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

Limerick East): I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The Bill I am bringing before the House today sets out to honour the commitments given to the Irish people in 1992 when they voted in favour of the constitutional amendment on the freedom to give and obtain information about services lawfully available in other states. It reflects the appropriate balance between the constitutional rights and freedoms bearing on the question of abortion information and I hope that it will, therefore, receive the full support of the Oireachtas.

I am conscious that aspects of the Bill have been criticised from several quite different perspectives and one of my main concerns in this morning's address will be to show that the arguments made by those opposed to the Bill are incorrect. Some are wrong in fact, some are wrong in law and all are inconsistent with the wishes of the people as clearly expressed in 1992.

It is important to remind ourselves of the background to the Bill.

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983 inserted Article 40.3.3º, which reads

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 Supreme Court decided in 1988 in the Open Door Counselling and the Dublin Well Woman Centre case and again in 1989 in the Grogan case that the dissemination of information on abortion, such as the name, address and telephone number of foreign abortion service and the method of communication with it, was unlawful having regard to Article 40.3.3º.

The Supreme Court decided in 1988 in the Open Door Counselling and the Dublin Well Woman Centre case and again in 1989 in the Grogan case that the dissemination of information on abortion, such as the name, address and telephone number of foreign abortion service and the method of communication with it, was unlawful having regard to Article 40.3.3º.

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 Commission 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.

In the intervening period, as Deputies will clearly recall, the abortion issue came before the Supreme Court again in the context of the X case. The court found that Article 40.3.3º would, in fact, permit an abortion where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother which could not be avoided by any other means. I do not propose to retrace the consequencs of that decision except in so far as they have a bearing on the present Bill, but the House is aware that the Government established a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with all the issues arising from it and that the deliberations of that sub-committee led to the three referenda which took place in November 1992.

That is not a logical conclusion.

(Limerick East): My understanding is that the Cabinet sub-committee was chaired by the then Minister for Justice. Mr. Flynn, and included the then Minister for Health Dr. O'Connell, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Deputy O'Malley, who was one of the Progressive Democrat Minister in that Government, the other being Deputy Molloy who sought to interrupt me.

And who knows more about what happened than the Minister.

(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.

I will deal towards the end of my speech with the last two pages of the Minister's speech. It is disingenous of the Minister to accuse people on this side of the House of a lack of courage, of being cynical or of running away from issues. I appreciate how difficult it is sometimes with political parties and this House to bring forward legislation on social issues which are extremely sensitive and on which all of us have views which may well be in opposition to those of others. Nevertheless we have to be generous enough to recognise that people have different views and they are entitled to make them known.

This is neither an easy issue to talk about nor an easy issue to legislate for. It is not an easy issue to talk about because if you describe yourself as pro-life the people who hold the opposing view see you as anti-woman, anti-civil rights or anti-liberty and if you describe yourself as pro-choice the people who hold the opposing view see you as wicked, criminal, sinful and anti-human. There are very few issues which so polarise people, which so completely stop us listening to one another and stop us from making damning judgments about each other. It is worth pointing out that this polarising of attitudes is not unique to Ireland. As a nation we tend to find ourselves guilty of not properly addressing this issue but, as we all know, in some other western nations people who hold one of two radically opposed viewpoints have been shot down in the streets for their beliefs and activities. Ireland is not on its own in its inability as a nation to come to an open, honest and productive consensus on this issue.

The Fianna Fáil Party has a policy on abortion. We do not wish to see abortion made legal in Ireland. We do not wish abortion facilities to be made available here. In discussions with parliamentary party colleagues during the past few days a third strong strand emerged in our thinking, namely, we want the circumstances that lead to crisis pregnancies and abortions examined and if possible influenced so that the numbers of women seeking abortion can be reduced. We want women in crisis pregnancies to know how to get counselling and to get the very best counselling. This Bill does not even pretend to address or acknowledge those needs. I will deal later with what the Minister said in his opening remarks about pregnancy counselling and comprehensive family planning services.

In the autumn of 1992 when Fianna Fáil was in Government it was decided to tackle the consequences of the X case. Three referenda were held. On the information issue an amendment was proposed for insertion in the Constitution to the effect that there would not be a limit on freedom to obtain or indeed make available in the State, subject to whatever conditions may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State. In an explanatory leaflet which was made available to the electorate the Government — the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat parties — explained that this subsection was considered a balanced approach. We underlined that we understood the sincerity and depth of people's feelings and concerns. We explained that the referendum on information was held to enshrine in our 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. We said that the amendment would permit non-directive counselling but not abortion referral. Almost 60 per cent of the population accepted the proposals in the referenda on information.

The clear decision of the electorate in the 1992 referendum provided the framework for a limited Bill. In effect, it said the people did not want abortion facilities on Irish soil but wanted women to have the freedom to go abroad to avail of services legally available there and wanted those women to be able to access information about those services. The electorate made a decision which could not please either pro-life or pro-choice people. In the process it handed us, its elected representatives, a task which, if it followed the complex wishes of the electorate, would similarly fail to satisfy either committed pro-life or pro-choice people.

As a woman with a uniquely liberal legislative track record I am conscious of and sensitive to the views of women who consider the lack of referral as an intrusion into their rights. I must also be sensitive to another viewpoint, one which is probably the nearest to which this country will get to consensus on any aspect of the abortion issue. I do not believe there is anybody in Ireland, man or woman, feminist or unreconstructed chauvinist, who considers abortion a good thing. Those who feel most strongly pro-choice will confirm that it is rarely if ever an easy decision, rarely if ever a decision that a woman makes without paying and rarely if ever a choice made without sadness. The phrases we have got used to using such as "the abortion trail" do not reflect the reality which is that for individual women making that journey it is a cold quiet journey made under pressure and most often remembered in isolation. Nobody wishes to take that journey and none of the women who has taken it should have that part of their lives made retrospectively worse by having to listen to some of the pointless self-righteous judgments which tend to be made on this issue.

Without making any judgments we, as legislators, can legitimately seek to reduce the number of abortions involving Irish women. No decision in a crisis pregnancy should be taken without counsel or information but, above all, no decision should be taken without thought. There has been much talk during the past week or so of counselling, but while the Minister has been at pains to separate those providing counsel — whether doctors, clinics or agencies — from the issue of referral, he has not included in the Bill any reference to counselling. It is crucial that the best counselling is available to women at every point during such a crisis in their lives because it is too easy to talk simply of "crisis pregnancies".

Picking up one's life and moving on after an abortion is difficult and it is to the credit of some of the most anti-abortion organisations that they provide counselling for women post factum. Counselling should be available at every point to such women and it should be State supported. The State has too often intervened in the matter of abortion from a purely regulatory point of view. It has sought to prevent the Act of abortion as if somehow it happens in avacuum. It never happens in a vacuum. It happens in the context of a woman's whole life and in the context of relationships, families, illness and careers and it is surrounded by hopes and fears, by support and betrayal. It is about time the State began to consider abortion as a human issue in that much wider context. The State has responsibilities to women in crisis pregnancies and up to now it has been doing a Pontius Pilate job on those responsibilities because the loudest statement it has made has been the washing of hands.

Fianna Fáil has given this Bill great consideration. As the public now know, yesterday we had a very lengthy parliamentary party meeting at which a large number of the members spoke. Serious reservations were expressed about the Bill. The party recognises that legislation is required to comply with the 14th amendment to the Constitution dealing with the right to information. Accordingly, work was in progress in the Department of Health since the passing of the referendum in 1992 to bring forward a Bill giving expression to the people's wishes. A Bill was not brought to Cabinet for approval during Fianna Fáil's term in office.

Before the publication of this Bill last week there was no indication that the Government intended to bring forward such legislation this session. If I recall correctly, when a list of legislation to be taken in this session was published by the Government this did not appear. On the day of the publication of the Framework Document, the Bill was suspiciously rushed out. I can only assume that there was a grand plan that the Bill would be swallowed up in the events of that and subsequent days and it would not receive critical examination.

That is rubbish.

There should be no interruptions.

I did not interrupt the Minister and I do not believe the Deputy should interrupt me.

(Limerick East): The Taoiseach informed Deputy Harney a fortnight ago that the Bill was being published.

Let us hear the Member in possession. I do not want interruptions from any side of the House.

It is regrettable that the Taoiseach did not come into the House to support the Minister. He did not consult anybody.

In the Minister's speech there are four paragraphs entitled "Political Consensus on the Bill". I had the task of dealing with a very sensitive social issue in this House and I appreciate the difficulty the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will have and has had with the Bill.

He does not have any difficulty with it.

This issue polarises people. I am sure some members of all parties have difficulties with certain aspects of the Bill. If we are genuinely interested in political consensus on issues such as this — I certainly am — the manner in which the Bill was published leaves much to be desired. It is not yet too late for the Minister, and the three parties in Government, to seek that political consensus. I certainly will give a commitment on behalf of Fianna Fáil that we will be prepared to co-operate with the Minister and his colleagues in Government in reaching that political consensus, and we will be generous with him in doing that.

Can the Deputy speak for Deputy Noel Ahern?

It is a valid question.

Let us have the same order as obtained previously for the Deputy in possession.

It is our view that the timing of the Bill is particularly unwise as there are cases pending before the courts in which the very issue to be decided is what the 1992 information amendment means. The cases are part of lengthy and important litigation. In 1989 the Supreme Court ruled, in what has become known as the Grogan case, that offering information amounted to assisting a woman in destroying the life or her unborn child whose right to life is upheld by the Constitution. The ruling followed the publication by the Union of Students in Ireland and a number of individual student unions of the names and addresses of British abortion clinics in their student handbooks. The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child sought an injunction in the High Court preventing the student unions from publishing the information. Miss Justice Mella Carroll, in the High Court, decided to refer two questions arising from the case to the European Court of Justice. She lifted the injunction on publication pending the European Court's decision. The society for the Protection of the Unborn Child appealed the lifting of her injunction to the Supreme Court and won on the basis that abortion information amounted to assisting a woman in destroying the life of her unborn child whose right to life was upheld by the Constitution. In his ruling, the Chief Justice, Mr. Finlay, said: "This application for an interlocutory injunction therefore consists of an application to restrain an activity which has been clearly declared by this court to be unconstitutional and therefore unlawful, and which could assist and is intended to assist in the destruction of the right to life of an unborn child, a right acknowledged and protected under the Constitution". Mr. Justice Finlay also said: "It is clearly the fact that such information is conveyed to pregnant women and not the method of communication which creates the unconstitutional illegality".

The ruling the European Court has decided that abortion is a service but, as there was no commercial link between those clinics named in the booklet and those publicising their services, the students have no right under EU law. The case then went back to the High Court where the students lost. It has now been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Separately, and following the passage of the constitutional amendment on information, there is also a case pending in the High Court with the Well Woman Centre seeking the lifting of an injunction on the provision of names and addresses of abortion clinics in Great Britain. In that case between the Dublin Well Woman Centre Limited and two named individuals and Ireland and the Attorney General, the claim of the plaintiffs is a declaration that the plaintiffs, their servants or agents may make available within the State information relating to abortion services lawfully available in another member state of the European Community and may inform pregnant women of the identity and location of and the method of communication with a specified clinic or clinics or otherwise.

It is not for me to interpret the Constitution. Neither do I think the Minister is claiming that it is for him to interpret the Constitution. The interpretation of the Constitution is a matter for the Supreme Court.

On the basis of those outstanding matters Fianna Fáil's view is that the legislation should be deferred until the court's decision has been handed down. We welcomed this very correct procedure when it was announced recently by the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government that consideration, of legislation to provide for a divorce referendum was being deferred pending a decision by the courts on the Judicial Separation Act, 1989. Fianna Fáil called on the Government, and calls on the Government now, to await the decision of the courts on the central issue relating to this Bill in the interests of ensuring that this legislation is considered in as non-contentious a manner as possible. I am also calling on the Minister for Health to give the Attorney General's written legal advices on the Bill to the House because I and my party colleagues want to know the basis on which the Attorney General advised the Minister and, in turn, the Government, to proceed in the absence of a court ruling. That would be helpful in trying to reach a political consensus on this issue.

