Regulation of Information (Services Outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This morning I asked the Minister about his statement that names and addresses are not dealt with in the Bill. In the document circulated to us he states that one section deals with names and addresses of services and the methods of contacting them. The Minister said that is a constitutional right. On what does he base that information? There are conflicting views in that regard. Why, if it is a constitutional right, is it included in the Bill? My colleague, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, requested that the Bill be left aside until appeals before the court are heard. The point about the constitutional right to names and addresses shows the difficulty that exists in legislation. What will happen if the courts decide the opposite to what the Government is asking us to legislate for?

I recognise the need for legislation. It will give effect to the decision of the people in the referendum, that information should be available to women. The difficulty arises in intepretation of what constitutes referral. That is the kernel of the issue. I accept there is a very thin dividing line in this regard. The Minister referred to the relationship between a patient, a general practitioner and consultant. He said that in many cases when a patient visits a general practitioner the general practitioner will give the patient a note with the telephone numbers of a consultant, and the patient then contacts the consultant. I think it is accepted by all doctors that that constitutes referral. I have no problem with the provision of medical records, patients are entitled to them.

The most important point is the need for support for pregnant women. It is very important that a good support system is put in place for these people and a very caring approach must be adopted. Education and counselling on the alternatives to abortion are also very important. That area should be developed by the health boards and voluntary organisations involved. A very caring approach must be adopted in terms of the woman who has an abortion and counselling services should be readily available. Why does the Minister believe Ireland has the highest abortion rate in Europe? As I understand it, the figure is about 8.2 per cent while it is about 28 per cent in a number of European Union countries.

Financial support is important for voluntary organisations such as Cura and the Life Pregnancy Care Service. We must provide the finance for health boards to develop proper counselling services. It is important to recognise, as has been recognised by UNICEF, that Ireland is the safest place in the world to have a baby. With proper support and a high standard of health care — we are fortunate to have a high standard of health care — I hope through counselling we will reduce the number going abroad for abortions and will arrive at the point where abortion will not be seen as an option.

In 1981 the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, gave a clear commitment to the people of Ireland when he pledged his support for an anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution. As a result, Article 40.3.3º was inserted in our Constitution in 1993. It states:

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.

The word "abortion" was not mentioned in any shape or nature.

In 1986 the High Court ruled that abortion referral was unconstitutional but this Bill could be classified as abortion referral. In 1988 the Supreme Court handed down a similar ruling and in 1989 the Supreme Court again ruled that publishing the names and addresses of abortion clinics was assisting people to procure an abortion and, therefore, was unconstitutional. In 1991 the European Court of Justice gave a similar decision and the High Court did likewise. The X case was heard in February 1992 and the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was illegal where the life of the mother was in danger. In November 1992 there was a referendum to amend the Constitution. Three questions were put to the people. The part of the amendment permitting abortion where the life of the mother was in danger was defeated, however, the amendments on the right to travel and to information were passed.

In 1994 the Well Woman Centre sought a ruling under the 1992 amendment that it could publish a list of abortion services legally available abroad. As we know, this case has not been decided upon, but now we are discussing the Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995. I made those comments because it is important to relate the background to this issue.

The overwhelming majority of people here do not agree with the deliberate killing of the unborn child. Most people are aware of the many women who go abroad to have an abortion but our Constitution makes quite clear what the wishes of the people are. It is clear, therefore, that the Government must make available counselling and information for these women to advise them why they should not go ahead with the abortion or killing of their child. People must be fully informed of the various options open to them. This Bill in my opinion includes abortion as an option together with the other options for not having an abortion. In my opinion, this is contrary to Article 40.3.3º. The Supreme Court has ruled that issuing the names and addresses of abortion clinics abroad is contrary to Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution. The Well Woman Clinic has again brought a case before the Supreme Court, which has adjourned the case for the time being. I appeal to the Minister not to go ahead with this Bill until the Supreme Court gives its ruling. The Minister has said the decision may not be handed down for another year or two and, therefore, the situation regarding the right to travel and information must wait, specifically the second part, information. I find it very difficult to understand this statement. The legislation is in place and it is a matter for the Supreme Court to interpret its meaning——

(Limerick East): It is a matter for the High Court and it will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

——and they must be aware of the fact that it is not proper to delay such a matter when the Government has a responsibility to introduce new legislation to facilitate the right to travel and to information. I appeal to the High Court and to the Supreme Court, as the case may be, to make this decision as soon as possible so that the Government can carry out its responsibilities in a proper way.

If the Minister is saying that Fianna Fáil lacks courage on this matter, let me tell him that it is not lacking courage. It is wrong of him to say so as a defence for his Bill. The Fianna Fáil Party is looking for political consensus on this issue and that is the way it should be but it would appear that the speedy introduction of this Bill is not giving us that opportunity. That is reason enough not to proceed with this Bill. I accept that new legislation has to be introduced, but it would be better to wait and make sure it is proper legislation as there is no sense in rushing such an important matter through the House.

