(Limerick East): The referendum on information sought to add the following wording to Article 40.3.3º:
This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.
This referendum was passed by a 60:40 majority.
I now want to look in detail at what the electorate had been told by the Government about the purpose, implications and intended consequences of this amendment. This will show clearly that the Bill which I am now proposing is precisely in line with the understanding given to the electorate at that time.
In advance of the referendum, the Government Information Services issued a pamphlet which was distributed to every household in the country. As all other Government information leaflets, it was paid for by the taxpayer. This dealt with the key questions and answers in relation to each of the three referenda. The details given in the pamphlet as regards the information amendment were based largely on the Heads of a Bill approved by the Government, on the recommendation of the Cabinet sub-committee which, as I have said, included Ministers Flynn, O'Connell and O'Malley.
The introduction to the pamphlet explains the reason for each of the referenda. In relation to the information amendment, it says:
Previous court decisions had laid down that disseminating such information about abortion is unlawful. Following the "X" case, it would be lawful in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the expectant mother — but only in those cases. The European Court of Human Rights has recently found the present restrictions to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. This will also be resolved by the amendment.
The section of the pamphlet about the information amendment is relatively short. I am going to quote it in full. It consist of three questions and a supplied answer in each case: what will this amendment do? — It will enshrine in the Constitution that Article 40.3.3º cannot be used to limit the freedom to receive and impart information, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law: the second question is what will it permit and not permit? — The amendment would permit non-directive counselling but not abortion referral.
The third question concerns what conditions will be laid down by law. The conditions I am about to quote come directly from the Heads of the Bill which emanated from the Cabinet sub-committee of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government:
The Government has said that the legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling is also given on all the alternative options open to her. It will not be permitted to promote abortion, or to encourage the woman to select it in preference to the other options, or to provide an abortion referral service.
The legislation will also permit general factual material concerning abortion to be published in the media as long as it does not seek to promote abortion. However, such material will not be permitted on billboards, wallposters or leaflets delivered to homes.
As can be seen from what I read out, the pamphlet was crystal clear in relation to the purpose of the referendum and the legislation which would follow if the amendment was passed.
In particular, it stated explicitly that the purpose of the amendment was to legalise such information as had been found to be illegal by the Irish courts, and which was now restricted in a manner which the European Court of Human Rights had found to be in breach of the convention. Since the case before the European Court specifically related to information such as names, addresses, 'phone numbers and methods of communication with abortion services, the electorate could not have been in any doubt that the amendment covered that kind of information.
The pamphlet also stated explicitly that the provision of an abortion referral service would not be permitted.
The Bill is consistent with all these commitments. I will return to some of these points later when I deal with the criticisms of the Bill which have been made since its publication. However, I would like to place the Bill in context and explain how it will support the Government's overall objectives in minimising the circumstances in which women seek to have abortions.
The Government has decided to take a comprehensive approach to the problem of abortion. It should be clearly understood that we have an abortion problem, and a significant one. The last official figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in the United Kingdom show that 4,399 women who had pregnancy terminations in Britain in 1993 declared themselves to be resident in this jurisdiction. That figure alone is equivalent to almost 9 per cent of our annual live birth rate but the reality is that we do not know how many Irish women have abortions in Britain — we do not know how many choose to conceal their Irish address, and give instead the address of a friend or relative living in Britain. The true rate may well be significantly higher than the official figures suggest.
Whatever the true figure may be the fact of the matter is that each year a very considerable number of Irish women decide for one reason or another that they cannot go through with their pregnancy and travel to Britain to have it terminated. No matter what one's perspective on abortion may be, it cannot be denied that this represents a serious problem. I am certain that virtually everyone in the House and in the wider population — even those who would describe themselves as "pro-choice" in circumstances where there is an unwanted pregnancy — agree that it would be preferable to avoid the perceived need for an abortion in the first place.
For the first time, an Irish Government will take on this problem in a serious way. The policy agreement between the three parties states that, in tandem with the enactment of the information legislation, the Government will put in place research, education and counselling with the objective of minimising the circumstances in which such high numbers of women seek to have abortions.
This objective has two obvious components: first, to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies; and second, to reduce the extent to which unwanted pregnancies end in abortion.
