Deputy Barnes has 18 minutes remaining.
An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht (Beatha Dhaonna le linn Toirchis a Chosaint), 2001: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).
In the two minutes I had the previous day I referred to the fact that a lot of revisionism was taking place, that the 1983 debate and referendum had become clouded in myth and mythology and that we needed to remind ourselves of the circumstances that forced these Houses into such a divisive referendum and of the attempts made on this side of the House, particularly by the then leader of the Fine Gael Party, Dr. Garrett FitzGerald, the then Attorney General, Peter Sutherland, and the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Noonan, to urge the people to reject those dangerous words which, if inserted in the Constitution in 1983, could lead exactly to the opposite of what the pressure group then, SPUC, was looking for and which could, and did, put women at risk. Although, sadly, it took almost ten years for that to become a reality, we all lived with the shame and embarrassment of it. Because of that, another referendum was held in 1992.
During that nine year period, through court case after court case taken by SPUC, women in Ireland were denied the right to information. Students and other groups were taken to court repeatedly. Copies of Cosmopolitan appeared month after month with a blank page showing the censorship which went on in this country in regard to the names and addresses of legal clinics and abortion centres in Britain. Women, in particular, lived with that.
There was an even greater deprivation of the rights of women and citizens because during that period, the right of women to travel was questioned and denied. In the 1992 referendum, we dealt with the substantive issue, the right to travel and the right to information. This came about because of a horrific and tragic case, the X case, as a result of which the interpretation people feared in 1983 came to pass. A 14 year old girl who had been raped was pregnant and suicidal and her parents were denied the right to travel to a legal abortion clinic in Britain to have an abortion carried out. Despite our embarrassment and shame, the compassion of the people in identifying with the suffering and trauma that young girl and her parents were going through ensured we would get an outcome that would relieve such a terrible situation and that the State would pay the costs of the appeal to the Supreme Court.
We hit international headlines. I and, I am sure, Deputy Shatter and other colleagues in this House received telephone calls and queries from all over the world asking us if we were even members of the European Community as it was then known. As a result of that, we had a second debate and attempt to quickly and naturally restore the right to travel and information which, thankfully, was passed by a majority of voters. However, we also had and still have what is known as the "substantive issue." That was and is an attempt to remove the grounds under which in 1992 the Supreme Court allowed two parents and their young girl travel to Britain to have a legal abortion, as happened again in 1995 in another distressing case involving a young girl. This is because we could not and would not provide the necessary facilities here. The Supreme Court based its judgments on the threat of self-destruction or suicide.
In 1992, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Flynn, in introducing the Second Stage debate on the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992, dealing with the right to travel and information, said that should it transpire that the people decided not to adopt the twelfth amendment, the Government had decided to introduce legislation to regulate the position obtaining as a result of the X decision. He continued by saying that if that amendment was defeated – and he did not believe that would happen which is a case of a political projection being wrong – it was the Government's firm and considered view that the only practicable alternative was to legislate on the basis of the X case. Mr. Flynn said that this was not meant to be a threat to anybody or to put pressure on them to vote in a particular way in the referendum.
Not alone did Mr. Flynn promise that the only option if the amendment was defeated would be legislation on the basis of the X case, he used that assertion to urge people to vote for the removal of the threat of self-destruction. The people did not agree with that, they did not support it and they did not vote for it. Why, in 2001, are we facing a third attempt to put words into the Constitution that will clearly be challenged, and interpreted in ways that will not satisfy the same pressure group who pushed for it in 1983, 1992 and now in 2001? Members may be aware of the famous "Rocky Horror Show" which has the theme song titled, "Let's do the time warp again". That is exactly what we are doing. We are doing the time warp again.
In 1983, a small, intolerant pressure group decided that it did not trust legislators. In 1992, because of the Supreme Court interpretation, the group decided that it did not trust the courts or the judges. Now in 2001, it does not trust the psychologists or the psychiatrists. However, every year and every decade, they do not trust women. During these debates women have been disembodied, divided and dehumanised. It gives me and other colleagues in this Chamber no satisfaction to go through this again because underlying the issue is the belief of some men that women have to be controlled with regard to a murderous intent towards their unborn. That is basic, fundamental, fundamentalist and highly insulting.
During the ten years since the last debate, thousands of women have travelled to Britain for abortions. This required desperation, silence, shame and the extraordinary, practical need to raise enough money to pay for the journey and the treatment. It was usually done in a solitary, shamed way. As Deputy McManus has said, special medicines and antibiotics are given to Irish women because, from the medical experience of people working in the British clinics, it is realised that the majority of those women will not seek treatment, either psychological or medical, when they come home.
There is also a more dangerous experience. Because of the difficulties and because of the lack of economic independence on the part of many of these women, the termination of pregnancy is delayed, giving rise to huge problems, including medical, emotional and psychological problems. We in Ireland are not prepared to take that on board much less address it.
Added to the present debate is another facile slogan. The slogan in 1983 was "abortion on demand – a woman's right to choose." The underlying meaning of that was if a woman had any right or opportunity to choose, she would choose to abort her child. I want people to take on the meaning of that in the experience of women, not just in Ireland, but worldwide; in the experience of refugees and millions of women desperately trying to nourish and keep their children and their lives together. We now have the slogan "social abortion." I will not spend time on this subject because many of my colleagues – including, I am glad to say, male colleagues – have been appalled and outraged that we should reduce such a fundamentally difficult and desperate situation to a phrase such as "social abortion."
However, the phrase gives an indication of the mind set of those who view women at that level. With regard to all areas of equality, citizenship, and rights that touch on the status of women, we have much to worry about. The phrase "social abortion" is an indication of the deep, traditional, subversive, suspicious situation women must still deal with in Ireland. I pay tribute to the many male colleagues in this and in past debates who have also felt offended and rejected by the language and attitude to women. In 2001, more than ever, this feeling is shared by the majority of voters, both men and women. If this ludicrous legislation is put forward in a referendum to the people, they will reject it, and they deserve the right to do so if this matter goes that far.
In 1992, when the details of the X case were revealed in Ireland and worldwide, there was a unanimous reaction. People were horrified at how it could have happened. A child was not allowed to have a legal abortion in Britain. There was shock, shame, embarrassment and above all, compassion, which I stress. We have compassion. We are family-centred. We care about mothers and children. Why are we separating them in this divisive way now when on other levels they are almost an icon in our society? The Irish mammy could be canonised any day. Why is there a split mindset with regard to women as mothers? At least, let us hope this debate will engender discussion, philosophical and otherwise, about this difficult and divisive situation in which women find themselves. It is the old story of Eve and the Virgin Mary, but that debate is for another day and I do not know if we would be allowed to have it in this Chamber.
When Deputy Noonan, on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, addressed a series of questions to the Taoiseach, he was accused of time wasting as if it was a political ploy. However, the questions were very important and we learned much from the replies which revealed not just flaws in the proposed legislation but the most flawed thinking we have ever encountered in this House. I have a great regard for this Chamber and I consider it a privilege to be here. One of the greatest pleasures – soon to come to an end – I have had is to be a legislator. It is a privilege that is not enjoyed by many and it is one we should not lightly relinquish. We receive a mandate from the people to legislate on their behalf and they trust us to do so, but that is about to be taken away. It worries me not just with regard to this debate but with regard to the future power, authority and autonomy of legislators.
It is being suggested that this flawed legislation will be put to the electorate, but how can voters know what the impact or import of the individual sections will be? If they vote in favour of the referendum, that legislation will stand as part of the Constitution and, thus, we as legislators will be powerless to change it. There is not any legislation in which I have been involved in debating that did not require amendments. In some cases, once legislation has been enacted, we only realise after it has been implemented that it requires amendment because we overlooked certain dimensions.
This legislation is unprecedented, unbelievable and bizarre. We are tying ourselves into a referendum on legislation which is flawed. As legislators we often realise that legislation is flawed after it has been enacted, yet in this case we will not be able to do anything to rectify it. As a Deputy serving my last term in the House, I am worried by the enormity of that situation. I will not refer to the four Independent Deputies who have brought this upon us because I do not think they would understand the import of it. However, I am asking both Government parties and, in particular, the Minister for Health and Children, to think again. Do not plunge us into what we went through in 1983, 1992 and 1995. It is too much and does not reflect well on any of us.
I pay tribute to Deputy Barnes for her fine contribution. I do not agree entirely with everything she said but it is fair to say she has been a champion of women's rights here, going back to her early days in the House. She has kept faith with the vocation she set for herself of speaking clearly to advocate the rights of women in all circumstances. It is a great pity that she is not seeking re-election, not least for Fine Gael which will have difficulty in retaining that seat in Dún Laoghaire. So much for Fine Gael's worries, however.