If the Government is not willing to defer consideration of the Bill, we will table a series of amendments which will outline our serious reservations. In particular, we will be seeking the insertion of an opt out clause for doctors who, for reasons of conscience, do not wish to handle the names and addresses of abortion clinics overseas. I appreciate what the Minister for Health stated in regard to that. I accept that in the Bill there is no specific obligation on doctors, clinics or any agencies involved in this area to give the list of names and addresses or any information about abortion. However, when we were discussing the health amendment Act of 1978 on family planning we did, as a Legislature, include a specific section to allow opting out. We on this side of the House are not trying to be difficult but, in the interests of clarity, so that nobody will be in any doubt that there is no obligation on them to give this information if they do not wish to, we will seek to amend the Bill and one of the amendments in my name will be to that effect.

(Limerick East): I will examine that. It sounds reasonable.

I thank the Minister. I will be seeking the amendment of section 3 on the conditions governing the giving of information to restrict the broadcasting of abortion clinic details on television and radio. Once again that is like the opt out clause. It is not specifically mentioned in the Bill but, to remove all possible doubt, and in the interests of achieving political consensus, it would be a good amendment to include in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will examine that between now and Committee Stage. It is important to include such a provision in the Bill because television and radio are not like newspapers and magazines where a member of the public exercises choice over purchase. Young children and uncounselled women are more likely to be exposed to advertising on television and radio.

I also plan to seek the extension of the prohibition on giving information under section 6 to include not just those with financial links to pregnancy termination service organisation abroad but also to those who have legal links to such agencies abroad.

As none of us sees abortion as a good thing, and as we are all disturbed by the statistic that over 4,000 Irish women obtain abortions each year in Britain, resources for education and counselling must be an urgent priority. Deputy O'Donnell mentioned yesterday that we do not have accurate statistics on the number of Irish women seeking abortions abroad because some Irish women use an address of convenience in the UK. The provision of financial resources for research is important and, as called for by Deputy O'Donnell yesterday, we should have a proper system of statistical information on this area.

On education and counselling, the Minister has not seen fit to make specific provision in the Bill. We are strongly of the view that statutory expression should be given to the need for caring, compassionate and properly funded counselling services for women in crisis pregnancies. Unless the Bill is deferred I will be pursuing the Minister for Health on Committee Stage to include specific provisions for resources for agencies providing counselling. Resources must be provided to improve the counselling skills, for example, of family doctors. There is no doubt — and I think the Minister accepts this — that if women are given proper counselling fewer of them opt to have abortions. Counselling is also important at the post-abortion stage. According to the Irish Family Planning Association, of those who go for an abortion and receive counselling prior to it, over 50 per cent opt to return for a recommended medical check-up. In rural areas in particular doctors have a vital role to play in the counselling process and family planning services. However, many general practitioners require additional training to improve their own counselling skills and family planning services. For those who would like additional training, resources should be made available to facilitate general practitioners, particularly in rural areas where counselling agencies may have patchy representation, if any.

I will also be pursuing the Government to ensure that there is support for family planning research and sex education programmes at second level. If the Minister plans more than a minimalist response in this area he will divert funding to and raise standards in the counselling services available for women going through this crisis. That would be a decent first step.

The Minister spoke at length about pregnancy counselling and comprehensive family planning services. When we discussed the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 in the House, with many others, I was one of the Deputies who might have been out of line with the views of my party on family planning. That is nothing new for me as I often find myself out of step with the views of some of my parliamentary party colleagues.

While there are comprehensive family planning services available to women in urban areas there is a major problem in rural Ireland. Like me, the Minister believes in local democracy and in giving as much power as possible to local politicians, members of health boards, local authorities and so on but because very often issues such as family planning are subjective and cause difficulties for so many people when we leave them and issue guidelines to the health boards there is stagnation. This is not the fault of the administrations of health boards but very often the fault of some of our colleagues who are members of health boards and hold particular views on these issues. While the issuing of guidelines is welcome we need to go a step further and provide stronger encouragement for the health boards to provide this facility. We need a comprehensive family planning service and if it is to be comprehensive it has to be widely available throughout the country.

On the issue of pregnancy counselling I acknowledge that consecutive Governments have provided funding to the organisations outlined by the Minister: Cherish, Life and Cura. While this is important it is not enough. Like other parties, my party in Government was guilty of not providing enough but at this stage we should not start apportioning guilt. We need to provide support and must not adopt a minimalist approach. If we are serious we have to ensure that the provision is greatly increased. The Minister suggested a provision of £200,000 for this purpose which is welcome. This matter is being left to the health boards and I have a minor difficulty with this. This provision should be strengthened so that the money is given to the agencies to encourage them to provide the counselling services necessary for women facing this crisis in their lives.

If we are to believe that the Government, as expressed in the Programme for Government, is committed to reducing the number of abortions involving Irish women it will have to go further. Many members of my party must be permitted to doubt this intention because if the Government was serious about reducing the number of Irish women who are forced to opt for an abortion and was of one mind on the matter would there have been precise and pointed leaks during the past few weeks by one of the Minister's partners in Government? I scarcely think so. What was the purpose other than to point to specific differences between the views of the Minister and his party and those of a colleague on these issues? This shows that the leopard does not change its spots no matter who it is in partnership with. The Minister should watch his back and I am not referring to Deputy Ahern.

The Minister indicated that the Cabinet has now achieved a consensus. Do all members of the Cabinet agree and why are some trying to have it both ways?

If the Minister's partners in Government hold a different view on this issue how can I and my party or other Members of the House expect the Government to live up to its stated intention to reduce the number of abortions? That is relevant because we do not have enough information or data on this issue; we have convictions. We are in the classic position in which we often find ourselves: "Do not bother me with the facts because I have already made up my mind". We need to know the facts and stop operating on the basis of impressions because that prevents us from dealing with the issue in all its complexity. Impressions are a poor basis for the formulation of policy.

Until the Government knows what is meant by crisis pregnancy and the factors which most influence women to opt for a termination there is no point in expressing an intention to reduce the numbers who take this option. Without full information and up-to-date objective research this intention is not worth the paper it is written on.

I do not think the Minister doubts me when I say Fianna Fáil is genuinely anxious to achieve political consensus on this Bill but I am not sure that the publication of a Bill at this time is the right way to seek or receive it.

I congratulate the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on her speech. The Progressive Democrats have legitimate and real objections to this Bill in its present from. It is highly controversial and one on which no party in this House is completely of one mind. Because it is concerned with matters of private morality and personal conscience the members of the Progressive Democrats in this House will, as is their entitlement under party rules, enjoy a free vote.

As my party's spokesperson in the Dáil on this issue, allowing for the divergent views of my colleagues, I propose to outline the viewpoint which mostly closely reflects the views of the parliamentary party as a whole.

The issue on Second Stage is a vote in principle on the major features of the Bill. It is not a vote on abortion, nor can this legislation affect the substantive rights of persons to life, born or unborn. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does not make regulation mandatory nor can we be certain as to its effect. However, in the context of the "X" case, the travel and information amendments were undoubtedly intended by the great majority of the people who voted for them to alter the existing law as laid down by the courts to render legal matters which otherwise would have remained unlawful. The right to receive and impart information, therefore, can only, if it is not a redundant provision in the Constitution, have been intended to allow more people to receive and give information which, under existing court decisions, was seen to be unlawful. I refer to the case SPUC v. Well Woman and Open Door. There is no basis for assuming that the people intended a minimalist interpretation of the term “information” or of the right to travel.

I will outline as best I can the various aspects of the Bill which we find intellectually dishonest and which will beget further controversy and which should be amended on Committee Stage. Notwithstanding our grave and sincerely held reservations about the Bill as drafted and certain provisions of it, it must be said that for all its faults it will permit a debate. Where there was a vacuum, uncertainty and political abdication of responsibility to address a major issue of public policy, we now have a Bill to debate. The Bill, with its flaws, allows a debate in this House which should take place in a democracy.

The long and tortuous journey surrounding the family planning laws and the rights of individuals to make decisions on birth control without interference from the State is one which is being continued by the enactment of this Bill. The history of the evolution of our laws on private morality, particularly as it applies to birth control, has been characterised by legislative timidity, political cowardice and a pathetic one step forward, two steps back process. It has involved major conflicts between Church and State, between society and women and between extreme absolutist views from the liberal and conservative spectrum.

Irish people are a compassionate race and it is useful at this stage to recall the collective national sigh of relief when the Supreme Court liberated a 14 year-old girl, who was raped and was suicidal as a result of an injunction imposed by the State to prevent her terminating her pregnancy. The further the facts of this case slip from our memory, the easier it is for the old absolutes to revive and gain credence.

It is now 12 years since Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution — the Article which confers the right to life upon the unborn — was imported into our Constitution. In those 12 years approximately 60,000 Irish pregnancies — at the most conservative estimate — ended in abortion in England.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health confirmed to me that in the years 1991, 1992 and 1993 a total of 12,805 Irish women resident in Ireland had pregnancy terminations in Britain. These are not the full figures, neither are they abstract statistics; they are an audit of Irish women who have made sometimes agonised and fraught decisions, many without the benefit the counselling before or after the event. They travelled primarily in secret, lying to their employers, to their husbands and to their families to justify their short absence from the State.

They are the silent voices in this debate combined with the many thousands of women who went before them. They do not form a vocal lobby group who telephone elected Members of this House to make their case but they exist and have a right to have their perspective vocalised in this House.

We now have one of the highest abortion rates in the European Union. Women may be forced to travel abroad to have an abortion but let there be no mistake about it, a pregnancy which was conceived in Ireland, agonised over in Ireland and terminated in England is an Irish abortion.

This Bill will not do anything to stop the annual exodus of women who leave our shores in search of abortion, just as the amendment did not do anything to stop it. Nor will this Bill do anything to alleviate the plight of those women who travel that road isolated, frightened and alone.

During the debate surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 1992, all of the parties who are now in Government made eloquent appeals for proper professional services to be put in place for women in crisis pregnancies. Even though these proposals were practical and might have actually gone some way towards reducing the Irish abortion rate — and everybody in this House wants to see a reduction in the abortion rate — none of them are contained in this Bill. Nor was there any mention in the then Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin's Health Strategy about addressing the problem of crisis pregnancies for women. That was a much lauded document on health strategy for the 1990s which contained a large section on women's health but there was not any mention of crisis pregnancies. This is a matter of which causes me profound personal disappointment and I note the Minister's commitment in his contribution to fund counselling services, which is welcome. The Bill, however, does not contain any such provision and that must be included by way of an amendment.

If we are honest in our wish to protect the unborn and if we truly wish to protect the health of women and children, the only way to do this is to put in place publicly funded and fully integrated family planning and sex education services, with proper pregnancy counselling facilities and greater support and care services for those women who find themselves in this crisis. It is worth noting that family planning facilities in this State are very patchy and the only contraceptive available on the GMS scheme is the pill. The provision of tubal ligation and sterilisation services is also patchy and depends on the ethical committee of the particular hospital. That whole area must be examined also.

The Government is ideally placed to do something of real practical benefit for women in crisis pregnancies. I am glad the Bill is before this House and that we have moved away from having a debate in the newspapers, by the Church and by judges. It is now in its proper forum where we, as elected Members of this House, can put forward the various perspectives which are reflected in this House as we represent our constituents.

In the years since Article 40.3.3º was inserted in the Constitution it has not achieved anything. Instead, it has engendered division, controversy, intolerance and distrust. This achieved its height at the time of the X case. The bringing of the X case marked on all-time low in the treatment of women with crisis pregnancies. It was perhaps the most shameful and disgraceful period in Irish public life since the foundation of the State. It tore us apart as a nation and, in doing so, exposed us to all of our hypocrisies. It highlighted the dangers of Catholic fundamentalism as it applies to this issue.

The X case, and the bitterly divisive controversy that followed it, contained many lessons for us as legislators. One of the most important lesson of the X case for the legislators was proclaimed by the late Mr. Justice McCarthy when he trounced the legislators for our inexcusable failure to regulate the manner in which the right to life of the unborn, as enshrined in Article 40.3.3º, was to be reconciled with the equal right to life of the mother.

In that case the court carefully, and with great compassion, interpreted in a harmonious fashion fundamental rights as between the mother and the unborn with concepts of prudence, justice and charity. The Bill before us is strong on prudence, minimalist on charity and justice and dishonest in many aspects of its provisions.

