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

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

I am sorry I have so little time remaining, now that the Minister is present.

My vote in favour of this Bill is merely symbolic because it is defective, illiberal and unworkable and, in many respects, it may be unconstitutional. Deputy Shatter voiced concern about this earlier. The only constitutional interpretation given so far on the amendments to the Constitution on information and travel were given by Mrs. Justice Denham in the Well Woman case in July 1993. She held that in regard to the right to travel a person was entitled to assistance to exercise that right. She said that assistance given to a person exercising the right to travel is part and parcel of that right. She went on to emphasise that such assistance would "particularly for economically and socially deprived persons be absolutely essential in order to enable them to exercise their right".

It is, therefore, my view that the provisions of this Bill which prohibit a doctor or a counsellor from making any arrangements in relation to the person to whom they have provided information, may well be found to be unconstitutional. Even if it is not, the Bill interferes in an unsatisfactory way with the private and confidential relationship between doctor and patient. When faced with a patient, such as Miss X, whose health and life are in danger a doctor will not be able to make arrangements which are in her best interests. It is grossly unfair to make this a criminal offence and to subject the doctor to a fine of up to £1,500 and possibly erasure from the medical register. My party will be tabling amendments to ensure that nothing in the Bill interferes with the private and confidential relationship between doctor and patient. I seek an assurance from the Minister that he will accept amendments in that regard.

The Bill also prohibits in an unsatisfactory way freedom of information. Although we were told in 1992 that this legislation would provide for non-directive counselling in one direction only. It is stated in the guide to the regulations circulated by the Minister that the Bill does not preclude a doctor or agency, in the context of giving abortion information and information on other available options, from encouraging the woman concerned not to have an abortion. A doctor or counsellor may encourage in one direction only; this constitutes directive counselling.

This Bill will provide those in society who seem to be so intent on going down the road of litigation time and again with an opportunity to entrap those who are providing information. According to the Bill, this must be true and objective but in whose terms? Names and addresses are to be found in the Yellow Pages for Northern Ireland which is available in most major post offices here.

The Bill is not open or transparent. I am voting for it as a symbolic gesture as I could not bring myself to vote against it and join with those forces who are so reactionary, intolerant, lacking in understanding of the plight of the Irish women and not prepared to allow them exercise their judgment, lacking in compassion and realism. I am not, however, voting for it with any great enthusiasm and my party will try to amend and improve it to ensure that it is workable and in compliance with constitutional amendment.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has produced a Bill which is more than can be said for his predecessor. However, I regret that he did not consult with the groups most affected and who have expressed concern: the Irish Family Planning Association and the Council for the Status of Women. If this Bill dealt with agriculture, the construction industry or the licensing laws, I could not imagine any Minister not consulting with the groups with the greatest interest.

Each time this issue has been debated it has led to division. Doctors in favour of the amendment, doctors against the amendment, handicapped persons in favour, handicapped persons against, teachers, nurses and so on all contributed. It is an extremely divisive issue and I do not believe with the passing of this legislation that the problem will go away. I fear that this saga will run for many years as happened in the case of family planning legislation. Perhaps after ten to 15 years we will finally have on the Statute Book legislation that is compassionate and realistic and which deals with the Irish abortion problem. The reality in modern day Ireland is that one in 11 Irish pregnancies end in abortion in Britain and we are not tackling that in this Bill.

Long before programmes such as "Fair City" dealt with the issue of abortion in soap opera depth there was a radio soap opera called "The Kennedys of Castlerosse". The funny thing about that programme was that if one turned on the radio at lunchtime having been away for a month it was as if one had not been away. Since the Bill was introduced it has been a bit like "The Kennedys of Castlerosse", tuning into an episode of Irish life that happened ten years ago but nothing has changed: the lines are still the same, the same current affairs programmes are running with the same people saying the same things. It is a bit like the slogan for the cosmetics that my life-partner buys from the Body Shop: re-use, re-fill and re-cycle. It is also like watching the film "The Sound of Music" on television at Christmas time — one can say the lines before the actors do. There is ideological fog everywhere.

I was not great at geography at school but I remember learning about how a thick fog results when a belt of warm air meets a belt of cold air over the Irish Sea. A belt of pro-life wind has met a belt of pro-choice wind over the people and the result is a feeling of déjà vu and thick fog. I do not think that fog is a great accompaniment to the process of developing the corpus of Irish law, particularly on such a sensitive and important issue as this. We would be better served by clarity.

Last night I asked myself what are the matters on which I am clear. I discovered that I am clear on many: that the Irish people are not stupid or totally hypocritical; that it is the job of legislators to legislate; that the Minister for Health does not want to see more abortions and that those who are compassionately against abortion have the absolute right — even duty — to work to reduce the number of abortions. When I realised that I was clear on all these things it was a great relief.

Let me consider first the question of the stupidity or intelligence of the people. During the past 20 years they have been picking their way through a minefield of change with remarkable intelligence, maturity and fairmindedness, not to mention tolerance. If I look around this House I see living testament to the tolerance, not to say sense of humour, of the electorate. Michael D, Michael McDowell, Jim McDaid and I are here, as is Paddy Harte except when he goes somewhere else.

In every constituency the electorate chooses a wonderful complexity of representation for its parliamentary process and in every election it cuts through the claims and counterclaims, polls and promises, debates and disasters and elects a set of people that does not conform to any narrow pattern. Now and again, circumstances conspire against the people and they end up with a rainbow coalition that they never asked for. I take full responsibility for that and promise that I will not be in South Africa the next time there is a Government crisis.

It is not just in elections that the electorate makes sophisticated and civilised decisions. It makes equally sophisticated and civilised decisions in referenda. It did so in the referenda on travel and information when it did not give a simple yes or no answer but rather voted in a clever and complex way. Some people are revisiting that decision and saying: "The Irish people do not know what information is; what they really meant was that it was OK for someone to tell another how abortion happens but it was not OK for people to get hold of any of the details about where abortion happens". When I hear this line of argument I have to admire the persistence and cleverality of those advancing it but it is ludicrous and insulting to the intelligence of the electorate who cast their votes at the time.

This Bill is about the provision of information and it has been designed, cut and trimmed to fit into the space created by the people when they voted in the referendum. They were not voting for the right to hear more detailed descriptions of what happens during an abortion and we should not insult them by saying that they were.

I decided something else last night. The Irish people are not totally hypocritical. I am not saying individuals do not have a little bit of hypocrisy in them; they do. It is like eating a balanced diet — everybody needs a little idealism, cynicism, enthusiasm, laziness, moderation, excess — a great deal of honesty and a little bit of hypocrisy. It is the mix of all of those that keeps one right but as a nation we are remarkably short on hypocrisy, even on this issue.

The reaction of people to the X case was not hypocritical. It was one of honest outrage and shock. People of all generations, in all parts of the country, looked at that case and said: "We may not approve of abortion — in fact a majority do not approve of abortion — but we do not want injunctions taken against 14 year old victims of statutory rape. We do not want Ireland turned into a police State where you have to prove you are not pregnant before you are allowed to get on a boat or a plane".

By their votes in the ensuing referendum the people decided they did not want ridiculous obstacles put in the way of people trying to obtain an address or a telephone number because they knew well that if those people went into the GPO and looked at British telephone books, they could find that information instantly. What is hypocritical about any of that? It would be absolutely hypocritical to suggest that in the Ireland of the 1990s, with Irish people travelling the world for study, work and leisure and tapping into the Internet and CompuServe, one could create a censorship of information with flying squads of censors picking up leaflets, blacking out small advertisements in magazines and tearing out pages of telephone books.

The people of Ireland are not idiots. They knew what they were voting for in the referendum, namely, information on services legally available in another State. Do people seriously believe that the voters thought they were supporting a constitutional right to British Airways flight information or to read the Egon Ronay guide to London restaurants? The electorate decided against that kind of hypocritical idiocy and this Bill follows through on their decision.

This legislation arose out of the X case when the people, in their compassion, were justly horrified at the use of Article 40 of the Constitution to imprison a young, pregnant rape victim in this country. The Government moved, through the 1992 referendum, to continue the law on abortion in this State but to remove any barriers to women who want to avail of it abroad. That may be hypocritical but it is also compassionate. We must accept and deal with the ambivalence of our attitude to this problem.

Through this legislation we are assisting women, in the narrowest sense, to have abortions. The Government is playing fast and loose with the English language by claiming that giving names and addresses is not referral or that this legislation will not assist women to have abortions. Like it or not, that is what the people voted for. Perhaps many members of my party are horrified and shamed by this fact but the results of the referenda speak for themselves. We cannot re-write history.

There is division among all parties in this House on this issue. There is division in my party, as is plainly obvious, on the front and on the back benches. As Deputy Harney recalled this morning, I more than anybody else criticised the fact that Fianna Fáil had to speak with one voice. I did not like that restriction but we can hardly criticise the leader of a party who gives everyone in that party the opportunity to speak in any way they wish. I take it as a grave offence to the paragons of political correctness — a subject dear to my heart in the recent past — that someone who has done that, namely, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is pilloried for so doing. I have been on the losing side of arguments more often in my party than any other person. I had company in this regard when Deputy Harney was a member of the party but she has long since gone.