Deputy Barnes has made a balanced speech. I find it rather strange to be speaking in this debate because if one had asked me in the 1980s, I would not have thought I would be involved in politics now. Part of the reason I was not involved in politics in the 1980s, and part of the reason I emigrated to England, was precisely because of all those referendums that were going on. It seemed to me there was much opportunism and conservatism in evidence at the time. When it came to abortion and divorce, so-called official Ireland tended to ignore people in difficult situations with reduced economic and social circumstances. One of the characteristics of the 1980s was that official and unofficial Ireland co-existed and people lived quite different lifestyles. Official Ireland seemed determined to ignore what was happening in unofficial Ireland, and moved in the opposite direction.
Now, however, unofficial Ireland has ceased to be. As a society, we have moved far beyond the 1980s, socially and most importantly economically. While it may sound callous to say so, we have moved on and our society is much more secure in its value systems and its sense of well-being. Irish society is much more self-confident now. In that context, we must grapple with this age-old problem of where we stand on abortion. The situation must be clarified once and for all. Nobody on this side of the House is holding a torch for these measures. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, have accepted that this legislation represents a compromise. It is not something we would choose to implement in an ideal world. It reflects the compromise and consensus that developed as a result of widespread consultation through an Oireachtas committee, as well as much contemplation by the Taoiseach and by the House as a whole.
The Taoiseach has played an honourable role on this issue. He made a promise prior to the last election that there would be a referendum on this issue before he left office. He has not honoured that type of promise in every case. For instance, he was criticised for not honouring his promise concerning the Partnership for Peace, although I believe he was right not to do so.
Abortion is a fundamental issue, however, which has perplexed the political establishment for years and it is time an element of clarity was brought to bear on the situation. The Government's proposal by way of a constitutional amendment to insert legislation in the Constitution is a positive thing to do. Deputy Barnes spoke earlier of a lack of trust in the political classes that obtained in the 1980s. I am sad to have to disappoint her but the level of trust has not increased since then, mainly because of what some of the more prominent members of the political classes did in the 1980s. Given the large scale public cynicism about what occurs in the House, perhaps it is a good thing that this legislation is to be incorporated in the Constitution. There will, therefore, be no change to it in future without the people being directly consulted.
Abortion is a difficult moral issue and in some sense we are at a turning point as a society. There is a strong pro-choice element within the population. A recent Ireland on Sunday opinion poll indicated that 40% of those surveyed were pro-choice, while 60% were pro-life. Broadly speaking, that reflects the state of public opinion at the moment. As we know, however, from previous referenda on divorce and abortion, and from the referendum on the Nice treaty, that margin can narrow substantially in the run up to a campaign.
This is a difficult issue and one about which all politicians should be careful. Politicians should not preach about such moral issues because people are sick of that. Essentially, it is a matter of huge personal conscience as to how people vote on this matter. Yesterday, members of my party met representatives of the pro-life movement who were pushing the case for a "yes" vote. At that meeting I specifically made the point that in this case politicians should not canvass vigorously and aggressively, as they do in general elections and by-elections. It is the duty of every politician in the House, once legislation is passed and a referendum date chosen, to go about his or her business in a responsible way. We should seek to inform rather than proselytise on the issue. If politicians do this, they will win respect from the public which is cynical about referendums as we know from the Nice referendum fiasco. Few people actually vote in referendums. I suspect, however, the turnout will be higher on this occasion.
The turnout will reflect on this House. A low turnout will not reflect disinterest in the issue, but the weakness of the political class and its inability to communicate with the public on which it depends for support—
It indicates the contempt for particular proposals put before the people who are not given the opportunity to be informed by the Establishment.
In the Deputy's usual manner he is treating the public with a certain amount of contempt. His high-minded approach seems to imply that the public has no real way of understanding complicated proposals. This is the arrogance of Fine Gael, not the arrogance—
Tell us about the Nice treaty and what a great job that was.
The Deputy to continue without interruption, please.
It is typical that the arrogance from the Deputy's direction suggests the people are so stupid they cannot understand complicated legislation.
Remarks should be addressed through the Chair. Perhaps then we will not be interrupted.
It also reflects the arrogance of a small segment of the legal profession who seem to believe that only it should have control or a spoken voice on these issues.
The same used to be said about former Deputy McDowell. Indeed, he was pregnant with it for four years and only gave birth a few weeks ago.
I do not wish to be scoring points, but since the Deputy started it maybe I should finish it. Having left this country in the 1980s and seen the rank opportunism, I must be honest, on this side of the House on issues like this at the time I am disappointed with the opportunism Fine Gael is deploying on this occasion and issue.
The Deputy should not pretend that this is a politically motivated proposal. Nobody believes that.
It is rank opportunism on the part of the Fine Gael Party which has changed leader. In its desperation to achieve Government it is prepared to kick this issue, and the delicate issues of conscience arising, around like a political football. That is Fine Gael's attitude.
Perhaps the Deputy should talk about the issue.
I will deal with the issue. Fine Gael is dealing with it in an entirely political manner. It is masking it under the cover and camouflage of prissy legal concerns of detail.
That is outrageous.
The reality is that it is doing exactly what Mr. Haughey did in the 1980s. It is opposing for the sake of it in the hope of achieving a political result and embarrassing the Government. It has no regard for the moral issues involved. I make that criticism specifically of Deputy Shatter, not Deputy Barnes whom I know has a genuine concern on the issue. Deputy Shatter, however, has no genuine concern on it whatsoever. He is merely deploying the usual rhetoric of opposition.
We now need to look at the Labour Party which is taking an each way bet on the issue. Its party conference is conveniently voting for the pro-choice position while the leadership is rapping it on the knuckles and stating it would like to see the matter go another way. It is not unusual nowadays within the Labour Party to want an each way bet and claim victory no matter what the result. Conference delegates will claim victory if it is defeated while the leadership will claim victory if it is passed. It is typical of the confusion that seems to exist in the Labour Party. I suspect that we will see more confusion in the months ahead as to whom it will choose as a coalition partner. No doubt it will try to confuse its own delegates on that issue too.
This is not a debate on which people should preach. The public does not want politicians to preach on the issue. The proposal is not an ideal solution, but no party or individual could come up with—
It is an Irish solution.
—a solution that could get over the essential hypocrisy on the issue. For once it is not hypocrisy in this House, but hypocrisy among the public. In 1992 it voted for quite contradictory things. It voted for the right to travel – to the United Kingdom or elsewhere – to secure an abortion and the right to information about how to travel and how to obtain an abortion. As we know, it did not vote for the proposal in relation to the substantive issue. In effect, therefore, public opinion is hypocritical. There is a central defining hypocrisy in the Irish mind on the issue. It wants women to have the right to travel and the right to information, but does not want to have abortions performed within the State.
Between those twin positions the political class must come up with a reasonable and workable solution. That is what the Minister, Deputy Martin, has done. His proposal is reasonable, practicable and addresses the particular issue. It would not be responsible for any Government to advocate the pro-choice position in the full knowledge that it would be defeated by the electorate. That would be a wasteful, damaging and injurious exercise.
We need to look at the practicalities of the issue. The supporting legislation and agencies being put in place to provide backup for women in crisis pregnancies are a positive development. Fine Gael played a positive role in relation to the all-party committee on the issue in bringing forward the idea of a crisis agency. That is something that has changed in the House since the 1980s. Then it seemed that the public and politicians were blithely prepared to pass a pro-life amendment to the Constitution and forget about the consequences and the people tragically caught in these particular circumstances. Politicians in the 1980s wanted to ignore that underlying reality. Today's politicians are not prepared to do so and have provided within this legislation a supportive framework. That is appropriate and right. I acknowledge the positive role played by Fine Gael in relation to it. I hope it will come round and support the actual campaign when it gets under way.
Most of us know that many Fine Gael Deputies will vote one way in the House and listen earnestly to their spokespersons on the issue and will then go to their constituencies and advocate a "Yes" vote. That could be called hypocrisy, but on this issue it only reflects the complexity of the debate, even within political parties. In Fianna Fáil there are many who would advocate the pro-choice position, but they will remain quiet and silent throughout the campaign. That is their choice. The political class should not campaign in the vigorous, no holds barred manner that it normally does on this particular issue. It should focus on the conveying of information. If the Opposition has concerns they should be expressed in a reasonable and proper manner and not in a scaremongering way.
I am not sure when would be the best time to hold a referendum on this issue but it must be resolved well before a general election and this would indicate a referendum in the early part of the new year. The Minister may address this question when he closes the debate.
It is important that the debate throughout the country is conducted in a proper manner. Notwithstanding her heartfelt and deep seated reservations and concerns, I hope the tone of Deputy Barnes's remarks do not mean she intends to scaremonger and attack the issue aggressively.
Maybe we should not debate the issue at all. Deputy Lenihan has an extraordinary attitude to the democratic process.
I would be happy to accept a point of information from Deputy Shatter. His aggressive approach to this matter is singularly inept and lacking in sensitivity to the issues involved. I suppose to expect sensitivity from Deputy Shatter is like expecting forgiveness from the devil. The Deputy's priority appears to be to wound and damage and to cause hurt and upset. I hope few people are upset by him.
I have strong reservations about the Fine Gael lawyers. They appear always to get things wrong and I do not believe they are right in this case.
