I listend to most of the debate yesterday on my monitor because, unfortunately, I could not be here. During Second Stage on Wednesday, I said I found the debate, both inside and outside the House, very depressing. I reiterate that point of view this morning. One telling comment by the Minister and by others is that at the end of the day women will make their own decisions. Of course they will.
To a large extent there is an air of unreality about many of the comments made during this debate. The other day I drew attention to the pregnant 12 year old whose pregnancy commenced when she was 11. There was another tragedy last night when a dead baby was found in a bucket. I do not want to talk about that as I do not know the circumstances. What passes for debate in this House is very unreal.
We are fortunate that the Supreme Court took us off the hook in 1992 when this State sought to intern a 14 year old rape victim. There was a great sigh of relief when the Supreme Court allowed that girl to leave the jurisdiction for the purpose of procuring an abortion in Britain. If the Supreme Court had not done that we would have been better off at the time because it would have forced this House to rapidly face up to the consequences of preventing that 14 year old girl from leaving the jurisdiction. We would have much more compassionate and realistic legislation than we have now.
Many in our society, including Members of this House, do not believe women have a right to leave this jurisdiction for the purpose of securing a termination of pregnancy, but they will not say that. They pretend they agree but go out of their way to ensure through our laws, prosecutions and the intimidation and entrapment of others that we prevent that from happening.
The only Supreme Court interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment is that of Mrs. Justice Denham in the Well Woman case in July, 1993. I read her comments into the record of the House the other day and I want to repeat them. She said if there is a right to travel, it follows that there is a right to be assisted in making those travel arrangements. She went on to say that this is particularly the case if one is economically or socially deprived — or words to that effect. One does not need a Supreme Court judge to say that, it is obvious.
My objection to the Bill is fundamental and that is why my party will call a vote on this issue. It strikes at the very heart of what we are discussing. My fundamental objection to this Bill is that if we have another Miss X or somebody in her circumstances whose life is in danger, it cannot follow that a doctor cannot assist her to make arrangements to save her life.
I know the Minister said in his Second Stage speech that it was now old fashioned for doctors to make arrangements. A patient goes to the GP with a particular problem, the GP gives a list of consultants or specialists and patients make their own arrangements. That might happen in particular cases. However, if somebody is suffering from cancer I have yet to hear of a GP who gives a list of oncologists and their telephone numbers and tells the patient to go off and make arrangements. If somebody is suffering from AIDS or another serious illness where the patient is distressed, I cannot believe the general practitioner will not make the arrangements or set up the appointment and will not write the letter to the consultant to whom he is referring his patient. That happens every day.
It is unreal to pretend that, where somebody wishes to terminate a pregnancy in the particular circumstances of the X case where the mother's life is in danger, she will be refused advice from her medical practitioner about what is in her best interest. I cannot believe the Minister thinks it is right that somebody would walk into the general practitioner, relay her circumstances to him and he, aware of her medical history, would not be entitled to give an opinion.
There are many sophisticated people who will be well able to get opinions and this legislation will not affect them. They will make their own arrangements and this State will never know about them. However, there are vulnerable young people who will not be in that position or have the wherewithal and social contacts to make arrangements. They particularly will rely on their general practitioners.
Two of my friends who are general practitioners make arrangements for people to have terminations in Britain. They arrange for an assessment because under the abortion legislation in Britain a person has to be assessed by two doctors before she can proceed to have a termination. I spoke to one of them last night and he said that, generally speaking, he only makes arrangements for what he would regard as uneducated, younger people and that more sophisticated, well educated people are more than capable of making the arrangements for themselves. Under the provisions of this Bill, unless we accept the amendment in the names of Deputies O'Donnell and McDowell, that doctor will be committing a criminal offence if he makes such arrangements. He will be further committing a criminal offence if he gives advice in one direction.
The Minister makes great play of the fact that he talks about non-directive counselling and that is what we were promised in 1992. It is not non-directive counselling. A doctor or a counsellor is entitled to give counselling in one direction only. They are entitled to advise against abortion; they are not entitled to give any advice in favour of a termination. That is not non-directive counselling. It is very much counselling in one direction only.
