looking for a liberal abortion law, have challenged the principle.

The Supreme Court judgment in the X case requires us to further clarify the principle. This the Government have done in a way that should be reassuring to mothers and pregnant women, removing any worries as to how the equal right to life principle could be interpreted in practice.

The additional principle that is set out ensures that any pregnant woman who has a life-threatening condition will be given all the treatment she requires. That will be the case, whatever the condition, and whatever the recommended treatment. Obviously, the doctor has an obligation, where possible, to have a live child born, but there is no sense at all in allowing both the mother and the foetus to die for want of treatment.

While medical opinion is divided, there is sufficient weight of evidence to suggest that termination may occasionally be required to save a woman's life. This cuts across the direct/indirect distinction which is not of course a medical or legal one, and which could interfere with existing medical practice and introduce confusion and uncertainty for doctors, patients and the courts. As the chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said in a letter toThe Irish Times on 16 October, there is no consensus on the matter among the medical profession, and it is not a black and white area.

Indeed, in that connection I note a rather striking contradiction between the position of SPUC in Britain, which supplied most of the literature for the Irish Pro-Life Movement during the Maastricht campaign, as set out in last Saturday'sIrish Press, and SPUC here. SPUC in Britain frankly acknowledge: “Of course abortion to save the mother's life was legal before the Act. We do not dispute that it should be”. It would seem that there is a serious difference of view between SPUC in Britain and the SPUC branch in Ireland as to what is a realistic position to take.

There is a folklore that goes back a long way about women with cancer, for example, being told by their priests or doctors that they may not be treated and that by implication they will be left to die. Leaving people to die, when they could be saved, is not a pro-life position. It is the opposite. Fianna Fáil in their proposal are very clearly repudiating that kind of inhumanity, to the extent it may still persist. The substance of the proposal is very pro-woman and represents a significant advance in terms of clarification of the position.

Unless she is suicidal.

We have not bowed to pressures to use absolutist ideological language. If this referendum were to be defeated, we will not be holding another one with a different, tougher wording. Either the referendum is passed, or abortion will remain legal, in cases where the woman claims to be suicidal with the backing of psychiatric experts. All the international evidence suggests that that would create a dangerous loophole.

Fine Gael, while supporting the referendum, are asking for legislation. I disagree. There is no case of the legislator coming between the doctor and the patient, and I detect little demand for legislation coming from the medical profession. The legislator cannot foresee or enumerate all possible medical circumstances. It is far better to leave it between the doctor and the patient in accordance with clear general principles rather than to establish a maze of regulations. There is a further point. If the Supreme Court, barring the question of suicide, in Deputy FitzGerald's words "removed the ambiguity" in the original wording, what possible objection can we have to incorporating the key passage in the Supreme Court's judgment word for word in the Constitution?

There has been criticism of the distinction drawn with regard to health. We need to be clear why it is there. It is drawn directly from the Supreme Court judgment, which parties opposite appear to approve of. If the clause is left out, we could be faced with a Y case, where the meaning of the term "life' is extended to include the quality of life, which is a nebulous concept, which could require us to hold some time in the future yet another referendum on this subject.

Not if you legislate. Define what you mean by the words.

I do not know if Fine Gael and Labour or most of the representative women's groups are demanding that a health risk should be sufficient ground for termination. Are they familiar with the language of the 1967 Abortion Act in England which permits termination if the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk "or injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated"? That is what has led to abortion on demand. The language is very plausible, but it leads to results quite different from what may be intended. Are those who say they do not like the distinction saying that, in order to save the health of the mother, termination should be allowed? Have they any proposals as to how such a clause could be implemented, without the risk of abuse?

People have objected to the exclusion of suicide, though that exclusion at least is supported by Fine Gael with the exception so far of Deputy Fennell. The reason it has been excluded is that it is obviously open to abuse. It is very difficult ever to determine conclusively another person's intentions, even if one is a trained psychiatrist. It is therefore inadvisable to legislate for it. Studies have shown this. In Minnesota between 1950 and 1965, when suicide was an allowable ground for therapeutic abortion, over 60 per cent of abortions took place. Yet figures for actual suicides were negligible and in the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin during the seventies there was not a single case of national suicide recorded. But anyone genuinely in that situation or the persons caring for them will have the option to travel, if that is the only other way out that they see, even though I am sure excellent counselling will be available.

The Government have taken into consideration the views of the Church of Ireland. Fianna Fáil have ensured both in 1983 and today that no sectarian languange is put in the Constitution. The substance of the Government's proposal is very close to the Church of Ireland's own criteria of "strict and undeniable medical necessity" as the only justification of a termination. While respecting their preference for legislation, I feel that would not be the proper democratic response. I believe the general principle can work, and that it is actually better than legislation, because it leaves the responsibility with the medical profession, who I believe will have no serious difficulty working with the wording, as the President of the IMO has confirmed.

As legislators we have a wider responsibility to society as a whole. Our personal convictions, while important, cannot be our sole guide to sensitive and controversial social issues. I believe the churches will respect, as they have often proclaimed in the past, the different role that they have in setting out their moral teaching, and our role as legislators, which must have regard to what is workable, practicable, and above all defensible in terms of public policy.

As a country we are faced with many pressing economic and other problems. I see no case for delaying and prolonging the debate. The vast majority of the Irish people want a proposition to be put to them and to decide on it, so that we can all move on to other business as quickly as possible. It is certainly not the Government that want to prolong any unavoidable diversion of public attention. They have had the courage to take up a clear position on this most difficult of issues.

If anything, this debate has brought about a divergence of views. One of the opinions which I have heard now — the gospel according to Deputy Briscoe — is that once people have spoken on this debate they should have no furthere act or part in it. I resent that and also the implication that because Deputy Briscoe has chosen to complete his speech at midnight on Tuesday 20 October that should be the end of the debate. I would say to Deputy Briscoe that I was one of the legislators in 1983, and contrary to what the Deputy has now put on the record in 1992 — that in some way Fianna Fáil were innocent or had washed their hands of this problem — the facts are, and this was put on the record tonight by Deputy FitzGerald, that when the Government, on the advice of the Attorney General and in complete agreement with the Labour Party members of Cabinet, decided that the wording created a risk to the life of women, we proposed an alternative wording which Fianna Fáil rejected on the basis that they were not the words their party wanted. Indeed, some of the Members who are now Ministers said that the reason these words were being used by Fianna Fáil was that they were ambiguous. That is what Fianna Fáil wanted in 1983; we tried to stop them in Seanad Éireann but they outvoted us and accused us during that campaign and on other occasions up to and including the last Presidential campaign of being in some way soft on abortion. I resent that as a Christian and indeed as a Catholic.

Debate adjourned.