For liberals, the Bill is a cowardly measure and for conservatives it will be heralded as courageous. It contains the seeds of further controversy and many dangers. For two of the parties in Government it represents a complete U-turn. The Bill consists largely of a list of prohibitions backed up with criminal sanctions. I question whether this structure was appropriate.

The late Mr. Justice McCarthy stated in the X case:

Legislation may be both negative and positive: negative, in prohibiting absolutely or at a given time, or without meeting stringent tests: positive by requiring positive action. The State may fulfil its role by providing necessary agencies to help, to counsel, to encourage, to comfort, to plan for the pregnant woman, the pregnant girl or her family.

In that portion of his judgment, the late Mr. Justice McCarthy was speaking in the context of the obligation of the State to vindicate the right to life of the unborn but I belive his reasoning holds just as good in the context of the right to information.

In this Bill the Government has confined itself to laying down a string of restrictions on the right to information, backed up by criminal sanctions. The Bill does not provide for any counselling services. It does not provide for post-abortion counselling. As Deputy De Rossa, speaking on Committee Stage of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992, stated: "... the mindset that sees the question of information solely on the basis of how it can be restricted rather than how it can be provided is starting from the wrong end of the spectrum". Deputy De Rossa is now a member of the Government that has brought forward this legislation.

Much has been made by the Labour Party in private briefings to journalists of the fact that its Bill was more liberal. When Labour was in Government, however, with control of the Department of Health, it did not present any Bill to Government so its protestations do not wash with me and they represent more public displays of the Labour Party wrestling with its conscience after the event.

The X case was a very clear illustration that there are certain areas of human life and human activity where the law cannot and should not attempt to interfere. I am not saying the law should not regulate the provision of abortion, or indeed the provision of abortion information, but the law is a blunt instrument, and that is why we have difficulty in processing this Bill through the House. This Bill provides that people who give abortion information to pregnant women, or in some circumstances, to the public, will be guilty of a criminal offence unless the information they give is truthful and objective. The House must be very sure of what this means. People such as doctors, nurses, midwives, counsellers and, under the provisions of section 3, the publishers of books or newspapers, journalists, artists and film-makers may be dragged before the criminal courts and fined and branded as criminals if they are not "truthful" and "objective" in the giving of abortion information. By whose standards is truth and objectivity to be measured? We have all seen how bitterly divisive is the topic of abortion and how passionately the different interest groups in our society adhere to their version of the truth.

To the pro-choice lobby, a newly-fertilized egg is nothing but a clump of cells. This, they state, is the objective truth. To the pro-life lobby, a newly-fertilized egg is a human being with civil rights equal to those of the mother carrying it. They are equally vehement and equally passionate in their belief that this is the objective truth. In between those two viewpoints the great majority of Irish people adopt a viewpoint on the spectrum of what I would call common sense. It is obvious that the issue of abortion is one on which convictions and opinions are so highly polarised that no objective view of the truth can ever be arrived at. There can never be consensus as to what sort of information about abortion is "truthful and objective".

Where are members of the medical professions — doctors, nurses, midwives — and other people who counsel pregnant women to turn for guidance on matters? They get no guidance from this Bill. How on earth are they supposed to decide what to tell their clients or patients who come to them for advice? How are they supposed to determine how to conduct their counselling sessions? This requirement that information be "truthful and objective" is so vague as to completely defy interpretation. It will constitute an unwarranted intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship — my party will table an amendment on Committee Stage on this key issue.

Worse still, it will place intolerable stress on doctors and other persons who offer assistance to women in crisis pregnancies because those people know through experience that there are interest groups at work in our society, powerful, secretive manipulative and extremely well-funded interest groups who will spy on them and perhaps present as agent provocateurs in surgeries to try to trap doctors into making a recommendation which they believe is not truthful and objective. They could send women into surgeries and clinics to feign pregnancy for the sole purpose of gathering evidence against doctors. Any deviation from what those interest groups term “truth and objectivity” will be pounced on by them and exposed.

In recent years the guardians of our moral consciences reported to the Garda that certain third level educational establishments permitted the installation of condom vending machines on their premises. Can we now expect doctors to be reported to the Garda for failing to tell their patients that abortion is murder? The only way in which the truthfulness and objectivity of information can be tested is through the courts. Unfortunately, this implies that somewhere along the line somebody will be dragged through the criminal courts on foot of this Bill.

The doctor-patient relationship is crucial. This Bill fundamentally undermines the position of doctors, not only by inviting the unwelcome attention of the reactionary element. The provisions of section 8 constitute a completely unprecedented attack on the autonomy. of the medical profession. The State, having only just removed itself from the bedrooms of Irish people, is about to install itself in doctors' surgeries. While the Bill permits doctors and pregnancy counsellors to give truthful and objective information about abortion to their patients and clients — whatever that means — they are prohibited, where the woman chooses to have an abortion, from making an appointment or any other arrangement with a person providing the services is outside the State.

This is presumably intended to placate the pro-life lobby by prohibiting what is termed abortion referral, although it ignores the fact that an Irish doctor or pregnancy counsellers cannot, under British law, refer an Irish patient for an abortion in England. Under English abortion legislation no-one can have an abortion unless two doctors certify that she needs one. A doctor referring a patient from here does so for assessment by subsequent doctors. Until the doctors complete the certification processs the woman is not legally entitled to an abortion. In effect, agencies such as The Irish Family Planning Association, which includes referral in its comprehensive crisis pregnancy service are referring women for assessment by other doctors in Britain. Doctors are obliged by the Hippocratic oath to at all times act in the best interest of their patients. This Bill requires that where a woman in possession of all the facts and after counselling, chooses an abortion she must make the necessary arrangements herself.

The Minister must address himself to a fundamental flaw in this Bill as it applies to women such as Miss X who, if there is a risk to their lives, have a right to terminate the pregnancy. Surely in the circumstances of the X case or of a 48 year old woman who has been advised by her doctor that another pregnancy poses a risk to her life, or a child who is pregnant as a result of incest and is suicidal and distraught, the doctor must be entitled to make any arrangements to accommodate her specific and subjective needs. On this key issue there are real constitutional difficulties in this Bill and it is folly and intellectually dishonest for the Minister to ignore that issue.

It is probable that most women will be perfectly competent and capable of making arrangements for themselves, but there will always be women who, through fear, confusion, physical disability, perhaps deafness or impaired speech, social or intellectual disadvantage or a simple lack of organisational skills, will not be able to make the necessary arrangements for themselves. Nor may they have the benefit of a supportive friend or member of the family to whom they can turn for help. In a recent survey of a sample of clients referred by the IFPA for terminations — a sample of 231 women who sought pregnancy counselling, 193 of whom chose abortion — the isolation of clients is strongly highlighted. It states:

The most disturbing and also very sad statistic here is that 69 women, or 30 per cent of those attending the IFPA, had not told anybody at all about their pregnancy... For these 69 women their experience can only have been one of intense loneliness, isolation and fear.

That deals only with a sample of 231 out of the average 4,000 women who travel to Britain for termination. Of those sample clients, half of them were under 24 with 16 per cent being under the age of 19. For such young, vulnerable women who are physically and psychologically alone, it should be legitimate for a doctor to come to the conclusion that his professional duty to his patient requires him to assist in so far as he can, humanly and professionally, in making the necessary arrangements. There is no justification for prohibiting a medical practitioner from consulting and communicating with any other medical practitioner.

Under the provisions of this Bill women will be left to take the final step unsupported and unhelped, in isolation and fear. Some of them may never have been out of the country and may have to make their first journey on their own. Their medical advisers and pregnancy counsellors will be powerless to assist them for fear of the consequences of the criminal law. Are doctors to be expected to show a young patient out of the surgery or counselling centre with a bundle of leaflets and telephone numbers, without even a phone card? Would such a doctor be said to have discharged his duty to his patient?

In the course of a recent radio programme a psychiatrist stated that to his knowledge some general practitioners in Ireland accompany their patients to the abortion clinic in England in order to provide them with continuing care and support during their journey. I make no apologies for applauding those doctors for their humanity. This practice is now to be outlawed. Are these doctors to be criminalised for taking steps which in their view are necessary in the interest of the physical and mental health of their patients?

This Bill prohibits doctors from entering into communication with doctors abroad, even where the women is suffering from a physical or mental illness of which the doctors abroad should be aware. This is an attack on the rights of Irish women to their bodily integrity. Section 8 attempts to overcome this difficulty by permitting the doctor to give to the women a copy of her medical notes or records. In the vast majority of cases there is no reason this should not be done.

There may be a small but significant minority of cases in which the doctor, by reason of the woman's youth or some psychiatric, addictive, physical or mental condition, may strongly believe that she should not be forced to bear the burden and isolation of having to transmit crucial medical information to the doctor abroad. In such cases the doctor may be of the opinion that giving the notes to the women might not be sufficient guarantee that they will be given to the doctor in England and that her life or health would be in danger if he did not communicate the information to the doctor himself. He might form the view that he had a professional obligation to his patient to communicate with the doctor abroad. Is the Minister suggesting that such activity should be a criminal act? The medical profession in Ireland is second to none and our doctors have a long and proud tradition of services to their patients. It is disgraceful to seek to criminalise doctors who act in the interests of their patients.

The Bill in many senses is a failure of trust. This Government does not trust the women of Ireland to make decisions for themselves or to choose their own advisers. It has demonstrated also that it does not trust doctors. This Bill flagrantly ignores our international obligations both as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights and as a member of the European Union. Members will be aware that although we signed the European Convention on Human Rights and profess adherence to it, we cannot be proud of our record of compliance. Members will recall that Open Door Counselling and the Well Woman Centre brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights complaining that the injunctions that had been imposed on them violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression. This guarantee is not absolute. It may be restricted on a number of grounds, including the interests of protection of health and morals. However, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly made it clear in its jurisprudence that any restriction on freedom of expression which a State seeks to justify on the grounds of protection of morals or other interest must be (i) prescribed by law, (ii) necessary in a democratic society, (iii) proportional. In the event the European Courts of Human Rights held that, having regard to the sweeping nature of the injunctions against the Well Woman Centre as well as their perpetual nature, the restrictions on the applicant's right to freedom of expression was overboard and disproportionate, particularly having regard to the non-directive nature of the counselling and the fact that the information impugned was available from other sources such as telephone directories. In addition the court noted that the injunction was ineffective because it did not prevent women from travelling abroad to seek abortions.

In the context of this Bill, the European Convention does not form part of Irish law and is not justifiable in Irish courts, even though any conflict between the Bill and the convention is a violation of our international obligations. Having said that, I think there are provisions in this Bill which would fall foul of the convention. The convention gives very strong protection to the expression of convictions and opinions. Section 3 prohibits the publication of "Act Information" in any form, including books or films and at debates or public meetings unless that information is "truthful and objective" and does not advocate the termination of pregnancy. In addition doctors and other health workers may be criminalised for making appointments for their patients or for giving information that does not measure up to the standard of truth and objectivity.

The European Court of Human Rights has reiterated that any restriction on the rights protected in the convention must be prescribed by law in such a way that people can ascertain what is prohibited. The court frowns on vagueness, uncertainty and arbitrariness. I think the court would find that it is so difficult to ascertain what constitutes "truth and objectivity" in the field of abortion information that the restriction contained in section 3 amounts to an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression. Does anyone in Government believe that we have to vindicate our international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights? Can the Tánaiste look at his fellow Ministers at the Council of Ministers and say with his hand on his heart that the State is complying with the obligations of Article 10 of the convention when it imposes in this Bill such restrictions, backed up with criminal sanctions, on freedom of expression? It presumably means that books such as Our Bodies and Ourselves which are partisan on the issue of abortion will remain banned in this jurisdiction. They were removed by Dublin Corporation from the municipal libraries.

They are not banned any more.

They may be banned when this Bill is enacted.

In the Open Door counselling case the court noted — quoting its judgment in Handyside v. UK— that freedom of expression extended to “information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society.”

This Bill denies our citizens the freedom to hold and express views that are not "objective". Of course, it does not make it illegal for people to express very conservative and fundamentalist opinions. It means that we will be subjected to a regime of silence, secrecy and censorship. It may well mean that documentaries that tell the story of women travelling to Britain for abortions who are not contrite or persons advocating a pro-choice view will not be shown on RTE. This Bill is open to so many dangers that we have to look at the censorship aspects of it. It is arguable that the provisions of the Bill may fall foul of European Union law. In the case of SPUC v. Grogan the European Court of Justice ruled on the validity of the injunctions having regard to the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. The High Court (Carroll J.) had referred the following questions under Article 177 of the Treaty:

1. Whether legal abortion constituted a service within Article 60 of the Treaty, and

2. whether it was lawful for the State to prohibit the distribution of information in relation to persons providing the service of abortion in other member states.