The facts of the last referendum are interesting. A partner of mine, who is a very logical person and not given to histrionics always says when an argument is getting heated: "We had better ignore the facts anyway", and most people do. The outcome of the last referendum was decided in the quietness of people's homes. I doubt if any politician from any side of this House mentioned the referendum when they were at the doorsteps looking for votes. He or she was more interested in getting elected to this House. The people made their decisions in their own way. They did not have to be bullied by anybody. Over 65 per cent of them voted in the referendum; 13 per cent voted against travel, 40 per cent voted against the provision of any information and the majority voted against the substantive issue as we had recommended.

They are the facts but many people inside and outside this House are trying to re-write history. We cannot do that, but we must remember that there is a substantial number of people who are against the provision of information or the right to travel and there is little point in turning a blind eye to that. I am not one of those people and I do not believe the majority of people in this House hold that view either.

In addressing this minimalist legislation we should respect the intelligence and the sophistication of the electorate and not try to re-interpret that into something black and white, fundamentalist and hypocritical. Instead of dancing to the tune of extremists on either side who want to re-interpret the decision of the Irish people, we in Dáil Éireann should do what the electorate put us here to do, namely, legislate. We put the issue to the people and they told us what they wanted.

This Bill fills in the details, as closely as possible, in regard to what the people said they wanted. The initials "TD" after our names indicate we are here to pass, reject or amend the Bill. We are not here to postpone it and we cannot hide behind judges' wigs. If the people wanted to be ruled by the courts they would have told us that a long time ago but they have not done so. They go out in the wet and the cold during election times and put their folded bit of paper into the ballot boxes. Those bits of paper are a form of contracts for TDs which allow us to come into this House and legislate. I have not seen any clause in that contract that says: "Only legislate when there is no alternative or when the courts have made it safe to legislate. Only legislate after this issue has been for years in the judicial system".

Consequently, I do not go along with any of the demands — some of them repeated in an advertisement in this morning's newspapers — that we put off doing our job until the judges have made it safe for us to do so. There is an advertisement in this morning's newspapers, paid for by the pro-life movement, urging us to do that.

There is another article in this morning's newspapers which is a true but tragic story. Somewhere in Cork today there is an 11 year old girl who is pregnant by a 51 year old man. This child is not 14 — the age of the girl in the X case — but 11 years old. That is the headline in today's The Star newspaper. I quote from the newspaper: “An 11 year old girl, who is now pregnant, had sex with a 51 year old man, a court was told yesterday. The man obviously cannot be named for legal reasons”. That happened in the Ireland of today.

I wish to put a question, particularly to the male Members of this House and those with young children. How would they react if they were the father or mother of that young girl? As a person not afraid to take a gamble, I would say 98 per cent of all the Members of this House would at least consider the option of abortion. I am quite certain those who say they are pro-life, and vehemently so, would do the very same.

No one at any meeting at which I have been for the past few weeks has mentioned this issue at all. In case I was out of touch with the people of Kildare, I attended two Fianna Fáil meetings last night at which there were question and answer sessions. All types of things were asked but nobody asked about this. Before I left I asked one person about the abortion information Bill. I knew he had very strong views on the subject which he raised in the past and I respect his views as a person of very sound intelligence. He said, "Yes, Charlie, I would be very much against this and I am glad the party is voting against it". When I asked why he had not made much of it, he said, "I am afraid to, and most people are too, because the situation could visit anyone. That is what I have learned in the past ten years with a family growing up". That is what is happening in Ireland today and there is no point in closing our eyes to it.

Regarding this 11 year old child in Cork, I do not want to discuss any of the sad options open to that child and to her parents. All I want is to point out that real life does not go into hibernation to allow the judicial system to come to conclusions in its own good time. The judicial system will come to conclusions in its own good time but real life and real crisis pregnancies do not stop. There is no freeze-frame to allow us to postpone our duty.

That sense of a duty to be done rather than to be postponed is probably the only thing that will ever unite the current Minister for Health and me. For the last few days I have been watching him keeping Dermot Gleesons's words closer to his chest than a scapular. Now, many people think the Minister is a fierce "cute hoor" altogether, but I have my doubts. If I was strong in the "cute hoor" department I would not have been in South Africa when people were having crisis meetings in the dark——

Limerick East): Is that a parliamentary term?

——watches of the night and putting spectral spectacle cases down on documents, but if one wanted to be cute about this issue——

(Limerick East): Would you ask the Deputy to withdraw the unparliamentary language, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I have sat here patiently taking abuse from many people but I will not take name calling as well.

I am not name calling, sorry Deputy.

(Limerick East): You are trying to brand me and I will not stand for it. You are not defending my rights, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I did not interpret this as an offence and I will ask the Deputy if he intended to offend.

I do not intend any offence and I am coming to the point of withdrawing it.

(Limerick East): I am asking you to withdraw the words. We can all exchange insults.

(Limerick East): I will not stand for personal abuse from anybody.

The Chair certainly did not interpret that. I ask the Deputy was there any such intention?

(Limerick East): I understand you do not hear things very accurately at your right ear, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. You hear on your left much better.

I resent that remark.

(Limerick East): I know you do, but I am only protecting my rights.

The Chair is very fair at all times and always aspires to be so.

(Limerick East): You are not now.

I would ask the Deputy if he——

I withdraw the remark without equivocation.

Thank you very much.

The point I am making about the Minister for Health is that if one wanted to be cute about this issue and one was the Minister for Health, one would concentrate on mumps, measles and migraine and would postpone taking action on this information thing. That is the point I am making, Deputy.

(Limerick East): I would run from it.

He has not done that at all even though there are people on all sides of this House who will not thank him for landing us all in it. That is a compliment to you, Deputy Noonan, if you had waited long enough.

(Limerick East): One of your Kildare compliments, I think.

Instead he has brought in legislation which is exactly in line with his political history. The Minister for Health has never been a leaping liberal. Will this legislation lead to more abortions? I honestly do not think so. If one is desperate enough one will always find the information on where to have an abortion in a British telephone book or scribbled on the wall of a toilet, but it will not come together with data on safety and cost or counselling on all the options. It is surely better that the family doctor gives the information having taken the time to counsel one in detail and before one makes one's decision.

It has been suggested that counselling properly available would reduce the numbers of Irish women going for abortions. I do not know if that is true. Only time and research will tell. I know, however, that any woman in a crisis pregnancy, whether she is 14 or 44, should be helped to deal with it in the light of the best professional assistance.

It is simply nonsense to say that the provision of information is, ipso facto, referral. All sorts of elective procedures may these days be chosen by a patient who will then seek information, and names and addresses, from their general practitioners. At the most trivial level, for example, someone may decide to get a face-lift. The doctor may think this is a waste of time and money but may provide the name of a plastic surgeon. It is up to the patient to ring up and make an appointment. The doctor is certainly not promoting the procedure, but simply providing the name of someone he believes will perform a procedure safely, if the patient insists on that procedure, as opposed to making the patient play lotto through the newspaper advertisements.

Making it unequivocally legal for a doctor or counsellor to provide names and addresses at the end of a counselling session will not multiply the number of women who go to have abortions, nor will it reduce the number. To suggest that it will make a huge difference is unreasonable but it allows people who are vehemently against abortion to feel they fought the good fight against it.

If one is against abortion one should do one's level best to reduce the numbers of women who feel they have no choice but to have an abortion. One should not allow oneself believe that opposing this Bill will reduce those numbers. It will not and it cannot. This Bill is neither heroic nor visionary. It is just cautiously obedient to the will of the people.

I wish to share some of my time with Deputy Joe Costello.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

Members of this House have two primary responsibilities: to enact laws in the public interest and to represent their constituents. It is not always easy to do both at the same time as there is usually no mechanism for accurately determining the views of the people on a particular issue. On the issue before us today this problem does not arise. The people expressed their views in 1992 and it is our duty to put those views into law. The people voted in 1992 for the freedom to obtain or make available information relating to services lawfully available in another state. This Bill is the minimum required to put that into effect.

This Bill is an exercise in democracy; the direct expression of the will of the people in the law of the land, but it is also more than that, it is an exercise in tolerance, concern and compassion. It is a recognition that human problems and specifically, in this instance, the problems faced by women, are not soluble by abstract constitutional and legal theories nor by absolutist dogmas but by practical care and compassion and, ultimately, by respect for the conscientious decision of the individual faced with a difficult decision.

For the benefit of those both inside and outside the House whose memory of events seems to be deliberately defective, let me go through the sequence of events which has brought us to the current situation. The original amendment on abortion was passed in 1983. Subsequently, in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that, in the light of the 1983 amendment, the dissemination of information on abortion such as the names and addresses of foreign abortion clinics was contrary to the Constitution. The case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights which ruled that Ireland was in breach of Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights which deals with freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information. In the light of these events the 1992 amendment on information was put before the people.

The 1992 information amendment specifically limited the operation of the substantive abortion clause to ensure that information would be freely available. That is the decision taken by the people in the full knowledge of what was at stake. I would remind the House that the then Minister for Health, Dr. John O'Connell, in a Government of which Deputy Ahern was a member, gave a categorical assurance on television that the passage of the referendum meant that names and addresses of clinics would be supplied. He answered "yes" to the specific question.