We got it right in 1983.
We have got it right every time, unlike Fianna Fáil.
Deputy Lenihan is in a hole. He should stop digging.
Fianna Fáil got it right in 1992. The people may not have voted for the substantive issue but the rights to information and travel were the important issues at that time. Deputy Barnes rightly spoke about the young girl at the centre of that controversy. As far as she and her family were concerned the rights to information and travel were the substantive issues. It ill behoves us to talk about that matter because the young girl involved is now a young woman and has made her own life. The less we talk about her the better. The rights to information and travel, which were most important to the family concerned, were copperfastened so that a similar case could not recur and an unthinking and insensitive State could no longer stop a woman achieving what she wanted to achieve in this regard.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate on the protection of human life in pregnancy.
The current view that is being ascribed to the Labour Party in relation to abortion – supposedly abortion on demand – is not one to which I subscribe. I am opposed to the decision taken by some members of the party at the recent conference, if the interpretation of that debate was to infer that abortion on demand was the agreed outcome. I hope Deputy Lenihan will understand my clarification of this matter.
For many years the statistics on the numbers of abortions on Irish women taking place outside the jurisdiction of the State have continued to shock us. In a modern outward looking society there is still a sense of shock at the increasing number of Irish women purported to travel to Britain annually to terminate crisis pregnancies. The tragedy of these statistics is that the relative effort and support dedicated to the prevention and management of crisis pregnancies has been dismal. The support given to vulnerable young and not so young women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy has been appallingly poor.
Compared to the supports dedicated to other problems in Irish society, the support for women with crisis pregnancies is embarrassingly small. The education, treatment, counselling and management of unfortunate victims of drug abuse, for example, receive moderately good support. Large tracts of public money have been set aside to research the causes and symptoms and to provide for the needs and treatment of drug addiction, and rightly so. The amount of resources dedicated to the management of the drugs problem is still far short of what is needed, based on the current level of abuse of illegal substances. A high profile campaign was launched recently to reduce the level of smoking. Large amounts of public money have been spent on this campaign, and rightly so again.
These are just two very worthy examples which are entitled to full support but there is surely a reasonable expectation that crisis pregnancies should be given the same level of support, counselling and management. The State has a responsibility to ensure the rights of all individuals, including the unborn. It is not fair or just that supports and services for some crises fall far short of the norm that is provided for many others.
Money has been well spent in supporting sports activities, for example, and there continues to be a great need for better sports facilities. Earlier this year it seemed probable that £1 billion could be used for the building of a sports stadium that would be available largely to the sporting elite. I could continue with the list of social needs which have been or are being addressed by substantial investment of State money, yet when we look to the fundamental question of support for the protection of human life in a most basic way it is clear that it has dropped off the agenda of supports for crises and social concerns.
Only last month a commitment was finally given for financial support for women with crisis pregnancies with the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. The sum of money promised – £5 million for 2002 – is a mere drop in the ocean compared with the real need of those women who are in crisis pregnancies. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency has been set up with a brief to co-ordinate existing voluntary and non-governmental agencies. I welcome the establishment of this agency but it should be given substantially more resources than have been committed to it. On the basis of a reported 6,000 women travelling to Britain every year for abortions, the amount set aside for the agency amounts to less than £1,000 per crisis pregnancy. This does not rate as placing a significant value on the protection of human life. For a number of months while the all-party Oireachtas committee was debating the complex matter of abortion, the number of Irish women travelling to England for abortions continued to increase. The work and subsequent report of the committee were very welcome but the number of abortions continued.
The social stigma that was once associated with unwanted pregnancy has abated somewhat. However, it is still difficult for a young woman to access the necessary supports, to be assured of a quality child care service that will allow her to continue her education, to be guaranteed an acceptable level of accommodation, to be assured that she will be able to live a quality of life that will not restrict her social and personal development and at the same time assured that her child will be secure, safe and socially well adjusted.
Education designed to ensure young women do not become pregnant is a first target and an area where significant resources must be invested. There is no problem with providing information for young people on the dangers of alcohol, other drugs or smoking. The same commitment should be given to sex education so that young people are well informed and aware of the risks of unplanned pregnancies and the possible risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The number of teenage pregnancies continues to increase and the underlying causes of this must be addressed through education and information for young men and women.
Last week a national newspaper carried a report of a young woman who had chosen to have an abortion because having another child would have obliged her to give up her career. Having children and a career should not be mutually exclusive. If this country truly values its women it will provide the level of support, care and opportunity that allows a woman to continue with a pregnancy and a career.
The care and support for women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies have largely been left to voluntary organisations which have few resources with which to offer support and are very often dependent on good will and, effectively, charity. The prevention of crisis pregnancies and the follow through for those women who become pregnant have never been given the same level of care and consideration as other social problems.
Many teenagers drop out of school due to crisis pregnancies. This group must become the focus of a much enhanced support network. The vicious circle of disadvantage, which is linked to lack of education, will continue unabated unless the necessary supports to allow young women to continue in education are provided. For those who have already dropped out and now find themselves unable to find a job, provision must be made to allow them to return to education.
Re-entering the education field, however, is about much more than returning to a classroom. Child care needs to be addressed through major investment and support. Quality affordable child care must be available to allow young women to complete or resume their education. Enhanced social welfare payments should be provided, linked to school attendance and completion of courses, if necessary, to give these young women with commitment the opportunity and incentive to reintegrate and achieve an appropriate level of education.
There are many heart-rending accounts of women who felt they had no choice but to have an abortion and many sad and moving accounts of women who chose to have their baby and were rejected by family or society. This attitude and mindset must be changed, coupled with appropriate supports. I welcome the commitment of the Government to provide the resources to support women in crisis pregnancies, but the level of commitment and support, not just financial, needs to be greatly increased to give any woman who feels vulnerable or threatened the opportunity to ensure her quality of life and that of her child is not compromised. The culture of secrecy and fear which has dominated Irish thinking on crisis pregnancies must be replaced by a culture of openness, care and security.
There are a number of issues in the Bill which are far from clear and give rise to concern, some of which may just be matters of detail that can easily be clarified. However, the lack of clarity raises a concern about the substantial intention of the Bill, for example, medical practitioners of any hue or training are to be allowed to perform the medical procedures. Despite the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea's passionate defence of the Bill he is entirely wrong to dismiss the use of the term "medical practitioner" as unimportant. I have raised before in this House the question of alternative practitioners, a group not governed by legislation. Under the proposal in the Bill there is nothing to stop such a practitioner, or anybody who cares to classify himself or herself as a medical practitioner, from carrying out the prescribed medical procedure.
Deputy Roche emphasised that philosophical, moral and theological questions are to be ignored in the Bill. Surely the voting public needs to know the very implications of the questions he dismisses. He also submitted that irrelevancies should not be addressed and added that we come, as legislators, to have a reasoned debate. It is precisely for this reason that it is important we avoid the fudge factor and address the detail of the Bill in order that when the question is put we are all very clear on what we are being asked to decide.
Deputy Lenihan referred to confusion in the Opposition parties. There is a lack of clarity and a degree of fudge in the detail of the Bill and the Opposition parties have by no means a monopoly of confusion as far as the Bill is concerned. I was intrigued by the Deputy's proposal that his colleagues remain silent. This is hardly a responsible way to discharge one's duties as a legislator.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, is the first legislative proposal since the Supreme Court decision in the X case in 1993 which seeks to honestly and comprehensively address the issue of abortion. It is the result of an exhaustive process which started in 1997 when the Taoiseach initiated the Green Paper on abortion. This led to the wide ranging consultations of the all-party committee on the Constitution chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan which published its detailed report in November 2000. The process, initiated in 1997, resulted in the most detailed legal, medical and social examination ever undertaken anywhere in the world of the sensitive issue of abortion.
All those from many differing standpoints who participated in the process are to be commended for the manner in which the consultations were conducted. I was struck by the evident maturity with which people representing every shade of opinion approached the committee. They attended in good faith and put their case with conviction. The hearings were marked on all sides by a tone of mutual respect and a determination to adopt and maintain a measured tone throughout. I hope this House can conduct its business of moving the twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution in the same atmosphere of reciprocal regard for those with whom we disagree. Let us use moderate language. The matter is too weighty to be addressed in a tone of recrimination and name calling.
For this reason I was disappointed by the tone of some Deputies' remarks in the opening weeks of the debate. Surely we are mature enough to debate without seeking to demonise each other. Calling those who differ from us misogynous raises the temperature and does not advance our understanding of the proposal one iota. If we are genuinely concerned about the welfare of women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children, there is an onus on us all to conduct ourselves in a calm and reasoned manner.
The Oireachtas hearings on the issue identified the key areas of consensus which laid the foundations on which the current proposal has been built. The broadest area of consensus is surely the universal sense that abortion is a terrible experience for any woman. It is a tragedy in every instance. No one who attended the hearings spoke of abortion as something positive, it was universally regarded as a negative experience. There was, however, a pervasive sense that we all have a grave responsibility to support women in crisis pregnancies, to be there for them in order that they do not feel abandoned when making their decision and put in place whatever practical supports they need to enable them to feel there are real and positive alternatives to abortion.