The court held that legal abortion constituted a service but since the students in question had no economic links with the abortion clinics in England, and the clinics were not involved in the distribution of the information, the Irish prohibition on abortion information was not unlawful. Also of relevance is Protocol 17 to the Maastricht Treaty which was never debated in the House and which Members will remember provided, broadly—: "Nothing in the treaty on the European Union or in the treaties establishing the European Communities... shall affect the application in Ireland of Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution of Ireland."

Following the X case the Government arranged for the annexation to the Treaty of a solemn declaration which provided broadly that the High Contracting Parties to the Treaty on European Union interpreted Protocol 17 as follows:—

....that the Protocol shall not limit freedom either to travel between member states or, in accordance with conditions which may be laid down in comformity with Community law, by Irish legislation, to obtain or make available in Ireland information relating to services lawfully available in member states.

The status of this solemn declaration is highly questionable but it does at the very least stress the obligation of the Irish State to legislate for abortion information in a manner that is in conformity with the provision of EU law.

Section 5 contains provisions which may conflict with EU law. It provide in effect that no person or body who has an "interest" in any body which provides abortion services abroad may give abortion information to a woman. It will be recalled that in the Grogan case the European Court of Justice ruled that the injunctions were lawful since the clinics in question were not involved in the distribution of information or as the court said the information was not distributed on behalf of an economic operator established in another member state. The logical corollary of that finding is that if the clinics had such an involvement or an economic link with the distributors of the information, the injunction would not have been lawful.

This Bill specifically prohibits agencies that have links with abortion providers abroad from offering pregnancy counselling. This would seem to fly in the face of what the European Court of Justice said in the Grogan case and in turn with Article 59 of the Treaty of Rome and solemn declarations. We will be tabling substantial amendments to protect the inviolability of the doctor-patient relationship and we will also table an amendment to take account of the X case, the hard cases and the rights of women for whom a pregnancy poses a risk to their lives to be provided legally with whatever assistance a doctor deems professionally and humanly necessary.

We will be calling for comprehensive time for Committee Stage to scrutinise the proposed amendments and we will not facilitate the Minister in his desire to get the Bill through the House as quickly as possible. I look forward to Committee Stage and to hearing the views of Members who have the courage to express them. I do not object to anyone expressing their view on either side of the spectrum. It is those who sit on the fence who should be ashamed of themselves.

It is our job to legislate, to makes laws which are fair to and reflect the wishes of the people. That is an obligation we have whether in Government or in Opposition. No-one under estimates the demands that such a duty imposes on us but we cannot avoid our responsibility.

In the past the courts determined the pace of legislative change but we have begun to change that. As a new Deputy, I sat in the Chamber and watched with admiration the then Minister for Justice. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, bring forward a Bill to legalise homosexuality. She made it look easy but I have no doubt it involved great soul searching for her and others in Fianna Fáil and because of her courage and that of her party, the job was done and credit is due.

Hear, hear.

What we see today in Fianna Fáil is a sorry contrast. It is a failure of nerve, an abdication of responsibility and a party consumed by political cowardice. I am disappointed to see the Progressive Democrats, who made such a virtue out of political courage, avoid taking a stand on this.

The Government is facing up to the issue which is a simple one — do we want Irish women to get information on abortion from student periodicals, British magazines, telephone kiosks or lavatory walls or do we want information and a range of options to be given to them in secure surroundings by doctors and trained counsellors? In essence, this was the question put to the people two years ago. They made a clear choice and voted in favour of the following amendment: "Subsection 3 of this section 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."

I do not believe we have a right to duck, weave, delay or hide as Fianna Fáil has chosen to do nor do I believe we have to fudge as the Progressive Democrats have chosen to do. Our job is to legislate.

The Government did not do a good job in the Bill.

This Bill gives effect to the wishes of the people as expressed in the 1992 referendum.

The Bill is a total fudge.

In 1992 a 14-year old girl was temporarily interned in this State. That event proved to be a defining moment for Irish people.

Does the Minister think I did not take a stand in my speech?

It showed that the termination of pregnancy is not the simple black or white affair that the authors of the 1983 amendment made it out to be. In 1992 many of us were forced to consider the moral and personal dilemma that Irish women with crisis pregnancies are forced to face. There is widespread recognition that the 1983 amendment served the people, in particular women, badly. The ramifications of the amendment placed women in a different and lesser category to the rest of the population. It placed limits on their civil liberties which a modern society should take for granted — the right to travel and the right to information. The 1983 amendment and many of its proponents did not recognise women as adults. The same can be said about the amendment's stepchild. Protocol 17 of the Maastricht Treaty. I should refer to the responsibility of the Progressive Democrats in that regard.

It is ironic that many critics of the Bill, those who would have liked to incorporate in it referral provisions, also refuse to see women as adults. Women do not need to be taken by the hand and pointed in any direction. They need to be given the information with which to make an informed decision.

A 14-year old girl?

This Bill does that. Let us be clear about the fact that the Bill is not an abortion Bill but an information one and, as such, is likely to reduce the number of terminations. All the available evidence shows that when provided with full information and counselling, a sizeable number of women decide to opt for an alternative to termination. This Bill will ensure that women are not press-ganged, through lack of information, into making an ill-considered decision.

In 1993 it was recorded that 4,400 women left Ireland to terminate their pregnancies in the UK. The available figures indicate that one in ten pregnancies are terminated. As far as we know, the likelihood is that over the last few years 10,000 women terminated their pregnancies in the UK. Rather than focus on an artificial division between those who are pro-choice and pro-life, we should concentrate on the socio-economic and medical issues surrounding these pregnancies. It is becoming increasingly clear that family plannning services and information have still not reached all women. The rise in demand for the so-called morning after pill indicates that many people are either unwilling or unable to take full precautions against unwanted pregnancies. It is vital that we expand family planning services and extend what is available under the medical card scheme. Even with those advances there will still be crisis pregnancies and the Government must face that reality.

The facts are well known. The majority of women who travel to the UK for termination do so without having obtained any form of counselling. Many women who wish to prevent an unwanted pregnancy are unable to get full and adequate information on family planning. The provisions for family planning, while well improved, still do not fully meet the needs of Irish women. For example, tubal ligation is not fully available across the country for all who need it. The national health strategy acknowledges shortcomings within the system and the vital role health boards could play in meeting the need. In the meantime, many voluntary groups try to bridge the gap and get little thanks for their important work.

In Wicklow, the struggle for control has been embarked on by the local vocational education committee which has forbidden the Blessington womens' group from displaying IFPA leaflets in the group's premises which is owned by the vocational education committee. I have seen the leaflets concerned and, far from encouraging abortion, they advise women to consider how they would feel if they had a termination and to consult a pregnancy counsellor. That represents non-directive counselling at its best and is precisely the kind of information provided for in the Bill. At a time when the number of women travelling to England to obtain a termination is on the increase, women need more, not less, information in a context which respects their rights as adults.

Women fought hard for that respect over the years. In the past, pregnancy and childbirth was medicalised to a point where women were the passive participants in the process, 20 years ago a woman could not have somebody with her in the labour ward. Partners or husbands were banned and could not give support. Women in childbirth were automatically shaved, given an enema and subjected to an episiotomy. A generation of women have the scars to prove it. I do not believe this was done because of a vast male conspiracy on the part of doctors but I believe that the system changed only as a result of a concerted campaign by women who felt alienated by their experience of childbirth in hospital. Through organisations such as AIMS, women have discovered the capacity to claim back their bodies. It is a lesson that should not be lost in this debate.

The traditional patient-doctor relationship has changed. Patients are likely to know more about what is wrong with them and more likely to participate in the cure. They are better educated and informed and a good thing too. In such circumstances referral is becoming less relevent. Increasingly a general practitioner will give a list of 'phone numbers to a patient. Many doctors of my acquaintance rarely, if ever, make a telephone call to the consultants themselves. Who makes the telephone call is not important. What is important is that a woman with a crisis pregnancy receives accurate, appropriate and full information from a medical doctors or counsellor. She should also be informed of the range of options open to her; this Bill allows for that. Provision should be made for her own doctor to be able to send to the doctor abroad any necessary medical records; this Bill allows for that. Lastly, the proper aftercare for the woman must be provided, so that she is advised of the necessity to return to her doctor for a check-up after the termination of pregnancy; this Bill allows for that also.

A decision to terminate a pregnancy has major implications for the women concerned. It has a medical, moral and personal dimension which must be considered by a woman in those circumstances. It cannot be made lightly and should not be made under coercion or in ignorance. Yet for thousands of women that is exactly how the decision is made.

Abortion is part of the Irish experience, it is part of what we are. Whether we like it or not, they are Irish sisters, mothers and daughters who are terminating their pregnancies and the fact that they are doing so abroad does not mitigate that reality. I look forward to the day when we, as a society, face up fully to that reality. None of us can take any joy from the fact that so many women choose to terminate their pregnancies. Children have a special place in our society. Mothers and fathers often make super-human sacrifices for their children. Nobody can doubt that the decision not to continue with a pregnancy is deeply distressing for the woman.

I welcome the fact that the first commitment stated in A Government of Renewal is to 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. We need to know why women are travelling in such large numbers, how we can enable more of them to choose another option. Keeping them ignorant or confused only makes matters worse.

In the meantime, the Irish people have spoken through the ballot box and have clearly stated that women have a right to know. This Bill constitutes the first step on the way to full social and political maturity. At some point in the future, as a society, we shall have to confront the reality of crisis pregnancies and will have to revisit in full the 1983 constitutional amendment. Society and social morals are not static: Ireland has moved on and grown up since 1983. We are coming to the painful recognition that the comely maidens dancing at the crossroads may well be battered, bruised, abused or neglected.

As legislators we are under an obligation to legislate for society as we find it, not as we would wish it to be. We are obliged to legislate for imperfection. Democratic Left believes that, in the long term, termination of pregnancy must be dealt with in Ireland in certain very limited and clearly defined circumstances. However, we are not a party of illusions — a revisiting of the substantive issue is some way down the road. We must confront the fact that abortion is an Irish problem and, as such, must be dealt with in an Irish context. In the long term we cannot continue to export a large number of our crisis pregnancies to Britain. As a society, we have to face up to this issue. In the meantime, we must ensure that women are enabled to exercise their right, which right clearly stated by the electorate has not been incorporated into our laws. The last Government had its opportunity. The Bill now before us has a long history. There is a thread going back to the Bill produced by Dr. John O'Connell, when Fianna Fáil Minister for Health; there are far more similarities between the two than there are dissimilarities. We need to be consistent on this. The Irish people have spoken, women have a right to information, and, as a Government, we have a job of work to do.

As an Opposition Member, not expecting to be able to speak on this Bill because of the manner in which speaking slots in strict rotation are so strenuously maintained by the main Opposition Party, I am absolutely astounded that, on such an important Bill, so far the only Member they can present is their main spokesperson on health. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, who I must admit made a very good contribution. Nonetheless it is extraordinary that an Opposition party does not participate in such an important debate. I could not allow the opportunity to pass without intervening.

I was very disappointed at the opening remarks of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy McManus, when she appeared in some way to castigate my party in relation to this Bill. I should have thought that the purpose of this Chamber was to debate issues and that Members could respond to what others have said. It is becoming ever more frequent for Members, particularly Ministers, to read what has been provided for them. That is not acceptable.

That being said, let me voice my view. I welcome the fact that, at long last, there is a Bill introduced on this subject even though, as my party colleague said, we find it contains distinct flaws. The Minister for Health is to be commended on its introduction. There are certain provisions I welcome but others with which I would find fault and on which I am in agreement with my party colleague.