I understand there are no other Government speakers. It is obvious the Government is trying to rush the Bill through and bring the debate to a speedy conclusion. Will the Minister explain why Government speakers do not want to speak on the Bill? There are many Deputies on the Government side who would like to say what we are saying but perhaps they have been restricted from doing so.

Before the referendum in 1992 Fianna Fáil issued a leaflet to the public which clearly stated that a "Yes" vote would not mean giving the right to issue the names and addresses of abortion clinics outside the State.

(Limerick East): That is not true.

It would mean proper counselling on the other options together with information on the health risks and consequences of abortion. The Supreme Court decided that issuing names and addresses of abortion clinics is contrary to the Constitution.

(Limerick East): That was before 1992.

It is not correct for this Bill to offer that option. I regret to hear the Minister use terms such as "small pressure groups". All options should be heard but it is the duty and responsibility of the Government to interpret the wishes of the people properly. I hope the Minister takes note of the comments rather than knocking them or brushing them aside. There should be an opt-out or conscience clause in the Bill——

(Limerick East): That is there already.

——for doctors who do not want to give the names and addresses of legalised abortion clinics abroad. As worded, the Bill could make such people liable——

(Limerick East): That is not so.

That is the Minister's opinion.

(Limerick East): No, that is in the Bill.

The title of the Bill is "Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995", in other words, abortion options outside the State. I do not understand how the information provided for under this Bill can be justified when it is clear the people decided they were anti-abortion in the 1992 referendum. The only reference to information in the wording before the people was the word "information". Therefore, the wording in this Bill is open to misinterpretation and the people should have the right to decide the wording used by way of another referendum.

The Bill may be unconstitutional and, if passed, may be open to challenge. It allows referral in all but name.

(Limerick East): The Deputy's party agreed to bring in a Bill which would allow referral.

This Bill is to give effect to the wishes of the majority of the people following the 1992 referendum. The majority decided against abortion, even for women in danger, in other words, Article 40.3.2 would remain unchanged. However, there was also a decision in that referendum to give women the right to travel and to information. Information about what? I assume it is information which would comply with the first part of the amendment. It is difficult to accept that one section was against abortion and the other was for abortion referral. No-one could interpret the wishes of the people to mean that.

This Bill will not stop women having abortions. Informative counselling on the risks attaching to abortion would lead to a reduction in the number of abortions. I would have been pleased if the Minister had given greater emphasis to that section. Such services should be State financed.

If an agency does not comply with the provisions of the Bill it will incur a fine not exceeding £1,500. That is a paltry fine for breaking the law in such circumstances.

(Limerick East): Would the Deputy favour having a jail sentence?

I would favour the Government reviewing the fine of £1,500 for a clinic which would advise people to go abroad and have abortions.

(Limerick East): So the Deputy would not advise me to have a jail sentence?

I appeal to the Minister, in the interests of good politics, to allow censorship play its role on this important social matter and not rush the Bill through the House.

Is dócha gur ceist fíor-thromchúiseach, bhrónach í, ceist an ghinmhillte in Éirinn. Abortion is one of the most serious issues to come before us. Those who speak in the debate will feel nothing but sympathy for women who feel they must have an abortion. It upsets me deeply to hear people use terms such as "fundamentalists" about those who are opposed to abortion. It seems to indicate that they lack heart or feeling when nothing could be further from the truth.

As politicians, people come to us in all kinds of trouble. We show nothing but sympathy for people with problems irrespective of how they arise.

We must look at the law as it is and must legislate in cold print. It is important to remember that people's actions are judged in court with full knowledge and understanding of the dilemmas in which people find themselves. Within the overall context of this Bill it is important to point out that some people's main concern would be with those who might seek to promote abortion place it on an equal status with other moral issues, and put it to the electorate in traumatic circumstances.

I have huge sympathy for the Minister in this matter, I have no doubt where his heart lies, I understand his dilemma, but the timing of the introduction of this Bill — the day after publication of the Framework Document — annoyed me enormously. I understand the original intention was to have this passed by the House within a week.

We must accept, and I always have done, that there are those who have no conscientious difficulty with abortion and that there are those who have but who feel it is all right to refer for abortion women who want to terminate a pregnancy. Equally, there are those who feel that neither of those two options is right. I accept that the full spectrum of those opinions is represented in society. It would indeed be regrettable if, at any time, this House became a place in which that full diversity of opinion could not be expressed. Equally it would be regrettable if we reached the stage at which the manner in which we disposed of difficult questions, on which we knew there to be a huge difference in public opinion, was to reach a cosy consensus, pushing any relevant legislation speedily through, washing our hands of any such problems.