Every crisis pregnancy represents an urgent call to all of us to do more to ensure women do not feel abandoned to cope alone. For this reason every woman who feels she has no real option other than abortion represents a failure on our part and of social solidarity because, as the people around her, the members of society, we have a civic responsibility to step in and put in place the full range of supports needed. We owe it to every woman who has had an abortion and to women who find themselves facing a crisis pregnancy in the future to commit ourselves to surrounding them with strong, warm, personal support and, as a society, to put in place an ample range of practical supports in order that there will be real and positive alternatives to abortion.
I am an optimist. Our abortion trends are not irreversible. The numbers of women seeking abortions are distressingly high and rising, though lower than in most countries. These trends can be slowed down and eventually turned around by addressing the reasons that drive women to seek abortions in the first place. This is a central part of the role of the new crisis pregnancy agency chaired by Ms Olive Braiden, a respected person in her profession.
As a recent Trinity College study, Women in Crisis Pregnancy, showed, the reasons many women seek an abortion are the very real practical problems posed by the unexpected pregnancy and the considerable difficulties involved in rearing a child alone. If we adequately address these difficulties, we will gradually begin to meet the real needs of women in crisis pregnancies and help to considerably reduce the abortion rate. The Government approach to this issue is being adopted at three separate levels, constitutional, legislative and social.
The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution will protect best medical practice in the care of women in pregnancy while at the same time restoring clarity to the law regarding the right to life of the unborn child. It is important to recognise that Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and the Green Paper on abortion recognised that our maternal mortality rate could hardly be improved upon. The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution takes account of the consensus of psychiatric opinion in the Oireachtas hearings against making a threat of suicide as grounds for obtaining an abortion. The evidence was starkly illustrated by the Finnish study from the Finland National Research and Development Centre, published in the British Medical Journal in 1996. This study compared the number of women in the general population of women of child-bearing age who committed suicide with the number among women who had a baby and with the number who had an abortion. They found that the number of women who committed suicide after having a baby was only half the number in the general population of women of child-bearing age; but the number of women who committed suicide after an abortion was nearly six times more than the number of those who had a baby. Having a baby was strongly linked to a lower rate of suicide but having an abortion was very strongly linked with a significantly higher rate of suicide. If the legislation followed the line advocated by those Deputies on the other side of the House who are seeking abortion to be allowed on the grounds of threatened suicide the results could be expected to show a rise not a fall in the numbers of women committing suicide. The Government's proposal takes account of the consensus in the expert psychiatric testimony presented to the Oireachtas hearings.
I remember the harsh criticism voiced in the X case rulings of the failure of the Oireachtas after 1983 to fulfil the duty laid upon it by Article 40.3.3:
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 Oireachtas should have enacted a law to indicate how that balance should be kept; how in seeking to preserve the mother's life, the doctor had also to keep in mind the need to preserve the life of the child as far as practicable, but it failed to do so. The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution is a genuine attempt to discharge that responsibility, made more complicated by the X case ruling. The twenty-fifth amendment repairs the damage done by the Supreme Court ruling to the protection of the right to life of the unborn in Article 40.3.3. The X case ruling breached the protection which the people intended to be provided to the unborn in Article 40.3.3. by inappropriately foreshortening the protection to be extended to the unborn when seeking to preserve the mother's life. To repair that breach, the X case ruling needed to be reversed.
The 25th amendment does this in two steps: by removing the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion in line with the expert testimony of the psychiatrists in the oral hearings; by requiring the doctor when intervening to preserve the life of the mother to have regard to the need to preserve the life of the unborn, as far as practicable. It safeguards the legal availability to women of medical treatment that they may need if they face a risk to their own life in pregnancy, in line with the consensus among obstetricians and gynaecologists as established by the Oireachtas hearings.
The proposal criminalises the intentional destruction of the unborn after implantation in the womb. It defines abortion for the purposes of the Act but does not seek to define where human life begins. The alternative approach to that being adopted by the Government is to legislate for abortion in line with the Supreme Court decision in the X case ruling which would allow for abortion up to birth. This is the reality of abortion laws in Britain and other countries. It would have the support of the official Labour Party although I respect that there are members in this House and elsewhere who do not see themselves as party to it. It would not, I believe, have the support of the Irish people. The Government proposals are a genuine attempt to confront the reality of crisis pregnancy and to address the very important issues relating to the right to life.
I support the Bill and ask some people who are opposed to abortion and misunderstand the proposals to study them carefully and consider what the consequences of rejection would be. If it were defeated it is most probable that abortion along the lines of the X case would follow some time in the future and may be further liberalised by court actions if this loophole is not closed now.
This is total nonsense and Mr. Binchy should have told the Deputy that when he gave him the briefing.
With the greatest respect to the Deputy opposite, I am quite capable of making up my own mind. We would be accused of not making a serious contribution to the debate if we rattled on off the top of our heads as some people would love to see us do.
There has been much misinformation spread about this Bill, some through misunderstandings, some deliberate. Wild stories have been spread that it redefines life as starting at implantation, redefines the word "unborn" and leaves the way open to experimentation on human embryos. Some even say it allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. It does absolutely none of these things and people making such statements should be challenged.
The 25th amendment has achieved the proper balance of protection. It writes into law the two-patient model of pregnancy that has always informed the ethos of Irish medicine. It also provides a secure legal foundation for current ethical medical practice. The 25th amendment is a humane and enlightened proposal worthy of our support and I commend it to the House.
I have a dreadful feeling of déja vu about all this. It was back in 1983 when Deputy Barnes and I sat together in this House and voiced concerns about the 1983 amendment which the Fianna Fáil party was hell-bent on putting to the people. It was in 1983 when Deputy Barnes and I in this House voted against that proposal and it was in 1983 when each of us in our contributions to this House predicted practically all the difficulties that have arisen from that proposal and predicted the manner in which the courts would interpret it.
The latest abortion referendum proposal is built on a bedrock of hypocrisy, decorated in the colours of political expediency. It is a constitutional flagship which highlights the capacity of the Government parties and others outside this House to indulge in a denial of reality and self-delusion at a level only psychologically possible because of our proximity and easy access to England. In an area of human conduct which cannot be regulated by constitutional amendment because of the private tragedies annually affecting the lives of thousands of women, we retain an extraordinary post-colonial dependence on English termination services to preserve a national fundamentalist illusion of moral purity and superiority.
This proposal has been described by some as yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem. That is not an accurate description. This proposal seeks to constitutionally fasten an English solution to an Irish problem. The constitutional and legislative architecture of this latest abortion proposal is supposed to be politically admired for its cleverness and cuteness in attempting to integrate fundamentally diverse positions. At the time of its unexpected publication and launch at a well-managed Government press conference it seemed that its very complexity was enough to warrant praise and support from commentators who are usually more sceptical and discerning. In the days immediately following its publication it seemed that to analyse the substance of what it is proposed we now do was likely to be portrayed as politically dangerous and unnecessarily divisive. Deputy Lenihan revisited that territory earlier this morning.
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste presented this constitutional proposal as a consensus measure worthy of support. Too often in politics, the mention of political consensus is used to avoid direct and informed political debate on controversial, difficult and sensitive issues. Those issues frequently have a heavy theological overlay. After two decades of parliamentary agonising we should know better and we should confront reality.
The proposed 25th amendment of the Constitution and the Bill to which its proposers intend to give a constitutional status is a morally bankrupt and pernicious Bill. Its political objective has nothing to do with any issue of substance. Its political objective is to enable the Taoiseach say he has delivered or attempted to deliver on his promise to hold a referendum.
That is to shore up political support from his four Fianna Fáil dependent Independents until an election is called and to ensure, should any of them be re-elected as it is anticipated some may be, that when the next Dáil sits the Taoiseach can rely on their support and that they would be available to him should he again attempt to form a Government. That is the sole political purpose of this proposal. If it were not for Deputy Healy-Rae and his colleagues in this House, this proposal would not be before us and were it not for the Government's dependence on four Independents, the proposal would not be before us in the manner in which it is framed.
In terms of the campaign run over the past 20 years by the self-proclaimed pro-life organisations, this proposal is a betrayal of the originally proclaimed objectives of its chief protagonists such as Mr. William Binchy. The original objective of those chief protagonists was to constitutionally prohibit abortion in all circumstances and to prohibit any termination from the moment of conception. This proposal is based on a denial of the principle that life starts from the moment of conception. In the best Orwellian traditions of the book, 1984, it redefines abortion to exclude any termination up to the time of implantation and gives legislative recognition to the fact already constitutionally acknowledged that abortions may be lawfully undertaken where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, except where the risk is posed by suicide. It is my personal view that an abortion should be permissible where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. However, until recently all of the self-proclaimed pro-life groups denied that mothers' lives were ever placed at such risk as to justify a termination of pregnancy. By engaging in word games and semantic gymnastics the Government's proposal hides the fact that it is not delivering the amendment proposal for which the supporters of Mr. Binchy and the Government Independents have campaigned throughout the lifetime of this Government.