Within any debate on abortion, information or whatever, it is essential to underline the necessity for counselling and aftercare services for women who take the option to have an abortion. It has already been said that none of us likes the idea of women having to have an abortion. One of my first contributions in the Seanad was on the infamous X case when we were confronted by the most extraordinary circumstance, in which a child of 14 years of age was literally imprisoned within this island and not allowed to go and have an abortion. I have two teenage girls and I find it outrageous that somebody could make a judgment in such circumstances and could say with absolute certainty if my daughter were raped that she would not be allowed to go to England for an abortion. I could not and would not make that decision on behalf of anybody else. That signifies my overall attitude to the provision of abortion information.

What we have done to date is ignore the real position. We have allowed, and continue to allow, women to travel to another jurisdiction to have an abortion. In a way, we all contribute to that hypocrisy. I heard a colleague comment last week that this was a male solution to a female problem, which is one of our difficulties with this Bill. I am not anxious that there should be wholescale referrals for abortion to the United Kingdom — nobody wants that — but I find it very difficult to accept that the doctor/patient relationship should be interfered with in any way. The State really should stand back from that proposal, which is not acceptable.

Members have made much of the fact that nowadays it is quite usual for a patient to be furnished with a list of doctors or consultants they may consult. When somebody is advised, say to consult a consultant about a back ailment, the doctor is referring that patient to a particular consultant. I believe talk about referral is in some way dishonest. If I had to go to the doctor — and I certainly do not believe I would ever go to a doctor to seek an abortion — for treatment for a bad back ailment, I would like my doctor to consult directly with the consultant whom I would attend for treatment of that ailment. Once I had the necessary treatment, perhaps corrective surgery, that consultant should be able to deal directly with my doctor during aftercare. If that is how I feel about a back ailment, how much stronger would I feel if I went through the awful trauma of deciding to have an abortion for whatever reason, and on returning home found I did not have access to the expert medical care I expected? The provisions in the Bill fudge this area and that is my main objection to it. I consider the provisions are an instrusion on the essential relationship between a doctor and patient.

The statistics quoted by the Minister earlier reveal that of the number of women who travel to England for an abortion more than half are over 25 years of age. That is similar to saying that the glass is half empty, but it is also half full. Half of those women are under 25 years of age and 19 per cent are under 17 years of age. In those circumstances the most vulnerable of those young women need the greatest protection. To exclude the role of their doctors in this regard means that young girls, in particular, are put at risk. I do not believe that is something the Minister intended to include in the Bill. I do not believe that he is being heartless in this regard, but he is trying to adapt to a political reality. It is unfortunate that we should be framing legislation on what is essentially women's health with an eye to our political opponents or, perhaps, our political enemies. It is a case of the Minister having to watch his back regarding this issue, but at least he is trying to cope with it.

We will table amendments on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will deal with them in the spirit in which they will be put forward. I believe fervently in this issue as does my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, who spoke eloquently on it earlier. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment we will table to address the qualms I have about that aspect of the Bill.

I am glad I had to step into the breach rather than let this important debate fall. It has given me an opportunity I did not believe I would have to put on record my views on the Bill. In debates, such as this, I will always try to avoid the politics surrounding the issues involved. I do not believe that women's health should be made a political football. There should not be pussyfooting and positioning by various parties around something as critical to women's health as proper information. I appreciate — and I would not like people to get the impression that I have right on my side in this — the deeply held views of people on this issue and I respect them.

As a woman, I consider I have unique experience which allows me to speak with perhaps more authority on this Bill than male Members. I am not being sexist about that and speak from my experience as a mother. I speak as someone who has had children and has never been in the unfortunate circumstances of having to contemplate having an abortion, but who has had the experience of meeting young teenage pregnant girls who have had nowhere to go and no one to talk to about their condition. Fortunately, I was able to counsel those girls and they were looked after here and did not travel abroad for an abortion. I am aware of the trauma such girls experience. It is real and unique and in the case of young vulnerable pregnant females, some of whom are mere children, they must be protected. I ask the Minister when taking Committee Stage to be humanitarian and accept an amendment in this regard which I will support.

In regard to legislation such as this, one matter which I find distressing — Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn put the case very well — is the polarisation that occurs in our society because issues such as this are so emotive. I, like I am sure other Members, have received letters and telephone calls about this issue. Obviously, people consider I have a certain view on this and I respect the point of view of others. People on either side of the divide should consider the impact of the use of emotive language on our society in that it can create deep divisions on issues such as this.

Deputy Andrews rose.

The next speaker will be from the Government side.

I want it noted that I am available and willing to speak.

Acting Chairman

As always. I call Deputy Derek McDowell who has some 20 minutes. Is the Deputy sharing his time?

I am not sharing my time and I do not expect to speak for the full time available to me.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I assure Deputy Keogh that there are Members on the Government side also anxious to contribute in hopefully a non-party political way to this important debate. I must respond to a comment by Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn earlier during the course of her thoughtful and provocative speech. She appeared to suggest that the Labour Party, unlike Fine Gael, could not be relied on in some fashion to seek to reduce the number of Irish women having abortions. Also, the Minister made a reference to people pursuing a particular agenda, though clearly he was not directing that comment at the Labour Party. The Labour Party deeply resents any suggestion that it cannot be trusted on this issue. Nobody of the Labour Party believes that abortion is or should be an easy option. Unlike some other parties in this House, we have been advocating for some decades policies which would have had the effect of reducing the number of Irish women having abortions. We have advocated comprehensive family planning and sex education in schools, policies which are now being acted on by this Government and by some of its predecessors.

I am sure all Members will agree that abortion is a difficult issue and poses ethical and moral questions, not least for people who have to make decisions, be they patients or doctors. The present position arises from the X case which presented awful dilemmas for Irish people in recent years. Most Irish people would probably consider they are anti-abortion and abhor the notion of termination of pregnancy. Nonetheless, the X case exposed a certain ambivalence in our attitude. It forced us to publicly accept, perhaps for the first time, that there are hard cases and that there were circumstances where we did not feel the State should prohibit abortion. We were not willing to prevent that young woman from travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy. It is not difficult to think of other similarly hard cases where Irish people generally would not have felt it appropriate — or would not now feel it appropriate — to invoke the criminal law to prevent the termination of a pregnancy.

The issue relating to information arose from the seizure of The Guardian newspaper and the banning of one or more issues of Cosmopolitan magazine and other such literature because they included advertisements for specific clinics in England, including addresses and telephone numbers. It is important to bear in mind that was the backdrop to the 1992 referendum.

I support the broad thrust of the Bill as an appropriate response to the democratic decision of the people in 1992. I agree with the Minister that the objections of so-called pro-life groups are spurious. I specifically support the requirement in the Bill that non-directive counselling should be provided to women with crisis pregnancies many of whom are distressed and feel they cannot cope. It is very much a life crisis. They may not think logically, they may not have told friends or relatives about their position. Some may even be susceptible to suggestion. It is right that the Bill should provide, as it does, that non-directive counselling should be given in these circumstances. It is right that women should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds. Having said that, I share the concern of Deputy O'Donnell that we should not get into censorship. We cannot expect every article in every newspaper, magazine or pamphlet that deals with abortion will be perfectly objective. I would like to see these provisions, if passed into law, interpreted in a reasonable and liberal fashion so that we do not find ourselves with a further layer of censorship which we can do without. I support the provisions which deal with unsolicited pamphlets and the prohibition of financial gain to people involved in counselling.

I compliment the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House so early in his term of office. It is an issue which is difficult to deal with in Ireland and is one which has bedevilled us for some years and which, no doubt, will be around for many years to come.

Having said all of that, I do not support some sections such as section 8 which is profoundly wrong and misguided. I regret the decision of the Minister go try to distinguish between providing "Act information" and referral. That distinction is not real and I do not find the Minister's argument entirely convincing. This section seeks to criminalise the relationship between patients and doctors in certain circumstances. Many doctors are opposed to abortion in any circumstance and have problems with the whole notion of terminating a pregnancy. Many doctors will have problems in providing abortion information if this Bill is passed. I respect their views. They are entitled to their ethical viewpoints. The Legislature cannot and should never attempt to oblige them to act contrary to their ethical beliefs and this Bill does not attempt to do that. There are doctors — probably a small minority — who do not take that view. There are doctors who, despite holding personal reservations about abortion, are willing to provide information which is requested by a woman and to facilitate the decision taken by a woman in a crisis pregnancy.

If a woman, who has received counselling along the lines set down in the Bill, makes a decision to terminate a pregnancy and if a doctor is willing to make an appointment, it is wrong to use the criminal law to intervene in the manner set out in the Bill. Section 8 is an unwarranted intrusion in the doctor-patient relationship. It is wrong in principle and it is something we will regret if we pass it into law.

I am concerned also about section 8 (2) which deals with medical records. It is usual practice here for a doctor to give medical records to a consultant and not to the woman. A doctor could refuse to hand over records if the provisions, as currently outlined, stand. I would regret that. I regret too that it would be illegal to pass on the records to a clinic in England.

The Minister is seeking to distinguish between providing "Act information" and referral. In effect, he is saying that if a woman receives non-directive counselling a doctor can then provide her with a list of addresses, telephone numbers and of people to whom she should speak. The Bill would also permit a doctor to say: "you must or you may ring a particular number or go to a particular clinic". I suppose it is also possible for a doctor or somebody in an agency to place a telephone in front of a person. The moment the doctor takes up that receiver to make the phone call he or she is committing a criminal offence. Frankly, that is absurd. It is very much an Irish solution to an Irish problem or, as Deputy Keogh said it is very much a man's solution to a woman's problem.

Some, perhaps not all, women are distressed by decisions of this kind but once the decision is made, a woman is entitled to understanding and assistance from all, not least from her doctor or her medical attendant. Why must we insist that she make the appointment and the arrangements? There are agencies and doctors who have experience in dealing with these matters in a professional and sensitive way. I do not see why the criminal law should intervene to prohibit those agencies and doctors from doing what they see as their professional duty.

The Minister cites, in support of his argument, a booklet produced by the Government at the time of the 1992 referendum. It too seeks to distinguish between information and referral. That distinction is not real; it is in effect, a fudge. The repetition of a fudge does not make it any less a fudge and in that I agree with the pro-life campaign.

It is time we dealt with this issue honestly and openly and I fully accept the Minister has gone some distance in that direction. There is much in the Bill with which I agree but I have some reservations. I am appalled by the dishonest and opportunistic approach of some people in Fianna Fail. I can reasonably except those currently sitting on the front bench from that view.

I am told by Labour Ministers that this is the most honest approach this Government can produce and is all that is politically possible in current circumstances. Some people on the Government benches — and this is not surprising — feel we cannot go any further at this time. I accept that political judgment and for that reason I will support the Government on Second and Committee Stages. Nonetheless, I look forward to the day when we can treat this matter honestly, when it will be possible not to pretend we do not have an abortion problem here. That we do not have abortion in Ireland. I look forward to the day when we can face reality as so many Irish women are already doing.

The overall programme and the Minister's Second Stage speech are very important. The Minister put his finger on an area where I have no dilemma in regard to this problem. He stated:

It should be clearly understood that we have an abortion problem and a significant one. The latest 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.

I respectfully suggest this may be a conservative figure.

That ["official"] 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 addresses, 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.

I believe the figures are considerably higher.

This issue is surrounded by hypocrisy and the sooner we face up to reality the better. As legislators we have to address this problem even in the face of a campaign directed against many Members by organisations which are entitled to express their view. However, Deputies who give into that sort of pressure are doing both this House and themselves a disservice. Members of my party have given this matter due consideration and have come to their own conclusions on it. As in the case of the parties opposite, members of my party have diverse views on this issue.

During my time in politics I have taken great pride in promoting Ireland as a good place to do business and as a country with a young, dynamic, well educated and forward thinking work-force. As a nation we can rightly be proud of our achievements in the area of international marketing. As a member of the European Union, Ireland plays its role in the development of Europe as the most powerful trading force in the world. In common with other members of the European Union, Ireland has its share of economic problems, for example, unemployment, which is the most damaging.

We also have social problems such as marital breakdown, juvenile crime, drug abuse and poverty. We cannot as an island nation expect to escape the tragic consequences of materialism and modern living. Irish women seek the right to have abortions and people whose marriages have broken down seek the right of divorce, a right we have not given them. A divorce referendum will be held in September or October and I will address that issue then. A cloud of sanctity does not hang over Ireland which was once known as the island of saints and scholars. We have developed solutions for many of the problems with which we have to deal, an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The export of our goods and services is essential to the continued development of our economy and there is a constant need to ensure that our exports are of the highest quality so that we are seen as a producer of top quality goods and services.