The argument put forward by the pro-life campaign that the public did not understand what they were voting for in 1992 is self-serving and patronising. I was not happy that the public voted against divorce in 1986 but I accept that the people knew what they were voting for. The 1992 information amendment was passed in the light of the European Court of Human Rights ruling which was concerned with matters such as the provision of information on names, addresses, phone numbers and methods of communication. The public were aware of the issues in the case and, while the explanatory material produced by the then Government had no force of law, it did accurately describe the intent of the amendment and it is that intent which is being put into law by this Bill. The material which the then Government issued before the referendum specifically said that the legislation resulting from this amendment would permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere. This Bill is fulfilling that commitment.

PLAC campaigned strongly against the 1992 information amendment — it is now saying that it involved no change in the law and that it was declaratory of the existing law. If it involved no change why did it campaign so much against it? Its leaflets at the time recognised that the amendment provided for the giving of names addresses etc. It argued that it should not be passed precisely because it allowed for the giving of names and addresses. It is now turning its own words on their head and, because it does not like the democratic choice of the people, wants that choice to be ignored. Its suggestion that the public did not understand is patently false and absurd. Maybe it and others will now realise that referenda and legislation are not the way to deal with difficult issues. What we need is an overall approach which allows for information, counselling and support but which ultimately respects the individual's decision.

We have had four referenda on the subject of abortion in recent years. These have done nothing to prevent abortion; they have done nothing to improve the situation of the woman facing a lonely dilemma. These referenda were not about the problems of women and children — they were about alleged absolute principles, not about practical realities. The abortion wars were fought by proponents of different social views. The casualties were generally people not directly involved in the wars, the women who fought their lonely private battles without the benefit of counselling or information. Women with crisis pregnancies have voted with their feet and will continue to do so. Unlike the opponents of this Bill, they do not articulate their needs in public.

We have to recognise that as legislators there are considerable limits to what we can actually achieve. We can outlaw the provision of abortion services in this country — this has been the case for more than a hundred years — but we cannot actively prevent women having abortions in other countries. We can try to pretend that we do not have abortion in this country, but that is only true in strictly geographical terms. We have an abortion problem. We are now trying to accept this and to do something about it. We cannot prevent women travelling abroad for abortions but we can, however, provide services which reduce the likelihood of crisis pregnancies occurring. We can provide services which reduce the trauma for women who are considering an abortion, services for women who choose not to have an abortion and for those who choose otherwise. Information is an essential component of all of these services.

The people who oppose the provision of information on abortion are the same people who, over the years, have tried to prevent the various measures which help women and children. I heard a very esteemed man refer to what he might have done had he been active in the 1930s. They opposed the introduction of children's allowances, adoption, health services for mothers and children, social welfare payments for mothers, contraception — in short they objected to all the progressive social legislation that has improved the lot of women, especially those with children.

It is notable how much energy has been used by conservative forces over the years to try to prevent legislation and schemes which are progressive for women and children.

In 1944 there was sustained opposition to the introduction of children's allowances — I see people smile, and it is worthy of a smile. This opposition used conservative Catholic social dogma for all it was worth. It is now widely accepted that the children's allowance, now child benefit is the single most effective weapon against poverty in families? State support for income maintenance provisions is now entirely accepted as part of Catholic social dogma. In 1944 the people opposed to this measure believe it interfered with the family, but times change.

In the late 1940s the mother and child scheme was opposed by the same people. In the early 1950s opposition to adoption legislation and to health services for mothers and children was based on a theory of the rights of the family not to be interfered with by the State. Adoption is now the option favoured by many people as an alternative to abortion and I am not aware that there is any opposition to the principle of adoption, even though it is not an option now exercised very often. "Interference" which provided an income for mothers and ensured a minimum level of health care was undesirable. Contraception was immoral. We had a 20 year debate about contraception before the matter was finally dealt with.

The constant theme of the arguments was that women in particular should be kept in ignorance and should not have access to their own financial resources. Women were not to be trusted with information or money. The remnants of those arguments underlie the opposition to this Bill. Women cannot be allowed access to information because they might use it badly — they cannot be trusted to use it well and they certainly cannot be trusted to know the difference. These same people are opposed to comprehensive family planning services and to sex education in schools. They want to foster a climate of ignorance where decisions are made out of fear. We want a climate of information where choices are real and clear. I have every confidence that choices based on information, understanding and good counselling will be good choices.

The right to information is a right of principle. It is also a practical provision. Information on abortion services is already widely available. It is provided in magazines, telephone directories and other sources. Surely it is better that this information is provided by authoritative sources, by doctors and trained counsellors who can present it in a factual non-directive way. I hope we do not return to the position that existed when I was a member of Dublin County Council and I had to fight against libraries who removed books on women's general health, from puberty to menopause, because they contained information and descriptions of abortion. Standard reference books were removed from libraries throughout the country and Easons also removed them from its premises.

Since 1983 we have had a history of censorship and prohibition of information. This did not reduce the number of abortions — in fact the numbers have increased steadily at a time when the birth rate is falling, so the proportions are higher than ever. Censorship and prohibition have always failed in their objectives.

Ireland is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. One of its articles relates to the right to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information. This Government in its Programme for A Government of Renewal places considerable emphasis on the right to information generally and on improving information services. We want to foster an open and tolerant society. This cannot be achieved by prohibitions on information.

This Bill has been criticised for not doing various things, for example, not providing for counselling services. The Bill deals with information; it cannot deal with all the issues arising. The Minister for Health in his speech dealt with the provision of services. The health strategy addresses issues such as family planning services. The Minister referred to other appropriate services in his speech, in particular to proposals for research into abortion. This Government is trying to deal with this issue in all its facets, not simply by blanket prohibition but by a wider approach to the provision of services, the availability of information and the promotion of tolerance. We are not promoting an abortion culture. We are promoting an open, information culture, a culture in which individuals will be encouraged to make decisions based on full information, a culture in which those decisions will not be the subject of the wrath of other people but will be recognised as valid decisions for the individual in question.

A number of people have referred to the possibility of having an opt-out clause for doctors. I have no great objection to this but it would be purely a cosmetic exercise. No doctor is obliged to give information about abortion under this Bill. The Bill allows doctors to give such information but, as always when dealing with the doctor-patient relationship, it does not oblige doctors to give particular information. There is no necessity for a specific opt-out clause for doctors.

Calls continue to be made for another referendum on the issue of abortion. We must surely have learned by now that issues such as abortion are far too complex to be dealt with in this way. Life would be simpler if there were absolutes and, indeed, I envy people who have absolute unwavering beliefs but life is not simple and we have to deal with it in all its complexities.

This House is charged with the task of making laws. We cannot be influenced in that by those who clamour loudest. As I said, women with crisis pregnancies do not shout and scream; perhaps they should. Perhaps all of the people who are opposing this legislation should go and talk to such women. Better still, they should listen to them. I do not subscribe to the view that this is an issue that should be dealt with only by women. I do, however, think that the public discussion should focus somewhat on the responsibilities of men. Very often the reason a woman has a crisis pregnancy is because a man is not prepared to take responsibility. All of the discussion and debate on this issue over the past 12 years does not seem to have significantly improved this situation. Perhaps the opponents of the Bill could use some of their very considerable persuasion tactics to persuade men that they have responsibilities not just to society at large but to individual women.

This is International Womens' Day. In many ways rather than addressing the women of Ireland we should be addressing the 4,000 men who must have had a relationship with the 4,000 women who travelled to England and, perhaps, we should encourage those men to face up to their responsibilities.

Fianna Fáil made the point that they did not have access during the lifetime of the previous Government to the Bill. My understanding is that Deputy Woods, when he took over as Minister for Health, sought and received the file on this issue from the Department of Health and I understand that he had the file for sufficient time to indicate he would have made his usual comprehensive and detailed examination of all material under his control.

I welcome this Bill and commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, for his speedy introduction of it. Reading the Bill closely one wonders what all the brouhaha is about as it is rather tame. It is peppered with apologies, there is a prohibition on referral, on advocacy, on promotion, on advertising and doctors and counsellors are made criminally liable if they make an appointment for someone they have treated or counselled. It is by no means the rip-roaring Bill that provides for the promotion of abortion.

It is a minimalist Bill in the context of the constitutional amendment passed in 1992. I am appalled at the unseemly wriggling and twisting in the Fianna Fail Party which adopted one position in Government but a totally different one in Opposition. That is improper and unseemly for a party that represents the largest number of Deputies in this House. Deputy McCreevy stated his personal position and that he was in favour of this legislation.

Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution states:

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

The amendment to that Article is extremely specific and arises directly from it.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another State.

This subsection shall not limit the 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.

What we are doing is regulating what is already lawful under our Constitution and what we are bound to do by the provision is to lay down in law the circumstances under which the information will be made available.