Mr. Binchy, who is quietly briefing a select targeted group of TDs in different parties of his happiness with the proposal, is at odds with his former ally, Mr. Justice Rory O'Hanlon, who understandably has denounced the proposal. Mr. Binchy is also at odds with and has caused great confusion for a large number of people who followed his lead in 1983 and in 1992, many of whom are writing to Deputies from the self-proclaimed pro-life perspective urging that this proposal be rejected.
I remind those who look to Mr. William Binchy as the legal guru on this issue that it was he who conceived and gave birth to the original 1983 amendment. It is he who since the "X" case has campaigned for another amendment and claimed it was the Supreme Court, not he, who got it wrong. The reality is that William Binchy and the small group around him have been proved consistently wrong on this issue over a period of 20 years. The advice they are giving to Members of this House and to members of the general public should not be trusted. I say this with regret because I regard Mr. Binchy as a lawyer of great eminence for whom I have much admiration across a broad range of legal learning. Unfortunately, this area is his Achilles heel. Unfortunately, in his pronouncements with regard to this very sensitive and difficult issue, which primarily affects the lives of women, he has been proved consistently wrong.
In 1983, when we had the first debates in this House on constitutional amendments relating to the abortion issue, approximately 2,500 women were recorded as travelling from this State to England to effect pregnancy terminations. In 2001, it is estimated that 6,500 women will travel from this State to England to effect terminations. The objective of the 1983 amendment was to protect life, to discourage abortion, but the reality has proved entirely different. If the Government was serious in trying to encourage women in crisis pregnancies to take other options and not to go the termination route, the package of measures announced, essentially as decoration at the press conference held by the Taoiseach and his Ministers when the constitutional proposal was unexpectedly launched, would have been put in place four years ago. Why were those measures not put in place in 1997, in 1998 or in 1999? If the Government is truly serious about reducing the level of abortion, why have these proposals been produced only in the dying days of the life of this Government? If the Government is serious about encouraging options other than abortion in crisis pregnancies, in the almost five years of this Government's life why has a single step not been taken to modernise our adoption laws to make them more user-friendly to women in crisis pregnancies and to make the option of adoption more attractive to pregnant women who feel they are not in a position to care for a child? The Government has failed to do anything in that regard.
This proposal is bringing us back to the future. We are revisiting Deputy Reynolds's 1992 proposal when he was Taoiseach. Suicidal pregnant teenagers and women are to be denied the possibility of a pregnancy termination here. With great cynicism and a total lack of humanity the Taoiseach has explained, as has his Attorney General in a sort of folksy way, that this is okay because they can all go to England. It is Government social policy that we should export distraught, raped and suicidal teenage girls who wish to terminate a forced pregnancy across the water to preserve a self-delusion of moral superiority. If as a result of rape, a man could become pregnant, I doubt whether any such proposal would be contemplated in this House.
This proposal fails to treat women as people; it treats them as a commodity. As my colleague, Deputy Barnes, said, it treats women as if they cannot be trusted. It is argued that if a raped woman becomes pregnant, the very fact of pregnancy diminishes the possibility of suicide. Finnish research has been cited, but I seriously question that research and this proposition. What research has been undertaken in this State to determine the number of rape victims who have committed suicide? How many women have sustained a pregnancy resulting from rape and in the months or years subsequent to the birth of their child committed suicide? No one knows the answer to that.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of this proposal is the attitude of the Progressive Democrats. In 1992, Progressive Democrat Members of this House stood on their feet in a state of moral outrage to condemn the proposal put to the people in the 1992 referendum to exclude the possibility of a termination where there was a risk of self-destruction. We now have the Progressive Democrats in Government and a former Progressive Democrat Attorney General producing a proposal which simply replicates what occurred in 1992.
The Attorney General's attitude to this is particularly astonishing and deserves some brief examination. It cannot be dealt with to the degree I would like to deal with it today. He states it is impossible to allow terminations to rape victims should they be suicidal or should they not be suicidal but simply rape victims, and he gives reasons. He states that if we did, it would allow any person below the legal age to have an abortion, but if a girl below the legal age is pregnant, it means she is the victim of statutory rape. Are we saying that 12 and 13 year olds who have been raped should not be allowed a termination? It seems we are, but even more astonishingly, the Attorney General claims that if we had to decide a woman was the victim of rape and we allowed a termination, that could jeopardise a fair trial of the person alleged to be the rapist. The Attorney General's logic is that a pregnant suicidal girl or woman who is the victim of rape should be prevented from a pregnancy termination because the alleged rapist, if a termination was allowed, might be denied a fair trial. That reasoning is not only unacceptable but extraordinary.
It is the reasoning of a technical legal mind, lacking insight and humanity. If the majority of women in this country believed we had an Attorney General who thought that way about this issue, this proposal would have no credibility.
Following a woman conceiving as a result of rape, the central issue should not be whether the woman is suicidal. After suffering the trauma of being raped, it is for the pregnant victim with the help of counselling to determine whether to maintain her pregnancy. Having suffered such personal violation, only a barbaric society would deny to a rape victim the opportunity to terminate a pregnancy conceived through rape. If asked whether a woman who has been raped and is pregnant as a result of that rape should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, the vast majority of people in this State would answer "Yes".
And hopefully in this House.
How many male Members of this House would deny to their wife, daughter or partner the possibility of a termination where their wife, daughter or partner had conceived as a consequence of rape? I do not believe many Members would go on public record to say that if their daughter was raped, they would compel her to maintain the pregnancy. Curiously, I have not heard any Members of the House who favour this legislation address that issue in these personal terms, despite the fact that this proposal seeks to ensure that within this State a rape victim should not be allowed the possibility of a termination, even if they are suicidal.
It is 18 years since we addressed this issue in the first abortion referendum. I opposed that proposal at great political cost personally and I am opposed to this proposal. Instead of trying to deny the possibility of termination to suicidal rape victims, be they adult women or teenage girls, we should change our laws in a different direction. We should be mature enough to debate this issue and to allow the pregnant victims of incest or rape the right to a termination in this country where the pregnancy results from incest or rape. For the State to attempt, through constitutional measures, to deny the possibility of termination to a raped pregnant teenager or woman, it can truly be described as State abuse and, in relation to teenagers, State constituted child abuse.
The Government presented this Bill as a means of addressing the concerns of the pro-life lobby. It ends the possibility of a suicidal raped teenager to effect a termination while it claims to be addressing the general concerns of women in providing for terminations in approved hospitals. However, it is worth looking at what the legislation provides. The legislation extends the possibility to a Minister of approving places that may conduct medical procedures to terminate pregnancies where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. However, it provides no guarantee that an order will ever be made by the Government or its successor to approve any hospital or clinic anywhere in the State to carry out any such terminations.
What would the position be if this proposal was successful and this Government or its successor was dependent after the next election on the four Independents who warned that should any hospital or clinic be approved for the carrying out of terminations they will either not support the Government or bring the Government down? This legislation is a charade. It makes a pretence of addressing what is referred to as the substantive issue, to allow for the carrying out of terminations in this State where women's lives are truly at risk, but gives no guarantee that any hospital or clinic will ever be approved for the carrying out of such terminations. The Bill only guarantees to end the possibility of young women who are the victims of rape or young women who are pregnant and suicidal having those pregnancies terminated in this State. In that sense the Bill is a charade.
There is another interesting question. If this Bill is enacted and approval is given for a hospital or clinic to carry out terminations, there is no measure in the Bill for that approval to be withdrawn. I share the views expressed by Deputy Barnes when she criticised the use of the term "social abortions". However, I raise the following proposition for those who wish to engage in that type of language. Should a hospital or clinic be approved, as is envisaged, for the carrying out of terminations, should the medical personnel in that hospital or clinic take a broad view of the circumstances in which terminations can be effected and should they effect what the Attorney General has referred to as social abortions, it is clear that, in the context of this measure being given a constitutional imprimatur in a referendum, there will be no mechanism available to Government to withdraw the approval previously given.
For the above reasons and many others I do not have time to discuss, the Bill should be opposed. I wish to give the Government a warning. There is a suggestion that Committee Stage of this Bill may be taken by the Oireachtas Select Committee on Health and Children instead of on the floor of the House, but that should not happen. Committee Stage of the Bill should be debated on the floor of the House with all Deputies having an opportunity, under the glare of public monitoring, to participate in that debate and to tease out the fundamental and fatal flaws in the proposal.
I am pleased to support a Bill which will give the people of Ireland an opportunity to express their view on abortion. Political research over the past decade has consistently shown that the people stand by their decision in 1983 to provide for a constitutional ban on abortion. If anything, support has grown for that ban since 1983. A new generation of young voters, too young to vote in 1983, will go to the polls to express their support for a constitutional ban on abortion.