I am glad that there will be a full debate affording each and every Member, irrespective of his or her views, an opportunity to voice them and explain the basis on which they have been formed. I cannot, and never would claim, to argue on equal grounds the constitutional ramifications of various amendments to our Constitution because I am not a constitutional lawyer; I am just an ordinary citizen who has the privilege to be a Member of this House but, in discussing this whole issue, it must be remembered that ordinary citizens — or their representatives — passed the various enactments.

Article 40.3.1º of our Constitution reads:

The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.

—which is the right to life of the unborn. Perhaps I do not understand English but my interpretation of that Article is that, in any law we pass, we are obliged to vindicate, as far as practicable, the right to life of the unborn, while totally accepting that there are people who disagree with me, the vast majority of the electorate believe that unborn human life is human life and that, when we talk about abortion, we are talking about the taking of the most innocent human life.

I know a referendum was passed to provide for amendment of our Constitution, to make information on services available in another jurisdiction but, in that amendment, it was said there would be no referral. That amendment has caused great confusion and it was unfortunate it was held at the time of a general election. Looking at that amendment, I, with my limited understanding observe that it says:

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in this State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State.

To an ordinary layman — and remember we are talking about ordinary, lay people — that does not specify any limit to the restrictions in law that may be laid down. I think many ordinary people would join me in saying they did not realise there was any limit to the restrictions in law. That there are limits in the law is clearly indicated in the Minister's Bill, in which he clearly differentiates, for example, between paid magazines and freebies handed into households. This would appear to indicate to me — and here I stress I am talking about ordinary people, the non-constitutional lawyers, people who do not have expertise at their back — that if those limitations can be inserted, additional ones could also be inserted. I am not clear, and I think half the electorate is not clear, on the demarcation line, about which everybody on the other side is talking, between what we can and cannot limit but it is not clear from this amendment that there is any such demarcation line.

It can rightly be asked if this is referral. Again, I can take only a layman's view but, if somebody enters my clinic looking for a local authority house, and I hand them an application form, a telephone number, address — and perhaps even the use of the telephone — I would feel I was referring them to the relevant local authority.

It was made quite clear by a doctor in a letter to The Irish Times this week, that, nowadays, most doctors refer patients to specialists, giving them names, addresses, telephone numbers and a letter of reference, very few pick up the telephone and make an appointment for a patient. Whether we like to or not, the lay perception of this is that it constitutes referral, which is where one of the great difficulties arises with this Bill because it was made quite clear in the Government leaflet there would be no referral under the provisions of this legislation.

I have always felt we must create a caring society, that our efforts in this direction should create the social circumstances in which no person would think of an abortion. Unfortunately, in many European countries where abortion is freely available, it has not become a serious issue for many people but one of social convenience. I would very much regret if we ever created circumstances in which abortion—because I believe it involves the destruction of human life — would become a matter of social convenience. Of all the fundamental rights we possess, I believe in the fundamental right to life. If the Minister introduced a Bill to reintroduce capital punishment no whip would make me vote for it. I am proud to have been one of the few Senators who at the time of the Iraqi war — which I perceived to be a resource war — who opposed it and the taking of innocent, human life then also. Life is one of our most fundamental gifts and I do not believe anybody has the right to take it away. Therefore, we must always be very careful never to give the impression that we are making human life any cheaper or in any way devaluing it. There are people whose stated aim is easy access to legalised abortion. They have a salami type approach and push for the introduction of legislation slice by slice.

The mission statement in The Agenda For Choice — Achieving Reproductive Rights in Ireland — Goals For The Year 2000, a publication by the Irish Family Planning Association, presents the association's clear view on abortion. It states that the association gives a special emphasis to maternal and child health through information and access to family planning and safe abortion services. Their goal is: “To promote an environment in which decisions can be freely made by women who have unplanned or unexpected pregnancy”. The publication goes on to state:

In the context of abortion in Britain: inform women of their legal rights to safe abortions, provide confidential information and counselling on how to obtain a safe abortion; provide access to safe abortion services; continually improve access to these services; and condemn incidents of any political, administrative or social barriers curtailing this right.

Wherever possible, enter into a dialogue with political, religious and cultural opinion leaders to liberalise their attitudes towards safe abortion.

I accept the bona fides of the Minister when he says that under no circumstances would he ever vote for the legislation of abortion in Ireland, but I do not believe that is how it will happen. Information on abortion legislation will be introduced and in a few years' time we will be told we are hypocrites because we allow doctors to do everything except make the telephone call to refer patients for an abortion. We will then be asked to take another step and let doctors make such telephone calls. A few years later we will be told once again that we are hypocrites because we have taken two steps towards providing access to abortion services. Pro-abortion groups will call us hypocrites because we facilitate access to abortion services in whatever way we can and the only thing we object to is the provision of those services in the Republic. If we go down that road what answer will we give when those groups use that argument? That will be the day we will be exposed.