All right thinking members of society regard the export of our social problems as a national scheme and disgrace. During the last century thousands of our citizens were deported to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand because it was felt there was no place for them in this country. It was decided to deport these people rather than deal with the problems of a society deeply divided by barriers of class, religion and heritage. Today society is deeply divided about the way in which legislators should reflect in law its views on issues such as divorce and abortion. We have a dismal reluctance to take responsibility for our problems and prefer to dump them on the doorsteps of other countries. Solitary and pathetic boat trips to unfamiliar cities and conveyor belt abortion services are hardly reasons for celebrating our 73 years of independence from Britain. In the case of abortion, independence from Britain is a gross misnomer.

For many years thousands of Irish girls and women, often frightened, ignorant, alone and confused and always in emotional and physical turmoil and distress, have gone to England and other countries for abortions because they felt unable to see their pregnancy through to birth. I cannot see into their hearts or hope to understand their pain and suffering and while my convictions tell me that abortion is wrong, as a parent I feel an abiding sorrow for any woman who has to deal with a pregnancy which she did not anticipate and cannot face alone without the comfort of her family and the support of her doctor. I felt a particular sorrow for those women who for a variety of reasons cannot share their worries and feel they have no option but to take the boat to England. I am strongly opposed to abortion and thought that the Bill would provide for proper counselling services for women in advance of an abortion and the provision of funding for organisations which provide these services.

It is very hard to legislate on moral issues. In recent years we have seen the worst examples of the age old maxim, that hard cases make bad law. The X case was a dreadful example of the difficulty in balancing the freedom of the individual with the rights of society as a whole. This Bill further illustrates the difficulty in balancing the rights of an individual to live her life in accordance with the free will we all have with the need for a set of rules and obligations which enables society to function in an orderly manner.

The electorate determined in the referendum which led to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution that there is a right to obtain or make available information about pregnancy termination services outside the State. This Bill seeks to specify the conditions under which this information may be made available. The measures in this Bill are the very least this House can take to comply with the limited expression of the people on this subject. It is a very small step in acknowledging the seriousness of the problem with which we have to deal. It will not solve the problem — I do not know if there is a solution to it in the conventional sense — but it will offer some degree of comfort to pregnant women who may wish to terminate their pregnancies.

No person could be happy at a woman's decision to have an abortion and any system designed to promote or advocate abortion has no place in society. As in Iran and other societies, there are fundamentalists in our society.

I hope they are clear on what I am saying and that they will not attempt to twist my words — I do not wish to be misquoted. Abortion is illegal in Ireland and will remain so until the electorate decides otherwise. This is not to say that legislators have the sole duty to marshal the forces of law against what is often referred to as the evil of abortion. There is also a heavy onus on parents, teachers and religious leaders to deal with this problem. I am glad the Catholic Church has expressed its opinion on the legislation. I do not agree with this opinion but as part of the fabric of society it is as entitled as everyone else to express its view. There are other religions in society and the Catholic Bishop has expressed an opinion on behalf of his flock, of whom I happen to be one. I find myself in a very difficult position and do not know if God will forgive me but it is a chance I have to take.

I see no reason a doctor or counsellor should not be able to advise a pregnant woman on the options available to her. To take this a step further, I see no reason a woman who, having been advised on all the options open to her, decides to have an abortion cannot expect her doctor or counsellor to write a letter of referral of a "to whom it may concern" nature setting out such pertinent facts as may be necessary from a medical point of view which she can give to the abortion clinic she attends. Surely this is the least a caring society should have to offer its members, but even that slight extension is not acceptable. I look forward to the day when as a nation our self-sufficiency extends to all areas of social and economic life.

Since our accession to the European Union in 1973 a wave of legislative measures from Brussels has radically altered the rights and responsibilities of our citizens. Our membership of the European Union has resulted in significant improvements in the rights and freedoms of Irish people to live and work. Successive Governments have made genuine attempts — often not very successfully — to enact laws to reflect the wishes of the people and a mature and democratic society must, by the way it treats its citizens, have the courage to admit mistakes and rectify them quickly and decisively.

We are in favour of a Bill to give effect to the result of the 1992 referendum and the will of the people. The only surprise I wish to express about this Bill is that it has been introduced in advance of the outcome of the various court decisions on the matter. While I am not deeply concerned about that, perhaps the Bill should be deferred for that reason. Like the previous campaign on the referendum on abortion information, the forthcoming referendum on the issue of divorce will expose extreme reactions both for and against whatever proposals the Government makes. At a time when we are asking all the people on the island of Ireland to look into their hearts and weigh up the future and the interests of Ireland as an island, the people must be trusted. As we ask the Unionists in Northern Ireland to judge the Framework Document by its content, is it not reasonable to ask our citizens to apply similar criteria to their assessment of social and other issues?

The issue of divorce is straightforward. The law provides for divorce, called "judicial separation". The only difference in Irish law from divorce law in other countries is that once divorced here there is no legal mechanism to remarry. It is absurd and inhuman to deny people whose marriages have terminated the right to try again. In other words, why not give people an opportunity to enter a second marriage or, if necessary, a third?

I accept that the people are entitled to make a decision in that regard, but it is absurd that people are not entitled to remarry. However, sin ceist eile. I will be supporting the proposals to allow people to remarry following divorce and it is regrettable that the Government does not propose to hold the referendum sooner rather than later. I have a terrible suspicion — I hope I am proved wrong — that there will not be a referendum on divorce during the currency of this Dáil. That would be tragic. There are thousands of people waiting for an opportunity to vote "yes" in a referendum on divorce. I am not sure a referendum would be successful and for that reason perhaps it should not be held because, like the last occassion, it may be seen as a lost opportunity. However, I hope the Government adheres to its promise to put that issue to the people quickly, clearly and decisively.

I congratulate the Minister for Health on bringing this Bill to the House and giving us an opportunity to discuss the issue in detail. Much of the coverage given to this issue has been of an extreme and fundamentalist nature. I hope the tone and range of contributions here will provide for wider coverage and debate. As Deputy Andrews stated, there is a problem in our society in regard to abortion and we must face up to it and talk about it in this House.

I wish to say a few words about democracy. The appeal of democracy comes from the idea that ordinary people rule. The original word "democracia" literally means people power. In a modern democracy people do not rule directly but through a representative system in which they have a say. If that system is to keep the promises to the people it must satisfy two basic principles, namely, ensure that there is genuine popular control over the political process and that there is equality within it.

In 1992 the people voted on three issues, travel, information and abortion. The decisions were clear with "yes" votes on the first two and a rejection of the amendment dealing with abortion. It was very clear during the campaigns leading to polling day that the amendment on information was concerned with detailed information on the names, addresses and telephone numbers of clinics providing lawful abortion services in other jurisdictions. Both sides in the campaign knew that this was at issue and many of those advocating a "no" vote were at pains to point out in campaign literature and in media comment that a "yes" vote would bring about the provision of such details.

In 1992 the Irish people considered for the first time the issue of abortion, and the circumstances of women and girls facing crisis pregnancies, in real rather than hypothetical terms. Prior to that our thoughts could not imagine that whatever decisions were made would affect real people — women of all ages and from all backgrounds, who would face this most serious situation. Gone were the myths which had enabled so many people to distance their thinking from reality, allowing the dismissal of all women who opted for termination of a pregnancy as singularly selfish and irresponsible chosen only for some flippant social reason. This is very far from the truth.

In 1992 we began to listen to Irish women who experienced crisis pregnancies. The stories of those who have picked up the pieces from yet another Irish solution over the past decade or so are chiling. A study carried out by people who worked with such women states:

We have heard stories of loneliness, isolation and fear. We have also heard countless stories of rape, sexual abuse and battering. Although Irish society has preferred to ignore the experiences of these women, they are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, women who have had to make difficult decisions in an atmosphere of fear and silence. Women have called our telephone numbers from the corners of Kerry and Donegal because they felt they had no one else to talk to. By and large they were right. Most of the time they got our telephone numbers secretly — a sympathetic doctor, a students' union, a public toilet, a piece of graffiti or even a televised news report showing footage of campaign demonstrations.

That has been the experience of many women.

This report goes on to say that by the time calls came through many women had already made up their minds about an abortion and were seeking important information about the implications of abortion for their health and the levels of care available at various British clinics. Sometimes women would seek advice about further counselling and other options available to them. It is very clear that there has been and continues to be great silence around the issue of abortion here. We get our statistics from England on the numbers of abortions which Irish women have there. The latest figure for 1993 is 4,399 women. There is no doubt these statistics under-represent the actual numbers of those seeking abortions because it is clear that many women do not identify themselves, or give their Irish addresses, when they go to England. Irish women are acutely aware of the rush to judgment on this issue and their decisions taken alone reflect this.

It is not good enough that we get our statistics from England. It is critical that any woman facing a crisis pregnancy gets the best possible support. It is important to bear in mind the mental turmoil that a crisis brings about and the nature of the crisis. The issues facing a woman in such a crisis are major — who to tell, who to trust, what to do, how to think the crisis through, where to get support, the implications for the future; the list is endless. I worked as a social worker for many years, working with people in crisis and it is clear that in a crisis it is important that the person has the time and the space to think clearly and without pressure. I know from that experience that the principle of self determination, of making the decision as to how best to resolve the crisis oneself, is fundamental in determining the best course of action. Force, manipulation, or direction from a third party, no matter how well meaning, is not the answer. The best decision will be the one reached freely and with the benefit of all the information available.

We have a long history of trying to deal with this complex, legal, ethical, personal and moral decision through constitutional means, and the Constitution has proved a dismal failure in reflecting this issue adequately. It fails almost as dismally as it fails to reflect the real position of women in Irish society in the 1990s. On either side of the debate there is genuine commitment to reducing the level of abortion, but the anti-abortion and pro-choice movements are tackling the issue from such different perspectives that there is little dialogue. In 1992 we saw the vast middle ground. The instinctive and sincerely held views of people all over the country began to emerge. Essentially, people began to distinguish between aspirations and State interference in deeply intimate individual decisions. It became clear that widespread opposition to abortion is far from absolute and that there are circumstances where many people believe the option should be available and that, most certainly, women have the right to travel and to know about services in other countries. The people decided that the implications of an absolutist stance on abortion were unacceptable and we, the legislators, must reflect the will of the people and face up to what that means in practical terms. It is our job, as legislators, to make our laws respond to the views of the public as expressed in 1992, not to the canvassed views of highly motivated minorities. The majority of people in this country want information to be available to women who may be planning or thinking about abortion. The Bill sets out to respond precisely to those views.

I am sure many Deputies in this House have come under pressure not to speak. I welcome the fact that people are contributing. However, the public need to know about the intensity of the lobbying campaign that has been carried on, the intensive phone calls and the strong language used. This puts pressure on and that intense pressure cannot be underestimated.

The Bill attempts to deal with some of the social realities surrounding abortion. I particularly welcome the Minister's commitment to research. I remember trying to get research on this issue on a political agenda just four or five years ago but it was impossible. One could not even speak about it. There was no support for it and no commitment to putting money into researching the issue and beginning to understand it in more detail. That commitment is in the programme for Government, and it has been made again here this morning. That is important because we need to base legislation on good information, and research will ensure that the information we have gets better and better. The announcements the Minister made in connection with the Bill take a more holistic approach towards addressing the high rate of abortion among Irish women.

Many people want to respect individual women's different situations and at the same time would like to encourage a moral standard that would reduce the number of abortions. However, in the 'phone calls I have been getting, I have been struck by the lack of reference to individual women and the extreme difficulties they face as opposed to a generalised deeply-held view against abortion, which I respect. It is the difficulties that individual women face that we must examine and understand and try to cater for. Most women are going without counselling, without information. The Bill addresses this. It ensures that medical information will be available and that post-abortion care can also be available.

I have spoken in the House on many occassions on the need to move forward to ensure that equality for women becomes a fact and that the necessary supports for the family are in place. The framework within which we must work to reduce the level of termination of pregnancy among Irish women includes education, employment, access to training, more flexible work arrangements, financial support for families, effective family planning services and a more open approach to issues of sexuality and responsibility with our young people.