The problem of unwanted pregnancy, ending in abortion, is not particular to any age group, despite the common perception. The United Kingdom abortion figures for women with Irish addresses show that less than 1 per cent of the women are under 16; about 16 per cent are aged from 16 to 19; and about 36 per cent are in the 20 to 24 age group. Taking these three categories together, we see that only slightly more than half of the women are under 25. This undermines the conventional wisdom that the problem of abortion in Ireland is related to young women who, without social support, have to go to the United Kingdom since almost 50 per cent of those included in the official statistics who seek abortion in the United Kingdom are over 25 years of age and a significant number of them are married.
This suggests that a number of different approaches need to be implemented to deal with different aspects of the problem. It also suggests that we need to find out a lot more about the factors which lead to the problem.
Arising from this the Department of Health will commission a major study to indentify the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and those which result in the option of abortion. With a better understanding of these factors we will be in a better position to target preventive policies where they will be most effective.
The research will not be focused solely on women who have abortions, but will also cover women who have proceeded with crisis pregnancies to full term. We will be consulting counsellors, doctors and experts in research before finalising the terms of reference of the study. We will also be talking to a number of research bodies of national standing, such as the Health Research Board, the Economic and Social Research Institute and relevant faculties in the universities, to determine which one would be most suited to carrying out the research. The co-operation of the various agencies and organisations who assist women with unwanted pregnancies will be very important and I hope it will be forthcoming.
The results of the research study will be particularly useful as a basis for the development of effective and properly targeted education programmes to help to reduce unwanted pregnancy, and the Health Promotion Unit in the Department of Health will give priority to the development of these.
It should be recognised as well that the programme of relationships and sexuality education, which is being introduced into schools by my colleague, the Minister for Education, will play an important role in promoting an understanding of sexuality and a knowledge of reproduction in a moral, spiritual and social framework.
In addition to research and education, the Government's programme recognises the importance of counselling for women with crisis pregnancies — counselling which is accessible, professional and carried out in a sympathetic way. For most women faced with this situation, their own doctor is ideally placed as the first point of contact. The Department of Health has been in contact with the Irish College of General Practitioners and has asked them to look immediately at how best to provide pregnancy counselling through family doctors.
It is not the intention, however, that family doctors only will provide this service. I appreciate the work which is already being done by voluntary agencies and they will be encouraged to develop their services further. The Department of Health is already providing funding, through the health boards, for a number of voluntary agencies which offer pregnancy counselling, such as CURA, LIFE and Cherish. The support provided to these agencies amounts at present to about £70,000. I am satisfied, however, that we need to give considerably more funding to the wide spectrum of voluntary agencies providing services to women with crisis pregnancies, so that women in all parts of the country will have a choice of accessible services. The Department of Health is now consulting the health boards to work out the needs in each region. When these requirements have been identified. I will be making significant funding available to ensure that counselling is available wherever it is needed. I am setting aside initially a provision of £200,000 for this purpose and want to make it clear that it is an initial provision only.
I should also mentioned that, as part of the Government's Policy Agreement, the Department of Health will shortly issue guidelines to the health boards for the development of a comprehensive family planning service. Under these guidelines, the boards will be asked to provide comprehensive services to all those who need them, on a basis which is equitable, accessible and offers a choice between health board and voluntary services. They will provide the services through health board clinics, maternity hospitals or units, general practitioners, voluntary organisations and pharmacies. Particular emphasis will be placed on providing services to disadvantaged or at-risk groups, and to persons with special needs. I will be dealing with this in a matter of weeks in a further statement.
Having looked at the background to this Bill, and the context in which I am proposing it. I will now explain its objective and its content. It has five objectives: (i) to clarify the legal entitlements and obligations of persons or agencies who give abortion information; (ii) to ensure that any doctor or advice agency who provides abortion information to pregnant women does so only in the context of full counselling on all of the available options, without any advocacy or promotion of abortion; (iii) to prohibit such a doctor or advice agency form referring women to pregnancy termination services, but without interfering with the ethical obligation on a doctor or counsellor to ensure the safety of the patient; (iv) to ensure that abortion information made available to the general public, for example, in newspapers, books or broadcasts, is factual and does not advocate or promote abortion; and (v) to prohibit the provision of abortion information by means of billboards, public notices or distributing unsolicited leaflets, so that abortion information will not be imposed on the public in a manner which will be offensive to some.
It is important to bear in mind that the scope of the Bill is confined to a specific type of information, and this is defined as information which is likely to be required by women in availing themselves of pregnancy termination services. Thus the Bill does not apply to more general information, such as information about the nature of abortion. Such information was not affected by the various court cases I mentioned and there is no need to regulate it over and above the prohibitions on promoting abortion already in the Censorship Acts.
The Bill uses the term "Act information" to refer to the type of information covered, and I will do likewise for convenience.