In the past we have shrouded in secrecy the problem of crisis pregnancy, shunned the problems arising from unwanted pregnancies and stigmatised people in that situation. Above all, the issue has been surrounded by ignorance. This has caused fear and panic as there is nothing worse than ignorance where somebody has to take a lonely journey to England or some other destination. We must destigmatise the 70,000-80,000 women whom we estimate have had an abortion. They are Irish citizens and we must no longer reject them but nurture them as they have suffered enough already.

This country has had narrow insular dreams because of its historic traditions. We have looked longingly at the fourth green field without regard to the harsh reality of one million Unionists on this island. Now, at last we are beginning to address that. Parallel to this we have had the Catholic dogma of an island unsullied by social problems related to sexuality and relationships such as divorce, contraception, homosexuality and abortion. Our position is to a large extent determined by our history but its effect is that we have become anti-woman. We must face up to that and redress the imbalance it has created. We must create a pluralist society. We must stand by the Republic and by democracy, and by the 60-40 decision on the amendment to the Constitution. We must ensure that we are never again brow-beaten by dogma or ideology.

I wish to share my time with Deputies McDaid and Dan Wallace.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson on Health, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, described this as a difficult issue and said it was difficult to do justice to everyone concerned. Nevertheless, as per the 1992 referendum we are duty bound to legislate for this information, not, I might add, as hastily as the Government has decided to run with the issue.

The Fianna Fáil Party has been accused in the past week of fudging the issue, of playing politics with it and of being hypocritical in not addressing the issue as it would have done had it been in Government. I reject all those criticisms. Fianna Fáil said that while in Opposition — remember we are in Opposition on our own and we are not tied to any other party — it would be objective and that is exactly what the party is doing on this occasion. The Fianna Fail Party does not run away from issues, nevertheless the issue of abortion information deserves due consideration and assessment. That is what we are doing.

If this were a Bill dealing with financial, agricultural or other matters pertaining to Government policy we would be expected to give it due consideration and to suggest amendments, as required. However, have we not even a greater right to look more seriously at this legislation to assess its ramifications and the potential it may have for the life and death of the unborn whose constitutional rights are written into our constitution? That is why Fianna Fáil, which represents all strands in society, takes the Bill seriously. One might look at the Bill from various aspects — professional, political, constitutional and socio-ethical. The professional view held by most doctors, nurses and paramedics in this country is that they do not want abortion or to be associated with anything, information or otherwise, that could be construed as leading to assisting social abortion, even in other jurisdictions. It does not make sense to guarantee the rights of the unborn in the Constitution and, in the next breath, bring in provisions to facilitate social abortion even by default.

Information should be directed towards favouring the continuation of pregnancy and reducing the number of Irish women having abortions abroad. We should not hive off our problems on general practitioners, counsellors, obstetricians and gynaecologists. That is why Fianna Fáil seek the insertion of an opt-out conscience clause in the Bill.

It does not make sense for paediatricians, especially neonatologists working tirelessly to look after pre-term babies of low birth rate to make sure they survive without any gross disabilities, and at the same time see people going abroad for social abortions at advanced gestational periods. Something is very wrong and that is why our efforts should be directed towards eliminating the abortion trail.

From the political point of view, Fianna Fáil is not aligning itself to any extreme views. We have not been over-judgmental on the issue and recognise there are various strands of opinion. We empathise with those in traumatic social and psychological situations as a result of crisis pregnancies. Nevertheless, we must put down a marker on the issue. Crisis pregnancy mainly refers to pregnancy beset by social and psychological problems, not problems associated with obstetrics per se. Fianna Fáil contends that the Government should put in place counselling services, aid for women who find themselves in traumatic circumstances and for lone parents, education about pregnancy, etc.

I thank Deputy Moffatt for allowing me some of his time. My views on this are well known from articles and interviews I have given during the week. I made my views known at the parliamentary party meeting.

I do not have any real problems with the Bill but, in accordance with the party line, I will vote against it tonight. Before anyone else says it, let me say I am a hypocrite. Many Deputies, most of them male, are genuine in their views on this matter. I am not alone in my hypocrisy. Whether we like it or not, intimidation is alive and well and probably working. That is a matter which must be brought out in the House. I know that many of my colleagues have been intimidated over the past number of weeks.

I take pains to point out that I am not a pro-abortionist or what a number of people have said about me: "boys and girls you sent to extermination camps"; "you passed a death sentence on these trusting little human beings"; "you were not meant to heal, you were meant to kill"; "you were not meant to protect life, you were meant to destroy"; "you are evil, a murderer, you have Satan behind you"; "Lucifer was a bright angel and you are his successor"; "the curse of Cromwell be on you"; "after death comes the judgment, after your death comes your judgment"; "we will picket your home, we will boycott your practice, money is your God". The last of these was sent to me in an Oireachtas envelope. As I said, intimidation is alive and well but I will not bow to it.

This is International Womens' Day. A number of male Deputies have spoken. The most heinous sexual crimes against women and girls have been committed in cases such as the Fr. Brendan Smyth case, the Kilkenny incest case and the case in Galway which we read about recently where a 51 year old father sexually abused his son and two daughters. We heard that another priest was sentenced yesterday and Deputy McCreevy mentioned the case of an 11 year old girl who became pregnant by a 51 year old man. In Tipperary recently a blunt object was used to procure a miscarriage in a teenage girl. There is only one common denominator among all those cases, the perpetrators are men. This is something we must look at because we are not paying attention to it.

In fairness, the positive aspects of the Bill will probably reduce the number of women seeking abortions but we are inclined to look at one, small, narrow aspect of it. The relationship between doctor and patient will be made a criminal act if we go along certain lines. As a doctor, I would find great difficulty if, having advised a pregnant girl and asked her to talk to her husband, parents, clergyman, neighbours or whoever and she still insisted on terminating her pregnancy, I had to say to her I was sorry I could no longer help but there is a boat at Dún Laoghaire.

I hope the Bill is the correct one and that with the amendments we will get it right this time.

The act of abortion is the wilful and premeditated destruction of the unborn child within its mother's womb. No matter how one tries to sanitise this act in terms such as "termination" or "abortion" it is a violent and brutal procedure against a totally defenceless unborn infant.

Before embarking down the road of legalising such behaviour, no matter how preliminary the proposals before us, each of us must remember that we were in the same dependent and totally unprotected state at the outset of our existence. No matter what one's religious beliefs it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone can justify the act of abortion. It is a total rejection of life at its most vulnerable period of existence.

The Bill does not come before us as a proposal for dealing with a situation which may arise some time in the future. The most recently available figures tragically illustrate that abortion is a reality each day for 12 or so Irish women. Since research on the subject of abortion is almost non-existent in this country we can only guess at the reasons women have for going through with an abortion.

There is little doubt that a small minority of such pregnancies arise from horrible incidents such as rape and incest. Consideration of the plight of such victims makes a most convincing case for allowing minimal abortion facilities in a modern society. However, it must be asked if there is a moral basis for developing laws in response to exceptional rather than normal behaviour. Similarly, a certain number of unwanted pregnancies arise as a consequence of immaturity and inexperience in terms of physical relationships. Again, only the most hard-hearted could fail to understand the trauma caused in such circumstances by an unwanted pregnancy. At a time when a girl is attempting to assert herself as a young adult, with all its associated pressures, an unwanted pregnancy must seem a disastrous development. If the girl is without substantial family support the difficulties posed by the pregnancy must be almost impossible to face. Despite these examples of unwanted pregnancies, it would be extremely dishonest to ignore the fact that an increasing number of cases of abortion must involve irresponsible behaviour to one degree or another on the part of the woman, man, or both parties.

It is not very long since we legalised the availability of contraceptives here, at which time the line adopted by those strongly in favour of their availability was that the widespread availability of a comprehensive range of such devices and medication would remove the need for abortion. At that time also an increasing number of Irish women were seen to be availing of such facilities in Britain. Has the legislation of contraceptives resulted in a dramatic fall in the numbers of Irish women travelling to England for abortion? Sadly, the answer is quite the opposite.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from these trends is that increasingly abortion is seen as a readily available option of last resort in the avoidance of unwanted pregnancy. If that be the case one must also ask where this change in the pattern of human sexual behaviour will end. A simple truth would appear to be conveniently overlooked by those strongly in favour of this Bill — the fact that abortion is a criminal offence here. Despite that, the provisions of this Bill propose to legalise the availability of information which, in certain instances, would be certain to result in women travelling abroad to avail of services totally illegal here. How hypocritical can one become? The simple, underlying message of such people is that they conveniently want to pass the buck in the case of abortion. While not wishing to be seen to directly condone the act of abortion, they are only too willing to facilitate its process by passing it over neatly to the services of a neighbouring country. While this lack of consistency and honesty sometimes may stem from genuine compassion for an individual woman with an unwanted pregnancy, in other cases it arises from the overriding need to be perceived as liberal on social issues.

I have no doubt that the effect of this Bill, if enacted, will be twofold. First, it will result in an almost immediate and significant increase in the rate of referrals to United Kingdom abortion clinics. Can anybody seriously argue that the provisions of this Bill will be totally impossible to police? The second and more far-reaching effect will be to open the door to a major, final, push towards legalising abortion in this country within a few short years. If we accept the legality of providing an environment for referral, eventually it will be seen as logical that we complete the loop in this matter.