The current debate was sparked by the extraordinary judgment in the so-called X case in 1992. It seems perverse to many people that a constitutional wording designed to protect equally the unborn child and its mother could have been interpreted in such a way that the mother could threaten to kill herself and, in effect, her unborn child and use this threat to demand an abortion. It is my opinion, which I express under Dáil privilege as a Member of the Legislature, that no reasonable person could conclude that the people of Ireland or the Oireachtas intended to create any abortion right in passing the eighth amendment in 1983.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled in February 1992 that such an abortion right had been created. That was the court's privilege. It is now our privilege to give the people a chance to right this perceived wrong. When this amendment goes before the people, it will be their privilege to vote "Yes" to it and I will join them in casting a "Yes" vote.
I have used the term "abortion right". Those two words lie at the centre of the decade of debate since 1992. Let us get to the heart of the matter. In our society, as in almost all societies, there is a group of people who actively campaign to introduce abortion on demand. That is the ultimate abortion right. The way in which these people and groups work is to start with a hard case and press for the introduction of a limited abortion right which they then campaign to extend. In Ireland, the tactics of the pro-abortion lobby have been to try, despite the eighth amendment in 1983, to get something, anything, defined as an abortion right. Their main approach has been to attempt to have defined as abortion the long-standing medical practice of intervening to deal with an illness that threatens the life of a pregnant woman, where the treatment has a high probability of causing the death of the child, who would probably die anyway if the mother was not treated. The main reason for the opposition of those who support abortion to this constitutional amendment is that if it is passed, procedures intended to save a woman's life, as opposed to killing an unborn child, would not be defined as abortion.
Those who campaign for limited abortion use the phrase "termination of pregnancy". Pregnancy is the stage of human life between the fertilisation of a conceived human being in the womb and the birth of that human being. This constitutional amendment will prevent the intentional taking of human life during pregnancy. It is clearly and unambiguously anti-abortion.
The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution will continue the unambiguous right of a woman to life during pregnancy, a unique phase of life during which two human beings physically co-exist, each with an equal right to life. When a medical threat to one or both lives occurs, very difficult decisions have to be made. The threat must be addressed with the intention of saving both lives, but unfortunately one life may be lost. Very often the unborn child, the weaker of the two, will not make it through. The death of the child in such circumstances is a different moral situation, however, to the deliberate destruction of the child. As medical interventions during pregnancy are intended to save life and not to kill it, these interventions are not murder and cannot be referred to as abortion. This Bill intends to facilitate the practice of such medical interventions. Natural occurrences lead to the need for medical intervention. There can be no question of the bona fides of an intervention that is made in response to the diagnosis of a serious physical problem. In plain language, such a problem cannot be put on for the purpose of procuring a social abortion.
Much has been said about the rare cases of ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilised egg does not reach the womb, rests in the fallopian tubes and develops there. Action has to be taken in such circumstances as the unborn child will not survive in the tubes and the mother may also die. The key point is that action should be taken to save life. The proposed amendment makes clear that intervention may happen in such cases without being seen to constitute abortion.
There is no threat to the life of a woman in the twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution, but there is a ban on abortion when a woman threatens her own life. If constitutional law allowed it, it would be the easiest thing in the world for a woman to announce that she is suicidal and to threaten to commit suicide if she cannot have an abortion. The Medical Council has protected this country from the introduction of such social abortions. I regret that the council has been targeted recently by the pro-abortion lobby, which tried to overturn the council's long-standing guidelines in a ham-fisted manner. The Medical Council should not have to hold the front line against abortion as that is our job as legislators, as Members of the Oireachtas. We have been elected by the people, to whom we will have to answer next year. Those of us opposed to abortion have put the onus on the Medical Council. We have asked doctors to take the main stand.
Those of us on the Government side have taken a courageous stand to tackle this issue as legislators in a democratic manner, as desired by the people. Great credit is due to the Taoiseach for his leadership on this issue. The Government has taken time to think carefully about this issue. Deputy Brian Lenihan has played a key role in the process and it has been shown beyond doubt that his recommendations reflect the will of the public for a referendum on life. Members of Fianna Fáil have seriously doubted the resolve of the party and the Government to tackle this problem. Suspicion had started to build up against politicians as a result of years of delay and debate, but I hope people now clearly see that we will not let them down. Particular tribute is due not only to the Taoiseach and Deputy Brian Lenihan, but also to Deputies from the Progressive Democrats Party, who have displayed decisiveness. Although it is seen as a liberal party, it has put the democratic wishes of the people above the personal views of individual members. Deputies from that party will be seen as greater statesmen and stateswomen as a result.
Such decisive leadership in an election year contrasts with the behaviour of the Opposition. I give credit to the leader of the Labour Party for announcing a clear policy favouring abortion in certain circumstances, although I oppose it. The problem faced by Deputy Quinn is that his party's policy directly defies the democratic expression of opinion at its conference. Members of the Labour Party voted to make it party policy to support abortion on demand. It is clear to all that the Fine Gael Party is incapable of demonstrating leadership on any matter related to the liberal agenda, as there are two totally polarised viewpoints within the party. It is united only in its defunct policy of civil war politics on the North and by its anti-Fianna Fáil tendencies. At least two Fine Gael Members of the Oireachtas from Dublin have based their political careers directly on their promotion of a pro-abortion stance. At the other end of the country, Fine Gael Oireachtas Members are completely pro-life. The result is that Fine Gael is incapable of taking a stand as a united party.
I wish to raise a point of order.
Acting Chairman (Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin): I will allow the point of order.
Deputy O'Flynn has departed from the script that somebody else has prepared for him to accuse two Dublin Fine Gael Deputies of conducting pro-abortion campaigns. I ask him to withdraw such a ridiculous and incorrect remark. He should stick to the script that somebody else has prepared for him.
The leader of Fine Gael introduced the abortion information—
Will the Deputy withdraw the remark?
May I continue with my speech?
Yes, as the point of order has been made.
I assure the House that nobody prepared this speech for me, as I have been working on it for a long time.
I ask the Chair to ask Deputy O'Flynn to withdraw the remark.
Deputy O'Flynn should be allowed to continue.
Deputy Bradford's party leader, who introduced the abortion information Bill, is doing his best to fudge the question in a smoke screen of questions.
The Taoiseach has not answered the questions.
They are designed to divide the pro-life camp and to cause confusion. I would like to know what Deputy Noonan is doing, as it is unclear whether he is pro-life or pro-abortion. His questions to the Taoiseach come from all angles. Where is Fine Gael coming from? I would like to see pro-life Fine Gael Deputies join me in the voting lobby to support this Bill.
That is awful hypocrisy.
I am aware that this issue cost Frank Crowley his seat in the Cork North-West constituency in the last election, as disgusted Fine Gael voters in that constituency switched in droves to Fianna Fáil candidates. They were disappointed by Fine Gael concessions to the liberal agenda of the Labour Party. Some smaller parties and Independent Deputies have questions to answer on abortion. I am grateful for the support of four Independent colleagues, Deputies Fox, Blaney, Gildea and Healy-Rae on this matter, but people would be foolish to conclude that all Independents are pro-life.
Some campaigners speak of a woman's right to choose, but to choose what? If they mean a woman's right to choose abortion, why do they not say so openly? Most Irish people do not believe that a person has the right to take the life of another, but they believe that a woman has the right to choose whether to become pregnant. Our society supports that right to choose, provided it is exercised with regard to conception. There are differences of opinion regarding whether it is morally right to use artificial contraception and about the morality of forms of contraception which operate after conception, which are known as abortifacients. I will say more about this issue later. Those who oppose artificial contraception accept that a woman has the right to choose whether to become pregnant. There are differences of opinion regarding the freedom of choice that should be allowed when a woman's right to choose not to become pregnant has been violated. Severe sanctions are imposed on those who commit such violations. In the last decade, the concept of rape within marriage has been introduced by this House, precisely to support women's right to choose. As a crime, rape is considered as second in seriousness only to murder.
There can be no question, therefore, about our support of the right to choose whether to become pregnant. Most people, however, will not support the right to a change of mind, at the cost of a human life, after pregnancy has occurred. There can be no moral justification for such a decision. Some campaigners talk of the terrible situation when a woman has been raped and becomes pregnant against her will. As I have said, our society sees this as the most serious crime that can be committed against a human being, with the exception of murder. It stands to reason, therefore, that we cannot condone the murder of an innocent unborn child, even in such terrible circumstances. Most people oppose abortion in the case of a pregnancy as a result of rape. We show support for women's rights by helping to pursue rapists, but we cannot do so by killing innocent children.