I have already referred to the emphasis which the Government will place upon pregnancy counselling and the Bill is an important element of this.
Research has shown that the majority of Irish women travelling to the United Kingdom for abortions have not received any counselling before travelling. Research has also shown that, where counselling is received, a considerable number of women decide against abortion. It is very clear, therefore, that we need to ensure that women who are worried about their pregnancies do not feel that their only option is to travel to England to seek an abortion without first obtaining sympathetic advice and counselling as well as whatever information they may need. In many cases, this may result in the continuation of a pregnancy which might otherwise have been terminated.
Where this is not the case, the doctor or counsellor will be in a position to ensure the patient's safety by providing information on safe and reputable services, by providing the woman with any medical records or notes which are relevant to her case and care, and by having the woman return for any post-abortion treatment or counselling which my prove necessary.
The provisions dealing with pregnancy counselling apply to doctors, advice centres or other people or agencies who offer information, advice or counselling to the public on pregnancy. This Bill does not involve any restriction on giving information to a pregnant woman by a private individual such as relative or friend.
Where such a doctor or agency is asked to give information, advice or counselling to a woman on her pregnancy, "Act information" can only be given in the context of full, truthful and objective counselling on all of the options open to her, without any advocacy or promotion of abortion. The "Act information" must relate to services which are legal where they are provided.
Nothing in the Bill obliges any individual or agency to provide "Act information". The obligation to give full counselling on all available options applies only where "Act information" is being given; pregnancy counselling which does not include "Act information" is not restricted by the Bill.
The Bill does not preclude a doctor or agency, in the context of giving "Act information" and information on the other available options, from encouraging the woman concerned not to have an abortion. Thus, while the Bill permits non-directive counselling, it does not impose an obligation on doctors or agencies to provide this; they are free to provide counselling either in a non-directive manner or in a manner which is directive away from the option of abortion.
Some agencies regard non-directive counselling as fundamental to their approach; equally, there are doctors and counsellors who will be prepared to give "Act information" but will also seek to encourage the woman to choose other options. The Bill does not preclude either approach.
There are also a number of provisions to prohibit doctors or agencies who are involved in giving "Act information" from having any financial links with abortion services or from deriving any financial or other benefit arising from the choice of abortion in preference to the other available options. The purpose of these provisions is to protect the bona fides of those providing counselling and to ensure that they are not only objective but are seen to be so.
The Bill prohibits any doctor or agency involved in pregnancy counselling from making an appointment or any other arrangement, for or on behalf of a woman, with a pregnancy termination service outside the State. While this would prohibit sending a letter of referral to a specific service provider, the Bill explicitly permits giving the woman a copy of her medical records or other relevant records or notes.
The objective is to prohibit the referral of patients to pregnancy termination services, but without interfering with the ethical obligation on a doctor or counsellor to ensure the safety of the patient. Thus, where a patient, following full counselling, decides to proceed with the option of abortion, it will be permitted to give her such information as she will require to avail herself of a reputable and safe service and to provide her with a copy of her medical records or other records or notes which may be relevant to the treatment she will receive.
I will return later to the criticism which this provision has received since the publication of the Bill.
The provisions dealing with "Act information" given to the general public, by means such as newspapers, books, magazines, broadcasts, public meetings etc., are quite straightforward. The services concerned must be lawful in the jurisdiction in which they are provided and the information must comply with any legal restrictions which apply in the jurisdiction concerned. It must be truthful and objective, it cannot advocate or promote abortion, and it cannot be accompanied by any such advocacy or promotion. Such information may not be made available by means of billboards or public notices or by the unsolicited distribution of books, newspapers, leaflets and so on. These restrictions are in line with those promised in 1992 and appear to be generally accepted as being appropriate.
The Bill also provides that other legislation which could be relevant to abortion information, such as the Censorship Acts, will not apply in any case where the Bill applies so as to avoid confusion as to which legislation is to be enforced in a particular case.
The Bill includes standard enforcement provisions, which I will discuss in more detail on Committee Stage. Two matters are worth nothing, however, Prosecutions will be a matter for the Director or Public Prosecutions, not for the Garda Síochána, and the seizure provisions will not apply to any medical records and other records or notes relevant to a patients's care. I am sure that Deputies will agree that the privacy of such records should be protected.
It will be clear from the overview of the Bill which I have just given that it very closely reflects the outline given in 1992. It derives from the heads which were approved by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government. It was greatly advanced by my predecessor, now the Minister for the Environment, and the draft as it then stood was accepted by the Fianna Fáil party in the negotiations on the formation of a Government last November.