I must re-emphasise the importance and difficulty of this issue of abortion. Anybody who contends that the matter is clear-cut and simple is not being truthful. To date those in favour of the Bill have failed totally to demonstrate how its provisions will result in anything other than a continuous increase in the rate of abortions among Irish women. It is estimated at present that one in every 20 families has been directly affected by abortion. There is nothing in this Bill which would help to reverse this tide of misery. On the other hand, those of us who strongly oppose any development which encourages abortion also have a grave responsibility in this matter. It is not sufficient simply to oppose this Bill, it is crucial also that we forcefully encourage at least three necessary developments, the first that significantly increased resources must be invested to ensure that our young people are fully informed on all aspects of human sexuality because, without such education, there is enormous potential for hurt and damage, especially in the case of those in their early teens and young adult years. Second, we must ensure the easy availability of professionally-trained, well-advertised services to all young women with unexpected, unplanned pregnancies.

Lastly there is urgent need to promote well-designed and executed research projects into the reasons for the high level of abortion among Irish women because, without the latter, it is totally unacceptable that we should embark on the road of legislative change in this area. While not doubting the Minister's sincerity in this matter, the Bill is ill-advised and, if enacted, will bring the days of legalised abortion here dramatically closer.

This legislation is required as a result of the 1992 constitutional amendment which established the freedom to obtain or provide information on abortion services abroad. The then Government made it clear that such information included the names and addresses of foreign abortion services; the Pro-Life Campaign itself also confirmed this, and argued for a "No" vote on that basis. We must respect the democratic decision of the people. In any case the Government is advised that, because of the information amendment, the Bill would be unconstitutional if it attempted to prohibit the furnishing of names, addresses and telephone numbers of clinics or hospitals where such services are provided.

Indeed, I quote from the Government Information Publication "Key Questions and Answers" which was distributed to every household in the country prior to the people voting in the three referenda on the right to life, travel and information on 25 November 1992. In the case of the information amendment the question was asked "What conditions will be laid down by law?"

In response, the Government said that the legislation would permit a doctor or an advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere provided that counselling was given on all the alternative options open to her.

I appreciate the sincerity of those who argued against the Bill but they have missed its essential point. The Bill does not establish the freedom to give names and addresses — this was already done by the 1992 amendment.

They have advanced the argument that the information referred to in the amendment was general or non-specific, in a neutral or objective context. However, this argument does not stand up to scrutiny because the people were free to impart general or non-specific information prior to the amendment.

Therefore, logically the amendment must have provided for additional information from that which was already legally available. It is the opinion of the present Attorney General — and of the Attorney General in 1993 — that this is the case.

The purpose of the Bill is to impose conditions on the exercise of the freedom of information to the extent that this can be done without infringing the Constitution, to support the Government's overall policy of reducing the number of women who have recourse to abortion.

Those who seek to suggest that the people who passed the referendum by a majority of 60 per cent to 40 per cent were in some way confused or did not know exactly what they were voting on can hardly expect to be taken seriously, especially when we consider the fact that the then Minister for Health, Dr. John O'Connell, confirmed on television in direct response to a question that information did include names and addresses.

In the absence of this Bill, abortion information, including names, addresses and telephone numbers, can already be given to a woman with a crisis pregnancy, without any counselling or information about the other options available to her, such as fostering, adoption and the support services available if she chooses to keep her baby. When the Bill is passed, all the counselling and information about the other options will have to be given and I am satisfied that this will help to prevent abortions which would otherwise have taken place.

Efforts are being made to demonise this Bill which does no more or less than implement the will of the people as expressed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Some would even allege that the Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995, is in some way introducing abortion to this country. This is suimply untrue and has no basis in fact. So let us focus on the real rather than the imagined in our dealing with this Bill.

Against the background of the majority of Irish women travelling to the United Kingdom for abortions, not having received any counselling before travelling, and that a considerable number of women decide against abortion where counselling is received, there is at least a prima facie case to suggest that the wider availability of counselling would significantly reduce the number of abortions obtained by Irish women.

One study of Irish women who are contemplating abortion found that after counselling, 14 per cent changed their minds and continued with the pregnancy. Other research involving general practitioners who provide counselling suggests that the numbers who change their minds and decide to continue with the pregnancy could be as high as 25 per cent. Research in New Zealand suggests that counselling results in 15 per cent of women who had decided on termination pre counselling changing their minds and continuing with pregnancy post counselling. If counselling resulted in 10 per cent of Irish women deciding to continue with the pregnancy instead of opting for abortion, based on 1993 figures that would result in 439 fewer women having abortions.

The Government recognises the importance of counselling for women with crisis pregnancies and the Department of Health has already instigated contacts with the Irish College of General Practitioners in an effort to ensure that pregnancy counselling is provided through family doctors. However, it is intended that counselling services in addition to those provided by family doctors, will, continue to be provided by the many voluntary agencies. The Government is also committed to the development of a comprehensive family planning service.

In association with the Bill we are committing very substantial funding to pregnancy counselling services, including those provided by agencies such as CURA, Cherish and LIFE. We are also commissioning a major research project to find out more about the factors which cause Irish women to consider abortion so that we can develop educational and other policies to address these factors. The trebling of the resources being provided by the State for counselling services from £70,000 to £200,000 as announced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, in his Second Stage speech is an important step in this direction.

The Department of Health will commission a major study to identify the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and those factors which result in the option of abortion. The information to be collected will consist of basic demographic data such as age, geographic location, marital status, number of children, level of education, knowledge of reproduction and contraception used, if any; factors influencing decision regarding pregnancy, for example social factors, financial reasons, job, education and medical reasons. It is proposed not just to look at women who have had abortions but also women with crisis pregnancies who decide to continue with the pregnancy and to consider those factors which influence their decision.

It is proposed to look at a variety of sources, for example, the agencies providing pregnancy advice and counselling, general practitioners, social workers and hospitals. With regard to women who have had abortions, it is intended that the research will involve data collection at the UK clinics and possibly via the agencies and general practitioners in Ireland who provide abortion information, post abortion counselling and check ups. These proposals will have to be firmed up and discussed with trained research staff experienced in this field. Education programmes will be based largely on the finding of this research. Once the factors have been identified, policies will be put in place to try to reduce recourse to abortion and encourage women with crisis pregnancies to look at other options. The debate so far has tended to concentrate on women although that has changed somewhat this afternoon. The responsibility of men in what are termed crisis pregnancies had been in the main overlooked. How many women have felt that there was no alternative to abortion because of the lack of support, both financial and emotional, from their partners? How many young girls have felt coerced into having an abortion through a lack of parental support and understanding?

When we talk about education, we are not just talking about educating women — we are talking about educating men to accept their responsibilities. We are talking about educating parents to provide the support and understanding that these girls need.

It also means educating society to treat those who are pregnant and contemplating abortion with the compassion, support and understanding they need and deserve.

I believe that any person who looks objectively at the Bill and at the Government's overall policy in this area will see that we are committed to reducing the numbers who opt for abortion. The Bill will play its part in this by ensuring that women in crisis pregnancies are helped to understand that abortion is not their only option.

Unfortunately when emotive issues, such as abortion, are debated there is a tendency for extremist views on both sides of the fence to be put forward. The best contribution we in this House can make is to ensure that the debate on this issue is balanced and reasonable. I am aware that many people believe abortion should be freely available here, but that is not the majority view. People who hold that view represent a small section of our people. There are manipulators on the other side of the fence who are misleading decent people around the country with extreme fundamentalist views. They would have us believe that this issue before the House is a simplistic one to which there is a black or white answer. That is not the proper approach to adopt on this Bill. Some people will tell us that, in conscience, this Bill must be rejected and will produce all types of false and misleading arguments for that purpose. Our job is to ensure that those false and misleading arguments are confronted. It is no harm to confront this issue on the level of conscience if that is the basis on which it needs to be confronted. Anybody who genuinely wants to deal with the reality of abortion in our society today could not oppose this Bill. If the issue of conscience is to be injected into the debate, I ask those who genuinely want to examine their conscience how they can oppose the Bill.

I will outline why this Bill should not be opposed. Essentially the Bill provides for a series of conditions and prohibitions on the existing constitutional right to abortion information. That right was established by the people in the 1992 referendum. I remember reading a book about the Second World War entitled "The Great Lie”. The principle behind the book was that the more one repeats a lie the greater the chance people will accept it as being the truth. It is our job to ensure that the great lie does not apply in this House. Those who write or say that abortion is being promoted because of this Bill are not telling the truth. Those who write or say that the liberty to give names, addresses and telephone numbers of clinics in the UK will be directly introduced as a result of the passing of this Bill are not telling the truth. It is time that was confronted and those people were told the position clearly and calmly.