During the hearing on the X case the late Mr. Justice McCarthy was critical of this House for not dealing with the balance of rights between the mother and the unborn. We have failed since the 1983 amendment to bring in any legislation in relation to that balance of rights. The 1983 amendment talks about the right to life of the unborn, but also the equal right to life of the mother. However, the Supreme Court has now adjudicated on the balance of rights and it has decided that where the mother's life is in danger, she is entitled to save it. There is no point in the Minister saying we are not dealing with the unborn; that is a decision of the Supreme Court and Irish women are entitled to terminate their pregnancy if their life is in danger. It follows then, as Mrs. Justice Denham found in the Well Woman case in July 1993, that if one has entitlements, one should have assistance in putting those into effect. The failure of this Bill to deal with the fundamental issue, the consequences of the X case, the confidentiality and privacy of and interference in the doctor-patient relationship will return to haunt us if this Bill is not referred by the President to the Supreme Court. This matter will be challenged at a later date.
Many Members of this House may believe we will never have another Miss X. We would be foolish to rule out the consequences of the X case and to assume that we live in a country where this kind of thing does not happen anymore. Deputies do not need me to tell them that there are strange and harsh cases before the courts, with details of activities which many of us would never have contemplated could happen in this country. In a recent case before the court we heard the daughter and son of a man who pleaded guilty to the most inhumane physical, sexual and mental torture of his children. I understand that another serious case, not of this nature, is coming before the courts shortly, which tells us a lot about the type of society in which we live. These are exceptions, but unfortunately we must legislate for the exceptions and this Bill does not do that.
Deputy O'Donnell referred to the fact — it was brought to my attention yesterday — that the other leaders of the political parties have not contributed to this debate. It is worth putting this on the record. The Fianna Fáil Leader was singled out for criticism by the media and others for the stand his party took. What are the views of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Welfare who had so much to say about these issues when in Opposition? There is not one word on the record about this legislation. Could anyone imagine a budget debate or a debate on Northern Ireland where leaders would not contribute?
Recently at Question Time, in reference to the absence of the equality provisions from A Government of Renewal, I asked the Taoiseach if it was an oversight or deliberate Government policy. He said it was an oversight. For too long women and their concerns have been an oversight in our society and in our legislation. We talk about this issue in a cold, clinical way as if it affects something mechanical, such as a car or tractor. That is true of the male commentators on the pro-life side who have spoken on some of the programmes. They talk about women in a cold and uncaring way as if they are cars, buses or tractors. Deputy O'Donnell referred to the bishops' statement which is lacking in compassion and understanding and which is not realistic given the present circumstances.
I know the Minister and Deputy McDowell have crossed on this issue over the past two days. I assure the Minister that the comments made by Deputy McDowell are not personal, whatever about the language he may use. We all express ourselves differently. I hope the Minister does not take them personally because I do not believe that Deputy McDowell is trying to offend him. He feels strongly about this issue. Last night I took the opportunity to get the opinion of a senior counsel who has been involved in litigation in this area. He feels equally strongly about these provisions. This view is widely shared by those with legal expertise. We will be making a grave mistake if we do not take on board the comments made by Deputy McDowell and Deputy O'Donnell because we feel the language is offensive, unfair or personalised. These views are widely shared by others involved in this area.
It is always better to be sure than sorry in legislation of this kind. People, not only Deputies in this House, have doubts about it. Deputy Shatter and others have expressed their reservations. Some Deputies privately expressed their concerns about this matter to me, but they are not lawyers and I did not put a lot of weight on their comments. When such concerns are voiced in this House we would be foolish, going on past experience, not to take them on board and not to ensure that the legislation we are enacting is constitutional beyond doubt and that it safeguards the limited, but real rights which women have under the Constitution as a result of its interpretation by the Supreme Court. This House must go to great pains to vindicate and uphold those rights and to ensure that we never again intern any woman in this State or find ourselves on the same legislative hook on which we found ourselves during the early part of 1992.