Since then a review of the legal position by the Attorney General has enabled me to resolve one difficulty in the earlier draft which involved some potential conflict with the 1992 commitments. I am now presenting a Bill which has the full support of the three Government parties, which is consistent with what was agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats when in Government and which should therefore command consensus support in the House.
I hope that will be the case. As legislators, we have the difficult responsibility of finding the delicate balance between the different rights and freedoms in this area. We do not have luxury of those outside the House who can emphasise the rights and freedoms which support their viewpoints and ignore those which do not. The Irish people, through their decisions in the different referenda, have delineated the boundaries within which we must legislate, and the democratic process demands that we do so.
I now propose to look at the two main criticisms which have been made of the Bill, each from quite different perspectives, and to show that neither can be sustained.
The pro-life campaign organisation has based its opposition to the Bill on the argument that the electorate's understanding of "information" in the 1992 referendum did not include specific details such as names and addresses of abortion services. It has argued that the information amendment was simply an affirmation of what was already accepted as true — that there was nothing illegal about discussing abortion in broad general terms. It thus claims that the amendment, despite the fact that it campaigned against it, was merely declaratory and involved no additionality to what was already legal. If this were so, we might ask why it put such time, energy and money into campaigning against it.
What is being said now by the pro-life campaign is, of course, simply untrue, and the evidence for this comes, not alone from the literature circulated to the public by the Government at the time from which I quoted but also from that circulated by the pro-life campaign itself.
The Government's pamphlet, as I stated, said that the amendment would resolve the fact that the European Court of Human Rights had found against the decisions of Irish courts that disseminating information about abortion was in breach of Article 40.3.3º. These cases, of course, related to names and addresses and so on. The amendment could hardly have resolved this if it did not permit names, addresses and other factual information.
Let us also turn to the leaflet which the pro-life campaign produced, and which was also distributed throughout the country. This argued for a "No" vote on the information amendment, and gave the following reason, which I quote in full:
The word "information" means assistance and advice in obtaining abortions, abortion referral and advertising. At present, all factual information on abortion is legal in Ireland. All that is forbidden is aiding someone to have an abortion abroad, making a booking in a foreign clinic or supplying the name and address of one.
This amendment would make it legal in Ireland to assist in the destruction of an unborn child abroad. It would also eventually legalise the advertising of foreign abortion clinics in the Irish media.
In other words, the pro-life campaign told the electorate to vote down the information amendment because it would allow the supplying of the names and addresses of abortion clinics. The people of Ireland weighed up this advice and rejected it by a 60:40 majority. The response of the pro-life campaign was to attempt to rewrite history and to deny that the information amendment meant what they themselves said it did at the time.
Finally, the pro-life campaign has also argued that, since the giving of names and addresses was found to be in breach of Article 40.3.3º by the Supreme Court in the 1980s, it cannot now be permitted even after the information amendment. This is a rather strange argument. As I have shown, the information amendment arose as a result of those Supreme Court judgments, and has the express purpose of precluding Article 40.3.3º from limiting the freedom to obtain or provide information.
It is, therefore, quite clearly incorrect to suggest, as the pro-life campaign does, that this Bill could be unconstitutional on the basis of the Supreme Court judgment in question, since all the Supreme Court judgments predated the 1992 referendum which was expressly introduced to preclude the scope of Article 40.3.3º from the provision of freedom to provide information.
The truth of the pro-life campaign's position is very clear. It does not accept, and has never accepted, the democratic decision of the Irish people in 1992, to allow the freedom to give and receive abortion information within the constraints which the Government promised to put in place.
The truth of this Bill is even clearer. It respects the democratic decision which the people made in 1992. It lays down the conditions in law under which information will be provided in accordance with the 1992 amendment. It totally complies with all relevant provisions of the Constitution, and all commitments made to the people in 1992. The Government's position is straightforward. The 1992 information amendment was approved by the electorate on the basis of crystal clear assurances from the Government as to what it entailed. This included a commitment that abortion referral would not be permitted. The Bill follows through on this commitment, as it must.
The same arguments apply equally to those who oppose the Bill from an entirely different perspective. I cannot claim to be surprised that those who would prefer a different approach to abortion than that reflected in the Constitution are opposed to the Bill. However, I would draw attention to the balanced comments which have been made in the national media over the past week by those who do not have any such agenda.
