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.