What about suicide? Suicide may be a complex issue with many different causes. What was so wrong about the X case judgment was that it took the safety of an unborn human life out of the domain of medical judgments on medical threats to the mother's life and that of her child and into the domain of psychiatric assessment and even psychology in some cases. It was based, ultimately, on what a woman in a distressed state of mind was prepared to threaten to get her own way on abortion. It is quite clear that the pro-abortion people would make it known that certain psychiatrists who would be considered as pro-abortion could be relied upon to certify that a woman had suicidal tendencies to allow her the constitutional right to an abortion to be carried out in Ireland. She would, of course, be certified as having recovered from the suicidal tendencies once the abortion was performed. One might call it the pro-abortion Irish solution to an Irish problem.
The purpose of the twenty-fifth amendment is to put a stop to that route to abortion. There is no secret about this. The X case effectively permitted social abortion, which those of us who support this amendment are trying to stop. It is as simple as that. The opponents to the holding of this referendum oppose it for one reason only. They are convinced that it will be passed by the people. To deny the people a referendum on a proposal in the knowledge that they would approve that proposal would be a fundamental denial of democracy, yet there are people in this House who oppose the concept of holding a referendum on this proposal. If they oppose it, let them campaign on that basis to get people to vote against it. However, there are serious questions about the commitment to democracy of anybody in this House who opposes the idea of putting this matter to the people for decision in a referendum.
Those on the pro-life side have raised questions about abortifacients and stem cell research. The issue of stem cell research and cloning, as well as conception by artificial means outside the womb, raises other issues of a pro-life nature. Catholic teaching in relation to these questions is followed by most people in this country and that teaching simply states that these techniques are morally wrong as interference in the natural process of conception. There is a significant minority within the Catholic Church who would disagree to varying extents with this teaching. The situation is probably similar with the stance adopted by other Christian churches and other faiths – there are those who disagree to a varying extent. There is no legislative one-stop-shop or one size fits all proposal to safeguard human life after conception. Issues will continue to arise which will require debate and considered action.
Although I am a Catholic and have no inhibitions about advocating Christian values in society, I would be disappointed if Christians of various denominations were the only people to support this ban on abortion. This a human rights issue for everybody, for people of every faith and none, for people of many religions, just as it a religious moral issue for me as a Catholic. However, people of no religion also have moral values. I would strongly encourage people who do not profess a religious belief, but who agree with the arguments against social abortion to join with Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and other Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faiths in taking a pro-life stand at the referendum by voting "Yes." This is not a Catholic sectarian issue. If anybody has any doubts about this, they should ask Unionist politicians in the North what their policy on abortion is. On that point I hope we will not have to suffer listening to the nonsense about having a sectarian constitution in the Republic. Anyone who trots out that nonsense in support of a "No" vote does not deserve a hearing.
The right tone for me to set in this debate is to say that I respect the honestly held views of those who argue that abortion is acceptable, but I strongly disagree with them. I believe I speak for a large majority of the people of Ireland, North and South, in saying that. I will vote in favour of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. I will actively campaign for a "Yes" vote in the subsequent referendum. I am clear that this measure only bans abortion and does not tackle some other pro-life concerns. It is intended only to solve the abortion problem.
I am disappointed that Deputy Bradford has had to leave. I obviously touched a nerve when I mentioned pro-life and pro-abortion Members of the Oireachtas in the Fine Gael Party. I thought I heard mutterings from some of them already today during the debate. I am sure we will hear more from pro-lifers, especially from the southern part of the country, who probably share my views. I apologise if I have upset him in any way, but one is entitled to express one's view.
(Dublin West): I am opposed to the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. It has one purpose only, to overturn the 1992 ruling of the Supreme Court in the X case in which it stated that termination of pregnancy was allowed by the Irish Constitution when there was a substantial risk that continuation of a pregnancy could pose a serious threat to the life of the woman through self-destruction.
The only change this Bill makes is to make illegal such a termination in such circumstances and therefore its effect is that the death by suicide of a woman is acceptable to the Government and preferable to the ending of the pregnancy which caused the state of mind that would trigger suicide. The Bill cannot, therefore, claim to protect human life in pregnancy because, stated at its most extreme, it elevates a fertilised embryo of some days old and virtually invisible to a pre-eminent position over the life of an adult woman. Even in the terms of the Government's own reasoning there is much absurdity in this because, according to it, it is fine to attempt to expel from the body of a woman before implantation a fertilised embryo that may have been some days in existence, but as soon as implantation has occurred, with virtually no difference in the state of the embryo, it becomes a serious crime to be prohibited, if the Government has its way, by the Constitution.
The only change the Bill introduces is to make illegal a woman's choice to have an abortion in the case of a threat or danger of suicide. It does not deal with the trauma of the thousands of women who end crisis pregnancies each year by travelling to Britain. It recognises existing practices, including the use of the intra-uterine device and postcoital applications. It, therefore, has nothing to do with the interests of women or morality. Its purpose is naked political opportunism.
The Government believes it can copperfasten a small percentage of the conservative vote in the forthcoming general election and in that way make a bid to improve its chances of holding on to power after the next general election. It is quite incredible that the Progressive Democrats Party, which styles itself as a party of democrats and liberals, fully supports this proposal which has undoubtedly come primarily from Fianna Fáil. They do not, on this issue, deserve their title of Progressive Democrats, if they ever had a right to it. Pathetic Democrats would be more appropriate.
There is naked hypocrisy in the Government's approach to the trauma suffered by thousands of women. The Taoiseach in presenting the Bill said:
In the last few days we have had further confirmation of the 6,500 occasions in the last year alone when women, giving an Irish address, have had abortions in Britain – about 18 women every single day of the year. Each of these stories is a cause of sadness in itself. Each of these stories demands a fair, compassionate and honest response from all of us.
What is the fair, compassionate and honest response from the Taoiseach and the Government? It is to criminalise every woman who opts to terminate a pregnancy should she attempt to do so in the State rather than travelling to Britain. It is hardly honest and compassionate to threaten a woman with 12 years in jail at the most distressing time in her life. A woman, for example, in desperate circumstances, who tries to self-administer an abortion to end a crisis pregnancy and who ends up in a hospital in the State because things go horribly wrong will be at the centre of a criminal investigation as a result of what the Government is proposing in the Bill. It raises a big question about the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, which I will speak about later, which is supposed to give aid, comfort, counselling and support to women who seek support and who have terminated a pregnancy. If that termination is carried out in the State in violation of the criminalisation policy of the Government, is the agency to which that woman turns obliged to notify the Director of Public Prosecutions that a crime has been carried out in the State, which would merit 12 years in prison, and is the DPP obliged to investigate and bring charges? That question should be answered by the Minister in his reply.
The Taoiseach claims the Government is providing an honest response and then he proceeds to enshrine blatant dishonesty in legislation. Section 1 decrees that an abortion is not an abortion because the Government does not wish it to be characterised as an abortion. Section 1 states that abortion "does not include the carrying out of a medical procedure by a medical practitioner at an approved place in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended where that procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the practitioner, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life other than by self-destruction". What does that mean?
Abortion takes place in Ireland in registered hospitals by eminent obstetricians when that need arises. In November 2000 at the public hearings of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution the master of the Rotunda Hospital made clear the position in that regard. He was frank and honest because he must deal with the real situation and not the fiction which politicians on the Government side create to try to gain political advantage and solve political problems. As regards terminations carried out to save the life of a woman in maternity hospitals, he said:
Personally, I think that you are better to be up front and clean about this and say that the pregnancy is being aborted. That is the treatment. It's not that it is a side effect of the treatment, it's not that it's an unintentional side effect of the treatment. The treatment is you end the pregnancy. That is I think abortion.
Yet the Government has stated that is not abortion because it knows it cannot ban abortion in those circumstances. However, if abortion is right in this circumstance, why is it not right in other extenuating circumstances? That is why the Government tries to say abortion is not abortion in certain situations it knows it cannot ban.
As regards suicide, we have an incredible situation where the Government puts the life of a woman at a much lower standing than the embryo she is carrying. Those who wish to enshrine this in legislation are eager to play down the possi bility of women in crisis pregnancies committing suicide. Happily, it is not a common occurrence, but it is a possibility and it should be provided for in law. The master of the Rotunda Hospital, when dealing with this point, said:
In medicine it is very dangerous to say things don't happen. I certainly was of that opinion but last year – the first time again – we had a woman – I had never seen it before – was brought into hospital, attempted suicide quite far on in the pregnancy, and it was a very serious suicide attempt, so it can happen. When you are dealing with humans you simply can't say it never will happen.
There is a real and substantial risk to the life of some women from suicide because of crisis pregnancies, but the Government wants to trample on the right of a woman to safely terminate a pregnancy in such a situation. It is justifiable that the woman has the right to choose a termination in other cases. There is no question about it in the case of rape. If there is a violent attack on a woman, which is a crime of unspeakable proportion to begin with, and that crime is compounded by the woman becoming pregnant as a result, it is monstrous to force her to continue with such a pregnancy. It is reprehensible that a male dominated Parliament would seek to compel a woman in the State to continue with such a horrific pregnancy in such circumstances. A woman is justified in choosing to terminate a pregnancy which is caused by the violent acts of a man. Let no one be in any doubt that if the male species was transmogrified overnight and could become pregnant, the male dominated Parliament in the State would not compel men to carry the pregnancy through to a conclusion in the event of rape.