Even as I speak there are many women in Ireland coping with a crisis pregnancy. I want to comment on the effect on them of the tone of some of the discussions and coverage outside this House. I believe that the approaches taken by some groups mean that these women are more likely to be frightened, to distrust Irish society, and to go in secret for an abortion in England. The tone of some of the comments on abortion in this country is more likely to induce panic and fear in women already in crisis. That is why it is important to have a comprehensive discussion in this House.

The assumptions underlying the Bill that information and counselling are important are likely to be more helpful to women facing a crisis pregnancy. That is true. The assumption that more information necessarily leads to more women deciding to go to England must be questioned.

Powerful energy has gone into the abortion debate over the past 13 years and it is time that the same energy went into the creation of a more equitable society which fully respects women and accords them their rights and sets out to support families, not pay lip service to them. We are making some progress, but more would be possible if the many interests which are concerned with the abortion issue could focus their attention on and contribute their ideas to the empowerment of women.

Abortion is not solely about women and the choice they might make. There is the question of men's role in all this, their share of the responsibility for conception and their attitudes to family and children. Men would be wise to give some thought to these matters, to the degree to which their behaviour and attitudes contribute to both the level of crisis pregnancy and the numbers of Irish women who make the choice to terminate their pregnancy. In this House, and in the party rooms where this was discussed, there were many men and few women. Because of the nature of our democracy, which is an unfinished one, there are far too few women in this House.

A study, entitled "If You Ever Go Across the Sea to England", of 200 Irish women who travelled to England for an abortion in July 1991, found that only 11 per cent of the mothers and 4 per cent of the fathers of single women knew about the pregnancy. One of those interviewed, a 26-year-old receptionist, said: "I feel this questionnaire may be of some benefit in helping to establish counselling in Ireland both for young girls afraid to ask and people like myself who know of nowhere else to turn". Of these 200 women studied in detail who had abortions in England, 151 were single, 32 were married and 17 were separated. The three groups of women faced different kinds of social pressure.

The study showed the lack of discussion on sexuality within families, that sexuality is a taboo subject in the Irish community between Irish parents and children and that the abortion rate could be reduced if the women used birth control more regularly and if more efficient methods were used. A 44 year old married women, pregnant because she thought she was sterile commented: "To leave someone pregnant, desperate, mentally exhausted with no one to turn to for advice or help, and just told to get on with it, is criminal". The isolation of these women is clear. Another women said that the British people and their medical service saved her from suicide. A 20 year old apprentice solicitor told of her humiliating experience of driving around Dublin trying to find a telephone number on a poster. All these examples are cited in the study. These women are desperate for support, have nobody to talk to and no place to get information.

The Bill attempts to deal with a complex situation which has been evolving since 1983 when the people, in agreeing to a constitutional amendment which it seems reflected the aspirations of most people, did not anticipate the consequences of what occurred in 1992. One of the consequences was that question marks were placed against the right of women to travel and receive factual information. This was an appalling infringement of basic human rights and not in keeping with the intention of a great many of those who supported the 1983 amendment.

Many aspects of the Bill should be considered carefully. On the issue of ring-fencing counselling whereby the doctor or counsellor is not involved in making an appointment or in the provision of a letter of referral, I place great value on non-directive counselling and empowering those in crisis to make their own decisions and to act on them. There is an element of affirmation when an individual is able to take complete control and implement a decision. I look forward to further discussions on this issue on Committee Stage.

Deputy McDowell mentioned that he had concerns about doctors. In a letter to The Irish Times Dr. Leonard Condren stated:

This prohibition [on referral] is not of central importance to those of us who have been providing non-directive counselling and abortion information for many years. I rarely, if ever, make an appointment for a patient to see a specialist colleague. One simply provides names and addresses and the patient is regarded as being sufficiently adult to make the telephone call him or herself... This Bill reverses the inappropriate intrusion into the doctor/patient relationship advocated by the Pro-Life Movement. Should it be passed these difficult dilemmas will be solved in the confidential consultation between the patient and the General Practitioner without fear of State intrusion. I can now look forward to practising comprehensive informed patient care in an atmosphere devoid of censorship.

That is the view of one general practitioner dealing with women who face crisis pregnancies.

We should examine the question of access, standards in counselling and whether women can choose the support service they determine they need. No woman should leave these shores without being counselled and I hope the standard of the services available to women will be high. The Bill does not deal with this issue, it refers only to enforcement. We have a responsibility to ensure that a framework is put in place to ensure that the services are delivered properly and meet the needs of women.

The research programme the Minister intends to implement will be helpful in planning for the future and will assist us in moving towards the much needed discussion on reproductive rights and freedoms and to dismantle some of the underlying thinking and attitudes which do not accord women the respect they deserve as full and equal human beings, moral agents, competent and responsible. If we trusted Irish women how would we respond to this issue?

Unlike many of my colleagues, I have worked with women and explored the issues surrounding abortion. I have listened to the experiences of women who have made the journey to England. I want to see women's rights and freedoms respected in Irish law. As a legislator, I want to contribute to creating a situation where women can make their own decisions and where crisis pregnancies become the exception. I hope that we are taking the first, albeit, tentative steps from a censorial and penalising approach to women with crisis pregnancies to one where we begin to work with honesty and openness. For that reason I welcome this Bill.

I am not happy with this Bill and resent the charge that I am engaging in stroke politics or hypocrisy or that I am being dishonest. I am sincere and deeply concerned about this matter. I did not become concerned only on the day Fianna Fáil went into Opposition. Last October I raised this issue at a parliamentary party meeting after the draft on which the previous Government was working was leaked to the newspapers. It is clear that members of Deputy McDowell's party do not fully support the Bill. It was rumoured that the original draft was much stronger and I acknowledge and accept that it has been watered down and the wilder excesses deleted.

I was amused by comments from a Labour Party source, as reported in the newspapers today, expressing concern about the fortunes of Fianna Fáil. It was suggested Fianna Fáil might lose some middle class voters if it pursued its objections to the Bill. I am touched deeply by his concern.

At a political level, why has this Bill been introduced now? There was no mention of it a few weeks ago. The divorce referendum was pencilled in for late May but because that matter is the subject of a challenge in the courts it has been deferred for the moment. It seems therefore that this Bill has been presented to show that the Government is pursuing its liberal agenda. In the parties that comprise the rainbow Coalition there are differing views and it seems the Government had to do something during this session to appease the loony Left or the loony liberals.

It has been suggested that the Bill was slipped out last week to take advantage of the publication of the Framework Document. I recall that Members of this House accused the previous Government of issuing the report of the beef tribunal at the same time as the announcement of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland for that reason. Why does Fine Gael always engage in aimless flag waving? It adopted the same approach when it was last in Government.

On this and all other social legislation there are differing views and a reasonable effort should be made to bring people on board. Aimless flag waving does not constitute good political leadership; rather one should lead by example and bring the pack along. One could draw a good sporting analogy with the peloton in a cycle race. It tends to be nicely bunched and have a nice configuration. The cyclist who shoots ahead achieves nothing, he tends to be hauled back after a few miles. If he gets away, he tends to lose everyone else.

(Limerick East): The peloton was to introduce a Bill which would have provided for referral on 1 December.

No one saw that Bill. In the peloton the leader tends to suck the others along in his slipstream. A greater effort should be made to bring people on board and meet their objections. The Minister and Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn were reasoned in their contributions and adopted a calm tone. Some people might say we have been having this debate for the past 13 years. I have not been a Member of this House for that length of time but I have been living in the real world and have not been totally immune from the issue. I am a democrat and I accept what was approved by the people in the 1992 referendum but what did the people approve? The booklet issued at that time to every household laid down what would and would not happen and we cannot ignore that. Whether one is conservative or liberal, one cannot change the rules after the people have decided on an issue. That is dishonest and we must be honest with the people.

We must make a distinction between promotion and assistance of abortion and referral. Providing the names and addresses of abortion clinics is unacceptable. It is promoting and assisting abortion and is an abdication by the State of its obligation to protect unborn life. It is in total conflict with the commitments given in 1992 and with what is contained in the Constitution.

On reading the Bill last week I thought the Minister had steered a middle course on this issue and that there would be less objection to it, but having seen the Minister on television over the weekend he heightened rather than allayed my fears in this regard because he implied that referral did not mean the writing of a letter by a doctor. I understood that referral meant the doctor would write a letter but the Minister made it clear that in most cases the doctor does not write a letter. He admitted that providing the names and addresses of clinics was referral.

(Limerick East): On a point of explanation, the Deputy misheard me. The doctor writes the letter, he does not make the appointment or the telephone call.

I cannot agree with the Minister on the difference between referral and promotion and assistance of abortion.

The effect of this Bill would mean that while our laws upheld the right to life of the unborn, the State would provide all the necessary facilities for someone wishing to travel outside the State for an abortion.

There have been various arguments about the interpretation of the 1992 referendum. I recall disputes arising at meetings of Dublin City Council at the time — Deputy Flaherty would be familiar with this — because some books had been removed from libraries. I accept that action was ridiculous, that we have moved on from that and that we cannot go back beyond November 1992. I wonder what were the various interpretations of the 1992 referendum. Perhaps we were all a little confused by the fact that a general election was being held on the same day. If there had not been a general election that day all these matters might have been teased out to everybody's satisfaction. My understanding of what we were doing in 1992 was that we were allowing general non-directive information to be provided without giving specific information.

If a doctor gives names and addresses of abortion clinics to a pregnant woman seeking counselling who is considering abortion, that act flies in the face of the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. I accept there are different interpretations of the 1992 referendum but it must be considered in conjunction with the 1983 amendment to the Constitution. Whether we like it or not the 1983 amendment upholds the right to life of the unborn.

The only purpose in providing names and addresses of abortion clinics to a woman is to facilitate an abortion. It is wrong to argue that if one gives such information to a woman in those circumstances it should be regarded as non-directive counselling. A women in such circumstances is seeking such counselling for a specific purpose.

A comparison has been made with giving the names and addresses of drug dealers. That may not be a fair comparison but it raises certain questions. The Bill treats an unborn baby as a non-person. How does that conform with Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution which upholds the right to life of the unborn? Giving the names and addresses of these clinics is fundamental to the whole argument and I do not see how we can get away from that.

This Bill is unacceptable to me. It endangers the lives of unborn children and it does not conform with what was put to the people in 1992. It goes far beyond what was required by the passage of that amendment and I believe it will promote and encourage abortion. which is in conflict with the Constitution. I accept women will travel abroad for abortions but the State should not make statutory provision for that, having regard to the 1983 amendment. This Bill will help create an abortion culture and give abortion a cloak of respectability.

Under EU law everybody has a right to services that are available and legal outside the State. The laws on drugs may be far more lax in other countries of the EU — euthanasia is legal in Holland. I suppose Ireland will go down that road in regard to such information being available. Reference was made this morning to the need for an amendment allowing doctors to have an opt out clause. The Minister commented to the effect that that did not seem necessary, which was surprising.

(Limerick East): It is already in the Bill.

That is not what I understood.

One aspect of the issue about which I am concerned is the age at which people can avail of this counselling.

The Deputy should read The Cork Examiner which referred to a pregnant 11-year-old girl.

I understand the argument has been made in the UK that a person from the age of 15 upwards can avail of these services without parental approval. Under a certain age young girls should have the approval of their parents and I strongly object to any demands that information be given to young people without the approval of their parents. I wish to comment on the question of lobbying as referred to by some speakers this morning. We are all lobbied on various items. I received a few 'phone calls and letters this week, as I do every week on issues, and it is unfair of politicians to object to lobbying when we do not agree with the other person's viewpoint.

The Minister devoted a couple of pages of his speech to counselling, which is very important. At our parliamentary party meeting yesterday many people spoke about the need to greatly improve the counselling services available to women, and I agree with them. I support the increased allocation of funding to groups such as Cura, Life Pregnancy Care Service and Cherish, although it is a small amount compared with the funding allocated to the Rape Crisis Centre. I am not suggesting that the allocation to that organisation should be watered down, but there is an imbalance in this area.

The Minister referred to the provision of a comprehensive family planning service to people with medical cards. In future if a woman finds that the only option open to her is to go to the UK for an abortion, will demands be made that her bill be paid? If that happens people may suggest that since it is costing so much to pay for people to go to the UK it may be cheaper to provide the service here. My concern is that there could be ongoing demands in this regard.