For example, eminent legal experts are quite satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the constitutional imperative. Professor David Gwynn Morgan, analysing the Bill for The Irish Times on February 24, argues that the distinction drawn between, on the one hand, the provision of information and, on the other hand, the advocacy of abortion or the making of referral arrangements, seems to be a distinction which fits well with a realistic compromise between the 1983 and 1992 amendments. Dr. Gerard Hogan has a similar view: and, of course, the Bill would not be before the House at all if the Attorney General, Mr. Dermot Gleeson, did not also share that view.
The suggestion, made by some critics, that the Bill interferes in any way with the continuity of care provided by the doctor to his or her patient is quite untrue, and has been refuted by doctors. The position will be no different from that which applies to any other medical procedure which involves the patient moving on to a specialist.
It has been confirmed that, in normal practice, a doctor rarely, if ever, makes an appointment for a patient to see a specialist, be it a physician, a surgeon, a gynaecologist or whatever. The names, addresses and phone numbers of the relevant specialists are provided, and the patient proceeds to make the appointment. The position in relation to women who decide to proceed with an abortion will be exactly the same. The doctor will ensure that the specialist will have all of the medical or other details that would be relevant to the patient's care by giving them directly to the patient in an appropriate form. Should the specialist require further information, there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent the doctor from responding to a request for this. As with any other procedure, the patient can and indeed should return to the doctor for any post-abortion treatment or counselling that may be necessary.
A further point which has been made to me by those with an expertise in the area of counselling in general, is that it is usually beneficial to allow a break between the counselling process and the arrival at a decision. It is important that the person receiving pregnancy counselling be given time to reflect and to weigh up all of the information and advice that has been received, before arriving at what will be a decision of immense importance. This important principle would be undermined if a counselling session could conclude with an instant decision and the immediate making of an abortion appointment.
I am quite certain that any objective analysis shows that what I am proposing is correct not only from a legal and constitutional perspective, but also from the viewpoint of good practice as regards both doctors and counsellors. I would ask Deputies to reflect carefully on this before the provision is considered in detail on Committee Stage. In particular, I would ask any Opposition party which is considering tabling an amendment to remove the prohibition on referral, to bear in mind that the provision honours the commitment given to the electorate by the Government in which they themselves participated. Taking all these factors into account, to propose such an amendment would be very illogical.
I am asking the House to agree that the Bill, as it stands, provides the necessary balance between the different constitutional rights and freedoms, and is fully in keeping with the wishes articulated by the electorate. We should not allow ourselves to be pulled away from this, in either direction, by the lobby groups outside the House.
Since I first reflected on how to approach this Bill in the House circumstances have changed with the decision of the main Opposition party last night. Fianna Fáil is now arguing that the Bill should be withheld until the High Court rules on the application by the Dublin Well Woman Centre to have its injunction lifted. The argument, apparently, is that this case will confirm whether or not the 1992 amendment is to be interpreted as permitting doctors and counsellors to provide the names and addresses of abortion services. This is hypocrisy of breathtaking dimensions. Lest anyone be deceived into thinking there is any substance in the Fianna Fáil argument, perhaps we should look at exactly what is involved in the High Court case. In particular, we should realise that both the case and the constitutional amendment share exactly the same background. The High Court is being asked to lift an injunction which the European Court found to be in breach of the Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court had decided in 1988 in the Open Door and Dublin Well Woman Centre case and again in 1989 in the Grogan case that the dissemination of information on abortion, such as addresses and telephone numbers, of a foreign abortion service and the method of communication with it was unlawful having regard to Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court injunction preventing Open Door counselling and the Dublin Well Woman Centre from providing information such as names and addresses of abortion services was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that they were in breach of Ireland's obligations, under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In October 1992 the European Court of Human Rights held that Ireland was, indeed, in breach of Article 10 of the Convention. This Article relates to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information. The case and the judgment related explicitly to the provision of names and addresses and information about methods of communication and abortion services.
I am going over ground I dealt with earlier in my speech but I am doing so to reply particularly to Fianna Fáil's request for a deferral of the Bill and the grounds on which it seeks that deferral. The sole argument which the Fianna Fáil-led Government put forward in 1992 in seeking support for the information amendment was that it would resolve the conflict between the Constitution and the European Convention; in other words, the Constitution would no longer support the restriction which has been found to be in breach of the Convention. The only such restriction concerned names, addresses and means of communication. I want to make this point even clearer. The Fianna Fáil-led Government put the information amendment forward so as to remove the restriction on giving names and addresses because it breached the European Convention. It made this position very clear to the electorate in the pamphlet it issued before the referendum which I have cited.