Limiting access to information is not the solution to the abortion problem, but liberalising access to such information, making it commonplace and thereby providing a social convenience is something my conscience will not allow. At the end of the day we all have to answer for our position. I do not believe it is right to create a culture that devalues human life. I would much rather be speaking about housing provisions for single parents, support services for those with crisis pregnancies and how this Legislature can best support those who find themselves with unplanned pregnancies.

I wish to reply to a comment made by a Government Deputy about the large number of men speaking on this Bill. I am a husband and a father and more than half of my constituents are women. I represent more women than I do men and I do not find a significant difference between the number of women and men who approach me on this issue.

Chairman, I wish to call a quorum.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I hope the Minister will consider withdrawing this Bill. I know that many members of his party and the other Government parties share many of the views articulated on this side of the House. The burden of being party to passing this legislation is weighing heavily on them.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Deputy should not worry. We can look after ourselves. We can deal with reality.

We are not hypocrites, not like the Deputy.

I have just been called a hyprocrite by a Deputy and I take that as a direct inpugnment of my character. I have sincerly held beliefs and I am sure other Deputies also have such beliefs.

We have beliefs, but we are not hypocrites.

Deputies may not interrupt from outside the Chamber.

The Chairman should ask that the allegation made against Deputy Ó Cuív be withdrawn. It is surely the mark of a true democrat that he would allow a person to express his or her opinion, irrespective of whether he agrees with him or her. The Chairman should ask that those remarks be withdrawn.

Not at all. It is a factual statement and I am sure it will be allowed on the record.

The Chair has no function in that matter.


An allegation that I am a hypocrite has been made by a Member in the Chamber and the Chair should ask that that remark be withdrawn. I do not intend to proceed until it is withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Deputy to rephase his comment as it has given offence.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): How does the Deputy know that we are under pressure or worried?

With all due respects, members of the Fine Gael Party are well able to speak for ourselves on this issue. If my remark upset Deputy Ó Cuív I withdraw it.

Deputy Eric Byrne also said I was a hypocrite.

It was suggested by Deputy McGahon that the Deputy comes from a long line of them.

A Deputy

Speak for yourself.

Acting Chairman

The debate is too serious to indulge in this type of exchange.

I am more than surprised at Deputy McGahon's remarks.

I am not a ventriloquist. The gentleman beside me said it.

The Deputy is wasting time.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has just a few minutes remaining.

I presume I still have four minutes left while these points of order are being——

Acting Chairman

The Deputy had four minutes from resumption after the quorum.

The Deputy has been interrupted so often.

The interruptions are coming from that side of the House.

I am pleased to hear Deputy Finucane will be able to speak for himself. We have been here all day and all we got from the Government was an amazing silence on this issue. For a long time there was no contribution from the other side of the House because it had nobody to speak on the subject.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): We have a good Minister.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy to continue, without interruption.

I look forward to hearing contributions from all Government Deputies on this subject. It is a subject on which people's diverse and conscientious views should be taken on board. Following a period of reflection, I hope, in the coming week, that the Government will reconsider its position. I hope also that the debate will not be marked with the innuendo, the catcalls and the name calling that unfortunately has to date often marred the debate which, for many of us, goes to the soul of what human existence is about.

A Government speaker may wish to contribute.

(Limerick East): I would like to conclude, since the Opposition has offered time to this side of the House.

On a point of order——

(Limerick East): The Deputy said he wanted a Government speaker, I am prepared to contribute.

Do not mind the point of order. Deputies do not call the next speaker. I cannot call the Minister as he well knows. I am calling Deputy Kenneally.

There are lots of Government speakers here. The Government does not want to speak on this subject.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. It is obvious the Minister was hoping, and he has proved that again, to rush this Bill through the House. He has done everything possible to deflect attention from it.

(Limerick-East): There is plenty of time.

I say that because of the decision to introduce this Bill at the same time as the Framework Document in relation to Northern Ireland was being launched. I do not know what the Minister is afraid of. This Bill has attracted a good deal of comment throughout the country and it appears that the Minister was attempting to make life easier for himself by not listening to views that might be contrary to his own.

(Limerick-East): It is easy for me; it is hard for the Deputy.

I am totally opposed to abortion whether it is carried out in Ireland, the United Kingdom or in any other jurisdiction. However, I recognise the necessity to introduce legislation because of the decision made by the people on the constitutional referendum on information in 1992.

The Deputy should tell that to some of his colleagues.

My party's spokesperson on health, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, has already indicated her intention to table substantial amendments on Committee Stage. I support that intention. Some might suggest that because of this we should not vote against the Bill on Second Stage.

Debate adjourned.