The problem in this area relates to the substantive issue and I hope that is addressed in the legislation. Various court cases refer back to 1983 and the substantive issue should not be left up in the air; it must be dealt with. There are many groups trawling the countryside for a case to bring to the courts which would again have the country in hysterics. It is better to deal with these matters in a calm, reasoned fashion. I hope in the coming months the Minister addresses the substantive issue, even if it means holding another referendum and letting the people reiterate or change their 1983 decision. The court decision in the X case was not in accordance with what the people voted for in 1983. The whole matter needs to be reconsidered. Many people believe that agreement was given in the 1992 referendum to the provision of information, but that referendum must be taken in the context of Article 40 of the Consitution.

(Limerick East): When I bring in a Bill the Deputy wants it deferred but now he is demanding another Bill.

It is difficult to get it right.

I am asking the Minister to consider this matter in the coming months and perhaps discuss it at committee level or in the public arena. This morning's debate has been very calm and reasoned but perhaps if there had been public debate for a few weeks some people might have taken a different point of view. There are certainly extremists in all battles but it is possible to change people's minds if debate is conducted in a reasonable manner. I hope the Minister will reconsider this matter and that in the event that the Bill goes to Committee Stage he will be open to change. Some people believe the Bill is beyond amendment but that is a matter for discussion. If greater notice was given of the Bill and there was more public debate inside and outside the House the fears of some people may have been allayed and a different approach taken to the matter.

I am glad of the opportunity to make a few brief remarks on this legislation. I am aware of the sincerity of my constituency colleague who just spoke and I know he is consistent in these matters. I hope he listened to the whole of this morning's debate. If he listened to a few more such debates he might not be deluded into thinking that this is a problem to which there is a simple solution. I agree that many of our concerns relate to the 1983 referendum and indeed beyond. That referendum tried to address the issues simplistically, but in the years since then we have learned it is sometimes impossible to reconcile two competing rights: the right to life of the child and the right to life of the mother. A unique relationship exists between a mother and a child in her womb, and it cannot be treated simplistically. The two lives are interlinked and the issues of life and death are more complex than in other areas.

I welcome the contributions of my colleague, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Deputy O'Donnell and others who tried to address broadly and frankly many of the issues involved and I will not go over that ground. This legislation is a response to the 1983 referendum as amended by the three 1992 referenda. We are dealing with just one of the issues in this Bill. I agree with my colleague that the substantive issue must be addressed but it will take a number of years to respond to all the matters that arise, including the interpretation by the courts of the 1983 amendment. We are constrained by the terms of the the amendment to the Constitution passed by the Irish people. We are also constrained by commitments in European law, which the Irish people freely accepted and acknowledged by way of referendum. The finding of the European courts were known to the Irish people at the time they voted on the information issue. The Minister instead of neglecting the matter and letting the current position of legal limbo continue, decided to clarify the position by putting forward a conservative proposal that is consistent with the commitments given publicly during the course of the last referendum.

There are constraints involved in providing information on services legally available elsewhere and providing general information on abortion. People were offended by the tearing out of pages from magazines and the withdrawal of books from libraries, and they wished to see that problem resolved, but that is not the only problem that existed, as suggested by Deputy Ahern. There was also the issue of the right to information and services legally available and the right to travel, which does not need to be further defined. Perhaps if there was room for further interpretation of the right to travel, certain sections of society would suggest that people should be stopped in that regard.

I share the concerns expressed by Members on the question of referrals. There are those who see referrals as an act of involvement in encouraging abortion but on the other hand women in their thousands who decide to have an abortion are left to make their own arrangements. I have reservations about the obligations we are placing on doctors who having counselled young pregnant 11 and 14-year olds, presumably under the care of their parents, have to leave that child and her parents to fend for themselves on the basis of the information they may have given them. I am sure we will come back to this issue on Committee Stage and I think we will benefit from the discussion on it. Deputy Ahern and others may not have read The Cork Examiner this morning which reports on the front page the case of an 11-year old who is pregnant as a result of a sexual attack by a 54-year old man. We know there have been many other critical cases similar to the X case, it is not a simple issue that will go away, it will recur and it will be up to Members to resolve it.

One of the very welcome elements in the Bill is the substantial commitment to counselling and research. Some of my colleagues have reflected on how times have changed — it would have been unacceptable even to discuss this subject 20 years ago and women who went abroad for abortions were treated almost like criminals, not legally or technically but in the way the issue was hidden. It has been proven that counselling and research are successful in reducing the numbers of abortions and I believe this will be a contribution to achieving the shared objective that as few as possible should ever choose this means of resolving a crisis. I would have considered these issues during my college days when my experience would have been of friends and colleagues in college and post-college facing a disruption in their life when they found themselves with a crisis pregnancy and had to make choices and now I am in the category of the 40-year old mother of four for whom another pregnancy may present grave problems. To some degree that is treating it lightly but there are very serious issues behind it. As Deputy Frances Fitzgerald said it is important to put faces on it if we want to understand what women need at certain times to cope and make a different choice. Therefore, I very much welcome the provision of counselling.

A critical element is the question of family planning. The Minister made a commitment to a comprehensive family planning service. This is very welcome as the present service is very patchy. The cost of the service is an issue that needs to be resolved.

I welcome the Bill in so far as it tries to deal honestly with the situation. I believe that on the question of referral the Minister was, on balance, right to decide to honour the public commitment made by the previous Government that there would be no direct referral allowed and he has set the boundary. As I said I am in two minds on that because I am concerned about the real situations of women and children who are in a vulnerable position and are left to fend for themselves and to travel abroad for an abortion. I look forward to having the opportunity to consider this more carefully on Committee Stage. I understand that the Minister was constrained by the public commitment given at the time the people voted on the referendum for detailed information but made a specific separation between providing information and making a referral. I think the Minister had to make a difficult decision as a result of that public commitment.

I too wish to ask why the Bill is being introduced this week. Only three weeks ago there was no word of it when questions were asked about this Bill.

(Limerick East): That is not true. The Taoiseach told the House that the Bill would be introduced.

I suggest the reason the Bill was announced last Thursday was to try to hide it in the Framework Document which received a great deal of publicity that week. The Bill made an extraordinarily speedy appearance.

I deny the allegations made by the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, against the Fianna Fáil Party. Yesterday I chaired a meeting which went on for four and a half hours. Party Members expressed their view in a very frank and open way, all opinions were represented but everyone in the party is opposed to abortion being legalised in this country. I think it is wrong for an anonymous Government spokesperson to try to rubbish a decision made by the only party in this House that has a representative in every single constituency in the country.

I support the case made by my colleague. Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, that we should await the court decision. The Government has decided that the divorce referendum cannot be held until such time as a court decision has been made. Having regard to the length of time the case has been before the court it is reasonable to await its outcome, I think everybody accepts this. While people voted in the referendum for information the problem hinges on the question of referral for an abortion in another state. If one were to look at the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of SPUC v. Open Door and Well Woman Clinic delivered by Mr. Justice Finlay: right could constitutionally arise to obtain information the purpose of the obtaining of which was to defeat the constitutional right to life of the unborn...

The Court both declare that the activities of the defendants, their servants or agents in assisting pregnant women within the jurisdiction to travel abroad to obtain abortions by referral to a clinic; by the making of their travel arrangements, or by informing them of the identity and location and method of communication with a specified clinic or clinics are unlawful, having regard to the provisions of Article 40.3.0º of the Constitution.

Subsequently Mr. Justice Walsh in his concurring judgment in the case of SPUC v. Grogan stated:

...the fourth option put forward by the defendants though admittedly in a non-directive and non-judgmental manner is the option of the death of the unborn life. This is beyond question in open conflict with the eighth amendment ... the intentional destruction of unborn life is not a permissible option.

As regards names and addresses, the Minister rightly stated that this does not appear in the Bill before the House. However, the memorandum which was circulated to us states:

This Bill applies only to information which is likely to be required by a woman in availing herself of pregnancy termination services, for example, the names and addresses of such services and the methods of contacting them. Throughout the Bill such information is referred to as "Act information".

It is dishonest for the Minister to come into the House and say that names and addresses do not appear in the Bill when that is not what he has in mind.

(Limerick East): It is a constitutional right.

I am quoting from the memorandum. There is a conflict between that and what the Minister said.

(Limerick East): The Deputy is talking through his hat. I am surprised he is so silly as he was a former Minister.

It is not silly, it is what the Minister said. As a former Minister for Health, I would not stand over it.

(Limerick East): There is no reference to names and addresses in the Bill but it is clearly the intention that names and addresses will be provided because that is a constitutional right flowing from the constitutional amendment in 1992. That is the legal advice available to me. They are not provided for in the Bill but it would be unconstitutional to prohibit them. I am not hiding anything.

I accept what the Minister says but it would have been helpful if the Minister told us that this morning instead of trying to lead us to believe that——

(Limerick East): this morning, last week and the week before.

——since there was no reference to names and addresses in the Bill, the matter did not arise. The amendment to Article 40.3.3º was put clearly before the people:

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.

It stated clearly it would permit non-directive counselling of pregnant women but not abortion referral.

We all want to reduce the number of abortions. A woman with a crisis pregnancy is entitled to the care, concern and compassion one would expect from members of the health care service. As a doctor, when a woman in that position comes to see me I have two patients to consider — the mother and the child and both are entitled to the best level of service I can provide.

The Minister said the issue of a conscience clause was catered for in the Bill. I am not satisfied with that as there is no conscience clause in the Bill and I appeal to the Minister to insert it. Deputy Fitzgerald referred to a letter written by Dr. Leonard Condren to The Irish Times in support of the legislation. Yesterday morning I received a letter from a young lady doctor who is not associated with any pro-life organisation. She was writing as a general practitioner in this country and referred to an article in The Irish Times last week written by Kieran Conway headed “Lack of Medical Legislation Criticised” who stated that in the continuing absence of legislation, if a doctor declined a termination in circumstances analagous to the X case, he or she could well be liable for any ill-effects arising from the pregnancy. That concerned the doctor who wrote to me. She stated in her letter:

Enclosed is a cutting from The Irish Times. I do not know how true the highlighted statement is but it is horrific that it has come to this in this country. One of the reasons I did not want to be a GP in Britain was because of the casual way GPs treated abortion referral like a referral for anything else. Despite directives from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the family planning associations stating they should explain alternatives in the course of the initial consultation, this does not happen. In one case I heard a family planning doctor say to her patient: “of course if you are pregnant you will have to have an abortion” because the lady had a mild psychiatric problem... You can imagine how widespread this attitude is among doctors. There is also an opt out clause in Britain which, in my case, was always respected and I hope this would be incorporated into Irish law so that GPs would not be coerced into information referral.

That is significant and represents the views of Irish doctors generally. It is important to refer to the Family Planning Bill, 1978 in which the then Minister for Health, former Deputy Haughey, inserted a conscience clause in section 11. Anyone involved, an employee of a health board or the health care services could opt out of providing services under that section if they so wished. In the British Abortion Act, 1967, section 4 is devoted to a conscience clause so that conscientious objectors do not have to participate one way or the other. It states: person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.

It further states that the obligation of proof for the objection lies with the person claiming to rely on it. It is a substantial conscience clause and I ask the Minister to write such a clause into this legislation so that there will be no ambiguity and doctors will not be concerned that they may find themselves in court as a result of this legislation.

A referendum was held on the substantive issue of abortion in 1983. The people decided by a majority of 4:1 that they did not want abortion in this country. Their decision was clear to everyone. The Supreme Court interpreted that decision in a way which is legally correct but differed from the views expressed by the people. Perhaps it was wrong to hold the referendum in 1983, perhaps it was correct to do so but, the point is, we must move on from where we are. The Supreme Court decision left us in a legal limbo. I agree with Deputy Noel Ahern that the people would be given another opportunity to decide on the issue. As legislators, we do not have the right to legislate for an issue on which we know the people made a decision in 1983 by a ratio of 4:1. The electorate should be afforded another opportunity to express its view on the substantive issue before we are confronted with some other court case, the result of which will be referred to this Legislature when, in a knee-jerk-type reaction, we shall have to introduce legislation. Very often such speedily prepared legislation is bad.

I might point out that practically all local authorities, supported by Members from all sides of the House, passed resolutions requesting that the electorate be given another opportunity to decide on the substantive issue.

Debate adjourned.