This Bill introduces various conditions and prohibitions on the right established by the people in the 1992 referendum. There is a specific condition that any information given must be in a form and manner which does not advocate or promote the termination of pregnancy. Furthermore, there is a specific provision that any such information must be accompanied by counselling and advice on all the courses of action open to a pregnant woman other than the termination of pregnancy. How does that promote abortion? Surely anybody who genuinely wants to deal with the reality of abortion favours that type of provision. The approach established in the Bill is a major advance on the present reality. No amount of rhetoric can obscure the reality that more than 350 girls and women travel to the UK for abortions every month. That figure is based on those who give Irish addresses and does not take account of those who stay with a friend or relative in the UK and use those addresses. Most of those unfortunate girls and women travel by boat or plane without the benefit of any advice or counselling. They have no difficulty in securing information as to where they can have an abortion. They can procure that information immediately on arriving in the UK and can obtain it in post offices here by checking the telephone numbers and addresses of clinics in the UK telephone directory and the yellow pages.

Let us not fool ourselves about the reality. The real benefit of this Bill is that many of these girls and women will be encouraged to go to doctors or advice centres for information and counselling. Evidence from other countries suggests that those who go for information and counselling may adopt options other than abortion in regard to their pregnancy, leading to a saving of unborn babies. Surely that is an approach worth supporting.

I have listened to and read what has been said by those who oppose the Bill. Much of the rhetoric appears to be unrelated to either fact or reality. I challenge those who introduced the issue of conscience in regard to this Bill, and say to them that if they genuinely want to reduce the incidence of abortion or to restrain the increase in numbers of girls and women who go to the UK for abortions, they must support this Bill.

The question of the Constitution has been raised. How can any person who believes in democracy ignore the amendment to the Constitution which was passed by the people in 1992? The first line of attack on the Bill is to ignore this constitutional reality. That has been very effectively dealt with by the Attorney General. All Members received letters, as I did, indicating that the right to names, addresses and telephone numbers is being introduced under this Bill. That is not true, that was the consequence of the amendment to the Constitution. That fact has been confirmed by the Attorney General, a confirmation which was also the opinion of the previous Attorney General. I do not see how anybody in logic could intepret the 1992 amendment otherwise. It makes a nonsense of the law and our Constitution to interpret it in any other way.

When I read the article by William Binchy in The Irish Times of 1 March 1995 explaining that this Bill is contrary to the Constitution I wondered whether he was serious. This Bill is a direct consequence of the constitutional amendment passed by the people. His second line of attack involved a pretence that the people did not know what they were voting for in 1992. This approach, I suggest, presupposes that there are those with higher intellect and moral standards whose views and opinions are superior to those of the poor ordinary plain people of Ireland who voted for that amendment. I reject utterly that elitist approach. His approach also involved ignoring the fact that a pamphlet was distributed to every home in the country by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government in 1992 setting out clearly what the information amendment would do and, furthermore, specifying the conditions that would be laid down by law following its adoption. The pamphlet clearly stated that: “The legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere”. How can that be denied now? Is it suggested it did not happen or is it suggested that people did not read it? Is it suggested that people did not understand it? All that nonsense has to be rejected.

There are those who, for one reason or another, do not want the Bill to go through claiming that the constitutional amendment was adopted in order that abortion could be discussed by the people. We have the bizarre explanation from William Binchy that:

... many people believed that even a discussion about abortion in general terms was unlawful and that an amendment was necessary to render it lawful...

To put it at its mildest and most charitable, such views strain credulity.

A number of misconceptions were deliberately fostered in regard to this Bill. There is the suggestion that members of the medical profession would be coerced against their conscience to discuss the possibility of abortion with one of their patients. That is untrue. No provision in the Bill obliges any individual or agency to provide abortion information; on the contrary, the obligation to give full counselling on all available options applies only where abortion information is being given. Pregnancy counselling which does not include abortion information is not restricted by this Bill. The Bill does not preclude a doctor or agency encouraging the woman concerned not to have an abortion. Doctors and agencies are free to provide counselling either in a non-directive manner or in a manner which is directive away from but not towards the option of abortion.

I intended to make some comments on the Fianna Fáil position but because of the time limit and because I am not sure of the Fianna Fáil position even at this stage, I will pass over that.

There is a choice facing legislators. We can proceed with the present position where there is a constitutional right to information, without restriction of any kind. At present thousands of women and girls travel to the UK each year for abortions without the benefit of advice, information or counselling of any kind. The Bill will regulate and restrict the flow of information in relation to abortion. In addition there will be encouragement for those in the very difficult position of unwanted pregnancies to avail of advice and counselling. It is expected that this will help to prevent abortions that might otherwise take place. How can any person wishing to reduce the incidence of abortion oppose this Bill?

(Wexford): I wish to share my time with Deputy Haughey.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

(Wexford): I was a Member during the 1983 and the 1992 referenda debates. When the Bill was introduced last week there was no doubt that it would cause much heated debate and controversy inside and outside the House. The fact that the Bill was rushed into the House by the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, on the day the Framework Document was launched, without any discussion with the Opposition, has added to that controversy: so much for achieving consensus.

Over the years the people have taken a definite stand against the introduction of abortion here. The railroad approach of the Minister for Health has not helped this debate. For reasons best known to the Minister he has cobbled together a Bill and rushed it into the House. When he came under a certain amount of fire about it the impression was given that it was a much watered down version of a Bill that had been prepared by the outgoing Labour-Fianna Fáil Government and, therefore, Fianna Fáil would have to accept it.

I was a Minister of State in that Government and I was not aware of any prepared Bill. Certainly, it did not come before the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. I question whether such a Bill existed and whether the Minister's action was a ploy to get Fianna Fáil into a cosy consensus in the House. Fianna Fáil do not operate in that way. We represent people and it is our duty to ensure that the views of such people are represented in our parliamentary party and in the House. We have had a major discussion on this Bill. Deputies have expressed different views, some of which have been heard in the House today.

The majority of our people are opposed to abortion and I have no doubt that they are against this Bill. I oppose it. That does not mean I do not respect the views of my parliamentary party colleagues. They have a strongly held view that this Bill is sufficient to meet the referendum on information passed by the people in 1992. I feel otherwise. The people voted by a 60:40 majority for information; not information, referral and assistance as the Bill proposes.

At our parliamentary party meeting we had a five hour debate on the issue. It was obvious on a 5:1 basis that the Bill was not acceptable. Our leader, Deputy Ahern, and his front bench accepted the wishes of the majority of the parliamentary party. They requested the Government to withdraw the Bill pending a High Court ruling which is expected soon. If this did not happen it was made clear by our leader that Fianna Fáil would oppose the Bill. Over the weekend he has been subjected to vilification, abuse and unbelievable criticism by certain sections of the media for not being liberal enough and for failing to lead a modern and progressive Fianna Fáil Party into the 21st century. When certain sections of the media show concern for Fianna Fáil I always get worried. Those sections of the media strongly criticised Charlie Haughey for being a dictator while Deputy Albert Reynolds was supposed to be a bullyboy because he did not listen to the views of his backbenchers. They have spent the past 15 years trying to undermine and write off the Fianna Fáil Party. When Deputy Bertie Ahern decided to listen and take on board the views of the majority of Fianna Fáil Deputies he was described as a weak leader. I am delighted he has stood his ground in the face of such media hypocrisy.

Fianna Fáil Deputies on both sides of the argument have sincerely held views and I do not accept that we are playing politics or pandering to the pro-life groups. During the refreshing debate on the Bill at the parliamentary party meeting Deputies expressed many concerns about it. It is only proper that these views are expressed in the Chamber which is not a place for "yes" men and women who support every Bill. It should be dissected and teased out and people with strongly held views have every right to oppose it.

I am totally opposed to abortion but, as legislators, we must ensure that the legislation is in line with the democratic wishes of the electorate. However, I do not believe the people voted for this legislation in the 1992 referendum and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, should withdraw the Bill even at this late hour. I cannot understand why he felt it necessary to rush it through the House when the Well Woman case has still to be heard by the High Court. Surely it would have been more responsible to await the decision of the court before introducing this Bill.

Allowing doctors to give the names and addresses of abortion clinics in other countries constitutes referral and assistance, something the electorate did not vote for in 1992. I accept that many women go abroad for abortions — the Minister gave figures of 4,000-5,000, per annum. I do not know how factual these figures are but obviously the Minister has sources for them. All women contemplating abortion must be given proper counselling to try to discourage them from having an abortion. I welcome the allocation in the Bill for pregnancy counselling. Organisations such as CURA. LIFE and Cherish do tremendous work in this area, yet successive Governments have allocated paltry amounts to them. The Minister proposes to increase the present allocation of £75,000 to £200,000 and perhaps it could be increased even further. Will the Minister say which organisations receive this funding as recently LIFE stated it was operating on a shoestring budget? Priority must be given to the provision of resources for education and counselling.

The Bill is flawed in that it does not provide for the allocation of resources to agencies giving counselling or to doctors who need to learn counselling skills. Unlike Dublin and other large towns, there are no counselling agencies in rural areas where the local GP is to the forefront in the provision of such services. Funding must be allocated to doctors who require training and need to improve their counselling skills and family planning services. Counselling is also important at the post-abortion stage, yet there is nothing in the Bill which says this service will be provided. The Bill should have sought to reduce the number of women going abroad to have abortions and discriminate in favour of the provision of adequate resources for counselling, education and family planning services. Given that it has failed to do this, the Minister should consider withdrawing it.