The electorate took Fianna Fáil's advice and in due course the Dublin Well Woman Centre came before the Supreme Court to have the injunction lifted on the basis of the constitutional amendment. The then Attorney General, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil-led Government, agreed with their position and did not oppose the request and as we know the Supreme Court decided that the case was appropriate to the High Court. It is clear from the position taken in 1992 and subsequently by the Attorney General that Fianna Fáil has at all times accepted that the information amendment invalidates the restriction on names, addresses and methods of communication and that that was its stated purpose. The kindest explanation one can give for Fianna Fáil's decision to suggest otherwise is that the people making the decisions are not aware of what was done in 1992 or by the then Attorney General on behalf of the then Fianna Fáil-led Government. The unkind explanation is that this is transparent dishonesty for the purposes of political expediency.
Leaving aside the question of dishonesty on this issue, there are solid reasons it would be wrong to postpone the legislation until the case has been heard. There is no guarantee that the High Court case will resolve the issue and whatever judgment emerges will again be open to appeal to the Supreme Court. The High Court may simply look at the circumstances of the amendment and the injunction and decide to raise it. It may cast no light whatsoever on the issue. Both sides are committed to fight this issue to the absolute end and, of course, it will go to the Supreme Court. We are not speaking about a few months delay; rather we are speaking about a few years delay. In the meantime further cases could arise from the general lack of clarity about what is permitted, a lack of clarity which stems from the absence of legislation.
Many general practitioners have told my Department that there is such uncertainty about the law that they do not know where they stand. It is by no means impossible for the issue to be before the courts for five or ten years if other cases are processed. In those circumstances I could foresee the Oireachtas receiving a deserved reprimand from the courts for its failure to fulfil its responsibility to legislate on foot of the 1992 amendment. If one looks at the judgment in the "X" case one will see that a very eminent judge reprimanded the Oireachtas for not doing its job. It is our job to legislate and it is the job of the courts to adjudicate on the legislation. If we have any courage at all we will legislate in accordance with the will of the people, not run and hide.
An even more interesting point is that one of the legal arguments put forward by SPUC, which is a party to the case and is advocating a deferral, is that the information amendment is not self-executing; in other words it will not come into effect until legislation is passed. Its supporters are now telling us to leave it until the High Court decides. This is the basis of one of its arguments against the legislation. It is not possible to predict what the courts will do but I do not agree with that interpretation. We would certainly have a classic Catch 22 situation if we followed Fianna Fáil's advice and the High Court found that the amendment was not self-executing and refused to lift the injunction on the Dublin Well Woman Clinic on the grounds that the legislation was not put in place by this House. There is a certain level of ridiculousness which we should not even attempt to get into, and that is one area all Members of the House should stay out of.
The truth is that the case being made by the main Opposition party has no substance and it reflects an approach to opposition which is cynical and opportunistic in the extreme. Its posturing on this important issue will disappoint many people who believed that the events of three months ago had brought an end to stroke politics, a system which insulted their intelligence. The other criticisms of the Bill made by Fianna Fáil are equally invalid. Apparently it wants the Bill to be amended to allow for the conscientious objection by doctors or counsellors who do not wish to give abortion information. I want to make it clear again that there is nothing in the Bill which requires any person to give abortion information. The purpose of the Bill is to set down the conditions and restrictions which apply to the giving of such information and it has no relevance whatsoever to a person who does not wish to do so. The conscientious objection clause is already written into the Bill and it does not have to be written into it a second time.
Fianna Fáil Deputies have argued that the Bill should be amended to remove the right to give names and addresses. I have dealt with this issue to some extent but I want to make it clear that there is no reference to names, addresses or phone numbers in the Bill. As I have repeatedly explained, the freedom to give and obtain names and addresses derives from the 1992 amendment: it is a constitutional right since 1992 and is not a statutory right to be conferred by the Oireachtas. The Bill simply sets out the conditions which govern the exercise of that freedom and any attempt by this House to prohibit by way of statute the freedom to give and obtain names, addresses and phone numbers will run contrary to the Constitution. If the Bill contained a provision to ban doctors from giving this information it would be unconstitutional, and all Members of the House, including Fianna Fáil, which was the architect of the 1992 amendment and told people exactly what it meant, knows this. The commitments given by Fianna Fáil now fall to be honoured by this Government. In attempting to subvert this legislation Fianna Fáil is trying to make a nonsense of the democratic process and the wishes of the people.
I commend the Bill to the House.