I totally object to this Bill. I am not a spokesperson for the pro-life group, I have always believed that the pro-life and pro-choice groups who spend so much time at each other's throats would be better advised to turn their attention to more important matters, such as homelessness, poverty, wife beating and child abuse. On many occasions these groups have overstepped the mark and put too much pressure on Deputies. I ignore such intimidation and if people who ring me at home do not give their name and address I refuse to talk to them.

I am not expressing the views of the pro-life group on the Bill but my views. The Minister should consider withdrawing the Bill about which Deputy Harte has also expressed reservations. The Progressive Democrats Party has decided to allow a free vote on Second Stage. There is no overall consensus on this measure. People have very strongly held views on this issue and Fianna Fáil is not playing politics with it or pandering to any group. This Bill does not reflect the views of the electorate as voiced during the 1992 referendum and it should be opposed.

I am opposed to abortion in all circumstances. I am also opposed to this Bill which is not an information Bill and not in accordance with the commitments given to the electorate at the time of the last referendum. The Bill will promote abortion referral and assistance which we were told at the time of the referendum in a booklet it would not seek to do.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Did the Deputy read the booklet?

The provision by doctors and counsellors of the names and addresses of abortion clinics is abortion referral. My sincerely held views on abortion have not been formed as a result of legitimate lobbying. I do not like talking about abortion because when one takes a stand on this issue one is labelled, rubbished and perceived as a single issue person. There are many issues on my political agenda and abortion is a very important and fundamental one. A Fianna Fáil Deputy who sincerely opposes this Bill is branded as right wing, fundamentalist, Catholic, conservative, narrow-minded, backward, anti-woman, opportunistic and a hypocrite. How dare people who use those terms brand others with sincerely held views with such labels?

I received a statement entitled "the Fianna Fáil Position" from the Department of Health with the compliments of the Minister for Health, Deputy Michael Noonan. It says that the Fianna Fáil position represents hypocrisy of breathtaking dimensions. So much for liberal democracy and a toleration of different views. People who issue such statements give democracy a bad name. I regret the terms which have been used by the people who support this Bill, on which there should be a reasonable debate.

I wonder how important abortion is in Ireland to day. Society has changed and we now have a different attitude to single parents who, by and large, are accepted and shown compassion, which is as it should be. That was probably not the case in the past when an unwanted pregnancy was seen as wrong and the women involved were often abandoned and could not turn to their families or friends. They were isolated, fearful and not emotionally supported by their parents or the father of the child, and there was no financial support for them. I am glad those days are gone. People are now more compassionate as far as unwanted pregnancies are concerned and that is as it should be. Resources should be allocated to groups such as Cherish, CURA and LIFE to deal in a compassionate manner with women faced with unwanted pregnancies. An unwanted pregnancy is one matter, but abortion used as a form of family planning is totally unacceptable and should not be facilitated in any form.

Like other speakers, I question the timing of this Bill. It appears that because of pending court decisions the divorce referendum will not be held until next year. It is as if the Government merely decided to do something to promote its liberal agenda and maintain cohesiveness between the parties in Government. There was no attempt to persuade or convince people or to have a real debate on this issue. The Bill was introduced and every attempt was made to rush it through the House although those tactics failed in the past. Under Garret FitzGerald's constitutional crusade the divorce referendum was introduced overnight to deflect from other problems. He made no attempt to debate the issues involved with others and, obviously, the people gave their verdict.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): He got good help from the Deputy's party.

We are not in favour of phoney consensus. Other Bills passed through this House in which the views of individual Deputies were not reflected. There were no votes, just cross party support. That does not reflect the views of the wider society which must be reflected here in political debate. Members of the Progressive Democrats Party have a free vote on this issue. There are differences of opinion between members of that party, between members of the Fianna Fáil Party and between members of the Fine Gael Party, all of which must be reflected. Those opposing the Bill must be respected and their voices heard if democracy means anything here.

Abortion is not just a women's issue; as Deputy Burton stated it also involves men. Very often women are forced to consider abortion because men refuse to support them either financially or emotionally. I am glad that position is also changing. All sections of society are now more willing to face up to their responsibilities in this regard. Many believe that young people support abortion and this Bill, but that has not been my experience in my dealings with them.

The Oireachtas must face up to the substantive issue of abortion; we are merely tinkering with it by introducing this Bill. That matter must be considered in the context of another constitutional amendment. Many people will vehemently oppose that course of action, but if the people are given an opportunity to say "yes" or "no" in a referendum. I have no doubt they will say "no", and nothing can deflect us from that stark fact.

This Bill creates an abortion culture which is supported by a powerful minority of interests who have no electoral mandate from anybody. Abortion should never be an option. The Bill is the thin end of the wedge, its principles are wrong, it cannot be amended and Members should vote against it on Second Stage. We must have a calm rational debate on the matter. It is regrettable that we on this side of the House have been called hypocrites because some Members on all sides object to the terms and conditions of the Bill. We should not give liberalism a bad name and all sincere views should be respected.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Kemmy and Bhamjee.

I am sure that is satisfactory.

The debate which has opened up as a result of the publication of this Bill is welcome. It has brought a serious problem into the open and allowed people inside and outside this House to debate it. I am glad the debate on Second Stage was carried over to this week. It allowed many of us to listen to the views of constituents who contacted us about the Bill and the wider issue of abortion. Approximately 60 people contacted me last weekend about this matter and I spoke to them all; I received a similar number of letters. While this puts a considerable strain on Deputies — we are elected to cope with that — it also puts a great deal of strain on their families and spouses. I insisted on taking all the telephone calls and I met everybody who called either to my office or house. While there were some exceptions, most of those people are genuinely concerned about this matter.

I hope I convinced some of them that I am as pro-life and anti-abortion as anyone who contacted me at the weekend. I think I was successful in some cases because there was a noticeable change from outward opposition to the Bill on Saturday to — on Sunday — a willingness to listen to its positive aspects and indeed on Monday some of them offered to pray for me and give me guidance. Perhaps some of their prayers helped me to have the courage today to express my sincerely held views on this matter. I said to those who contacted me that I could not comprehend how they and I, who are pro-life and anti-abortion, view the Bill so differently. I went on to tell them I believed that if we could tap their energy, talents, undoubted determination and willingness to sacrifice their time and energy I would be willing to play my part in endeavouring to reduce the number of Irish women who go abroad for abortions each year and I have no doubt that many of the positive aspects of this Bill will achieve that. We should all work together to resolve this problem.

I acknowledge the great and unselfish work carried out by organisations such as CURA and LIFE. Members of those organisations in my constituency have done wonderful work in counselling and assisting women to bring their pregnancies to full-term. They place women in homes or with families for the duration of their pregnancies and, in some cases, where the women insist on having an abortion they provide counselling after the abortion. Counselling should be provided in all cases of abortion. I advise any woman with a crisis pregnancy to contact CURA or LIFE with whose work I am familiar, and she will receive every help. If a woman has any difficulty contacting those organisations I will make myself available to act as a go-between. I have done so in the past and those organisations have given valuable help to the people concerned.

Some of the helping organisations are confused by the provisions of this Bill. They will not be obliged to give names and addresses. They will be encouraged to continue their good work, only now they will be provided with resources to do so. The Minister has provided £200,000 for organisations such as CURA and LIFE. I ask him to increase that to £1 million in next year's Estimates as a positive response towards helping to reduce the number of Irish women having abortions. I am clear in my conscience that supporting this Bill will reduce the number of Irish women having abortions. I ask the people who contacted me at the weekend to come on board so that we can work together towards providing counselling to all women in crisis pregnancies. I have no doubt that the energy is there to do that.

Some positive aspects of the Bill are that it forms part of the Government's approach to minimising the circumstances in which women seek abortions and research, education and counselling will also be provided. The Bill's emphasis on counselling arises from the fact, established by research, that the majority of women travelling to the UK for abortions have not received any counselling. It will ensure that any doctors, advice agencies, etc. who provide abortion information to pregnant women do so in the context of full counselling on all the available options without any advocacy of abortion.

The Bill does not apply to general non-specific information, for example, information about the nature of abortion; that is not necessary. The information is to be truthful and objective. It may not advocate or promote abortion and may not be made available on billboards or public notices. A doctor or agency may not advocate or promote the option of abortion and the information given on abortion must meet the conditions set out on information given to the general public. Nothing in this Bill obliges any individual or agency to provide abortion information.

The obligation to give full counselling on all available options applies only where abortion information is being given. Pregnancy counselling which does not include abortion information is not restricted by this Bill which seeks to ensure that a person or agency giving abortion information cannot derive any financial gain or benefit arising from the choice of abortion or other available options. My conscience is clear and I think I have convinced a number of the people who contacted me at the weekend that I and they are working towards the same aim. My interest in this matter will continue and this Bill will help me and some organisations to reduce the numbers of Irish women going abroad for abortions.

I commend the Minister, the Government, and the previous Minister for Health, for preparing and bringing forward this Bill so early in the life of this Government. People thought this Government would be unstable, but this shows stability. Others have suggested that we should postpone the Bill but, looking at all the controversy around us, will there ever be a right time to bring forward this Bill?

I am not afraid to support the Bill because people have voted for information and that is what they will receive. Whether they wish to use it is their choice. Choice is the most important aspect because Ireland is now a multi-cultural society, a multi-religious society and a multi-coloured community with varying shades of opinion. This legislation now gives people a choice. It is a people's choice, not a women's issue only. It is a fundamental human rights issue of decision-making for oneself.

Since 1987, 20,000 Irish women have gone to England for abortions, and these are only the women who gave Irish addresses. What about those who live in England, the emigrants? What about those who give English addresses? The British Office of Population Census has shown that in 1992, 4,000 women had abortions in England and they were Irish; 70 per cent of them were between the ages of 20 and 34; 13 per cent were over the age of 35. That shows that 83 per cent of the women who went to England for abortions were not youngsters; they were mature women, married women, adults who knew what decisions they were making for themselves and their families. Also, at least 2,000 women from Northern Ireland travel to England every year for abortions and, together with those in the South, they make up half of the nonresident population that have abortions in England.

The current situation in Ireland is that one in every ten pregnant women will go to England for an abortion. Therefore, we cannot ignore this problem. It is our duty to legislate and we should do so. We should not be afraid of losing votes. In the past vital legislation in the areas of health, justice and education was delayed or not implemented because we were afraid of losing votes and were intimidated by those who shouted as loudly as possible.

I have met many young couples who have difficulty renting accommodation because they have children. Landlords refuse to house them because they have children. Why are people rejecting live babies?

The Minister is examining the question of counselling services for women with crisis pregnancies, but what about post abortion services and counselling? A survey by the Irish Family Planning Association has shown that 40 per cent only of women who travel to England for abortions go for post-abortion check-ups. Most of these are between the ages of 20 and 30, and live in Dublin city. Not many from rural areas go to their general practitioners. They are afraid of telling their problems to the GP because abortion is still a taboo subject. Counsellors should be available to them because nowadays some people speak of those who go to England for abortions as murderers and killers and this makes them feel guilty and ashamed. Our duty should be to encourage them. As a psychiatrist, I have not seen any Irish publication on post abortion psychological effects. Many people say nobody has them, because the women who travel to England for abortions are faceless and nameless, but they are our neighbours, our friends and our family. How many doctors write in the patient's notes that she has had an abortion? How many of them are instructed by their patients not to do so?

As for the people who have said they would like an opt-out clause, doctors here always have had the choice to opt out. Some doctors refuse to prescribe the pill or to see patients who are on the pill. Others refused to prescribe condoms when they had to be prescribed. If we have an opt-out clause in this legislation, should we have an opt-out clause for doctors who do not wish to treat patients who have AIDS or TB? This matter should be left to the Medical Council. Women will be able to choose to whom they want to go. We do not want to return to the position where taxi drivers took Irish women to abortion clinics, where Irish women looked at the Yellow Pages at Heathrow Airport in London and chose the first clinic on the list or died following back street abortions.

I would like to see the Well Woman Centre compile a list of approved clinics to which doctors could refer patients following counselling. If we do not provide for this we might as well scrap the Bill as it will be nothing more than useless paper. The Irish Medical Times which was previously owned by the former Minister for Health. Dr. John O'Connell, has this week welcomed the introduction of the Bill because it protects both women and doctors.

It was my hope that a consensus could be reached on this Bill as happened in the case of the legislation dealing with the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the availability of condoms. It is not too late for the main Opposition party to change its mind.

I regret that Deputy Haughey has left the Chamber as he said this measure forms part and parcel of the liberal agenda. It does not. For someone who is so sanctimonious that is a glib phrase to use. In this Bill we are merely giving expression to the democratic decision of the people in the referenda held in 1992. The voting pattern in 1992 was replicated last week in an opinion poll conducted for The Cork Examiner in which 61 per cent of those surveyed said that information should be made available.

I have listened to this debate carefully, especially to the contributions of members of the Opposition. I would describe much of the criticism expressed by them as a monument to bogus punditry; others might describe it as a shoal of red herrings. I have not been impressed by the quality of the debate. Little compassion, feeling and understanding has been shown for those who decide to have an abortion — their trauma and desperation has not been reflected in a caring way in this debate.

Instead there has been an unnatural and unhealthy obsession with the unborn, a nebulous and vague term. What does it mean? What about the rights of the living, including those who are forced to emigrate through economic necessity and those living in poverty? What about those faced with famine and starvation? Should we not show the same compassion for those who are suffering and dying? Are they not human beings also and like ourselves in every way? Do they not bleed when cut and cry out in pain when hurt? We cannot confine this debate to the unborn. In the past those who are now protesting showed little concern for single mothers. When single girls became pregnant they were often pushed to the margins of life and treated as lepers and pariahs in society. Few spoke in their favour. I know a little about this matter as my mother was one of 15 children in County Clare, 14 of whom were forced to emigrate to America because they were unable to find employment. No one cared about the quality of their lives. I could give many other examples.

In this debate politicians have been speaking as if they were gynaecologists, constitutional lawyers or theologians and have told many gory stories to illustrate their case. I will tell a different story as part of my contribution. About 15 years ago during the fundamentalist campaign in America three clergymen, a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant clergyman and a Jewish rabbi met each week for a chat and a drink and to go for a walk. They were great friends and had a good relationship. Unfortunately, the question of when life begins caused friction among them. The Roman Catholic priest had no doubt in his mind about when life begins. He said that life begins at the moment of conception when the male sperm fertilises the female egg and would not brook any further discussion on the question. The Protestant clergyman was not as dogmatic. He said that life begins somewhere between the tenth and twelfth week when the female egg takes on a human form. The Jewish rabbi who had a wife and family was more philosophical. He paused for a moment and said that life begins when the dog dies and the children leave the home. He had a broader view of life. He had reared his family, seen them depart and perhaps wanted more space for himself. We could learn from him.

I have received a mountain of lurid and nasty literature in the post. My secretary in Limerick, who is married with three children, no longer looks at it but dumps it in the waste paper basket, with my approval. I am not squeamish as I have been down this road before. One should be qualified to speak about this matter. I do not know what it is like to give birth and I am sorry that more women have not contributed to this debate. Too many men have spoken, many of whom have adopted a narrow attitude.

I founded a family planning clinic in Limerick 21 years ago, one of the best things I have done, to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. There is a need for comprehensive family planning education in schools and clinics. That would be a positive step in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and the number of abortions by Irish women.

(Limerick West): I wish to share my time with Deputies Kitt and Lawlor.

I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

(Limerick West): I express profound concern at the contents of this legislation. As legislators, we have an obligation to safeguard human life from conception to natural death. The safeguarding of the right to life of the unborn is of paramount importance. Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution states that the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and guaratees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This Bill contains provisions which will facilitate citizens of this country in their attempt to procure an abortion. These provisions pose a threat to the right to life of the unborn child which is sacred and which is enshrined in the Constitution by the will of the people. Information made available by virtue of the 1992 amendment must recognise and respect this right. We therefore have an obligation to uphold and respect the right to life of the unborn.

If passed into law this Bill will permit the furnishing of detailed information to a woman or girl about abortion facilities outside the State. The information given under the terms of this Bill will include the names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics in any country. To put it plainly, that amounts to knowingly assisting a woman or girl to obtain an abortion. To claim, therefore, that this Bill is not about abortion but about information is incorrect and misleading. I am appalled and surprised that the Minister would introduce such misleading legislation in this House. I expected more from him.

I repeat for the Minister's information that the direct and intentional killing of unborn human life, for whatever reason, is in direct contravention of our Constitution. The Government has a responsibility to preserve each person's right and to protect the weakest in our society. There is none weaker than the unborn child. The intentional destruction of its life is never a permissible option for any person or State nor could any constitutional right ever arise which would allow information to be given, the purpose of which would be to defeat the constitutional right to life of the unborn.

I am not alone in expressing these views. They are the views of my constituents and others who have been in touch with me in the past week or ten days since this legislation was published. I strongly oppose the Bill. It is not in keeping with the decision made by the people in the 1992 referendum on information. I believe it will be found to be unconstitutional. The question and answer memorandum, which the Government of the day issued to help people reach a decision on this issue, specifically stated that directive counselling would not be the result of a "yes" vote. This Bill, however, provides for directive counselling in direct contravention of what the people voted for in 1992. The giving of names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics constitutes directive counselling. Such information, as I have already stated, promotes and facilitates abortion. It is not information, it is assistance. The provision of such assistance is precluded by the Constitution. If this Bill is passed into law it will make access to abortion clinics much easier and will inevitably lead to an increase in the termination of pregnancies.

This Bill is the thin end of the wedge. If it becomes law it will give the proponents of abortion a foot in the door. That door will continue to be pushed open wider. Experience in other countries has shown that this is how abortion legislation is introduced. I ask the parties opposite and the Minister in particular if this is what the Irish people want. I believe it is not what they want.

It is naive to suggest that giving pregnant women the names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics does not constitute abortion referral, which is specifically excluded by the Constitution. It would be naive also to suggest that the Bill, as it stands, would not be successfully challenged in the courts.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 6.15 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.