As regards incest, particularly of young children, it is entirely justifiable that the woman concerned should have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy which occurs in such tragic and criminal circumstances. If a woman opts not to terminate, every support should be made available to her. All counselling, psychological and financial aids should be provided but if a woman wishes to terminate a pregnancy, that must be respected.
The Bill is laced with hypocrisy and goes as far as to state categorically that the right to travel to avail of an abortion in another state or the right to information in regard to abortion facilities in other jurisdictions are not interfered with. The Government's message in the legislation is to point the way to England for the thousands who experience crisis pregnancies in Ireland on a yearly basis. England is used by the Government and the Establishment as the convenient safety valve to deal with the problem they do not want to address and to allow women with crisis pregnancies to escape this jurisdiction.
If England or any other jurisdiction with safe facilities for terminating pregnancies for women who opt to do so did not exist, Ireland would be faced with a different dilemma which the Government of the day or the Establishment could not escape because it would then be faced with the horrific reality of unsafe and back street abortions resulting in the deaths of women or the crippling of their health permanently. Undoubtedly, there would be an outcry that this would have to stop, even by those who find it morally difficult or objectionable to countenance abortion. A total of 80,000 women die each year as a result of complications from unsafe or back street abortions. Most die in the poorer areas of the world ruled by dictatorial regimes where abortion is banned and abortion facilities are not provided as of right.
Abortion is a difficult issue. I respect fully that many people have moral objections and in their own case would never choose to have an abortion. Their choice should be fully resourced and supported but, equally, the only solution to this problem is that the choice must be left to the woman at the centre of the problem. It is repulsive to again hear Fianna Fáil politicians and others loosely tripping off their tongues terms such as "the danger of social abortion", "abortion on demand", etc., trivialising what is at any time, no matter what is one's view, an extremely difficult and painful decision for a woman.
Politicians should read the stories of women in the book, Irish Journey, which was published recently. Above all else they speak about the silence imposed on them regarding the trauma they have gone through and the difficulties they had. They are condemned largely to silence because of the hypocrisy of the Establishment. A total of 100,000 women have made the journey abroad over the past 20 years. A substantial number of people, including partners and families, have had to deal with the reality of abortion as opposed to the theory. It is time we faced up to the issue honestly.
Committee Stage must be taken in the House so that there is adequate time for every Member who wishes to contribute. If the referendum takes place, the constitutional amendment will be defeated in the same way as the Nice referendum by a combination of those who are opposed to the criminalisation of women envisaged in the Bill and a collection of the more conservative elements in society who object for their own reasons. It will, therefore, be a wasted exercise.
I finally turn to the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. There should be an agency and every support for crisis pregnancies but I condemn the fact that the establishment of the agency was delayed to coincide with the presentation of the anti-abortion Bill, when it could have been established years ago to support women facing these difficult circumstances. That was done again for political reasons to pretend that the agency was dependent on the legislation being passed. That is not the case and the agency could stand on its own. It should be properly resourced and brought into being immediately.
I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. This is the first opportunity for a legislative response to this most difficult and emotive of issues since the X case in 1992. Most Members agree the legislative position has been unsatisfactory since 1992 and getting to the stage where the House could debate legislation on the matter has been a long and tortuous path.
The issue has been extensively discussed and considered by the all-party committee on the Constitution. The committee took the advised road of inviting detailed submissions from interested parties. I was a member of the committee and there was an intense interest in the subject. The number of submissions meant that the committee secretariat was very busy for a long period during the hearings. The decision to provide concerned members of the public and the legal and medical professions with an opportunity to make individual submissions to the committee was very good. It took a long time to get through all of them but at the end of the day the subject was so serious that it would have been very wrong for a committee of the House to short circuit the debate and not provide people with their first opportunity to make their case to Oireachtas Members.
As one who espouses the view that we should have a civilised society where there is clear and adequate protection for the unborn, I am pleased the Government has decided to introduce the legislation and, ultimately, to afford the electorate the opportunity to adjudicate on the subject. There were emotive debates on abortion in 1983 and 1992 and this is probably the final opportunity for the necessary constitutional amendment to be agreed by the electorate. The electorate wants the opportunity to air its collective voice. The Government made a wise decision to produce legislation and, by so doing, give the people the benefit of the debate in the House before the referendum is put to them. I hope this decision will be vindicated.
This legislation seeks to protect best medical practice in this area. It also seeks to provide for a prohibition on abortion and to underpin that position by way of a constitutional amendment. In any man's language, this is a laudable objective on the part of the Minister. Those who predict that the referendum will be rejected by the electorate will have to wait and see.
There is a diversity of views among Members on this issue and one can appreciate the depth of emotion which reflects the position outside this House. However, in the final analysis we are talking about the protection of those in the most vulnerable and least advantaged position to protect their own lives, namely, the unborn. We are balancing this objective with ensuring that the best medical practice and treatment can be provided for pregnant women. The underlying and core objective of this legislation is to get that balance right.
I am not sure if he interpreted it as a danger, but Deputy Joe Higgins referred to the issue of social abortion. Few, if any, Members would wish a situation to develop in which abortion was freely available and where the phrase "social abortion" became common currency in the political arena. That would be undesirable and would quickly lead to a breakdown and lowering of standards in what is a reasonably civilised society.
Having studied the hearings held by the constitutional committee and listened to the debate in the House, I am satisfied the Government has taken the right decision by bringing forward this legislation and underpinning it by way of a constitutional amendment to be endorsed by the people. It strikes a balance on this issue, while ensuring that this remains a civilised society and a beacon for other communities across Europe. If we are to give a lead in this direction we should not have to apologise to anyone for the stance we take.
I support this legislation and hope it is passed. I also hope the referendum will be endorsed by the people.
I oppose this Bill. My party and I are opposed to the Government's attempt to foist on the people another referendum on abortion. I am opposed to the proposed amendment to the Constitution which is contained in the Bill and which will reduce the equal right to life of mothers which is part of the Constitution. I am also opposed to the Bill's attempt to overturn the decision made by the people in a referendum in 1992 arising from the Supreme Court's judgment in the X case.
It is something of a cliché to state that people do not want another referendum on abortion. I believe this is generally the case, although I acknowledge that some people want another referendum. However, that is not the reason this Bill is before the House. The Bill is before the House because Deputies Fox, Blaney, Healy-Rae and Gildea want a referendum on abortion. These Deputies have made the holding of such a referendum a condition of their continued support for the Government. That is the sole reason this Bill is before the House.
This proposal is before the House because the Taoiseach promised the four Independents who support the Government that he would hold a referendum on abortion in return for their continued and loyal support. To be fair to the Taoiseach, when he makes a political deal, he keeps it. However, this Bill and the proposed referendum on abortion are products of a political deal.
In essence, what is happening is that Deputy Fox is prepared to come into this House and stand shoulder to shoulder with her constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, over his lamentable handling of the Sellafield and nuclear safety issues, provided she gets a referendum on abortion. Deputy Healy-Rae is prepared to vote for the dismantling of parts of the local government system to which he has given a lifetime of service, provided he gets a referendum on abortion. Deputies Blaney and Gildea are prepared to vote with the Government on health, education and other issues about which they would normally be concerned in their constituencies, provided they get a referendum on abortion.
I normally take political deals and their consequences with a degree of equanimity. However, we must oppose such deals when their price and currency is to play some kind of coalition roulette with the lives of women and mothers. The price of this referendum and this political deal will be paid by women for generations to come.
I am particularly surprised by the Progressive Democrats' participation in this squalid deal. I could not believe my eyes and ears when the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, attended the Government's press conference to advocate support for this referendum. If the referendum goes before the people, I would find it hard to believe that Deputy O'Donnell would go into the privacy of a polling booth and vote for it. If that is the case, I do not understand how she can come into this House and vote for it.
Neither can I understand the position of Deputy O'Malley. When this issue was before the people ten years ago, he stated:
We must be willing to consider the fact that some very unusual suicide case may arise where a woman cannot for some reason or another leave the jurisdiction and where a real and unavoidable risk of self-destruction exists. For example, a young pregnant girl may become severely anorexic after a multiple rape.
Does the Deputy have a reference for the quotation?
I will supply that reference. The Deputy continued: "Such a girl with her unborn could be condemned by this amendment with the hands of the Supreme Court tied, thus preventing any sensible intervention to save her life." Nothing has changed since then. This Bill is about removing suicide as a grounds or justification for availing of an abortion. Deputy O'Malley was so strong on this issue almost ten years ago, yet we are led to believe that his party will support this proposal in the House.
Similarly, I cannot believe that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, will vote in favour of this measure. Close observers of exchanges in this House will have noted the significant differences in the replies given by the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Harney, as to whether this referendum will be held. The Taoiseach stated that the referendum will go ahead and indicated it will take place next February. This appears to be the case as we are debating the Bill in November. However, Deputy Harney seems to be implying that no agreement has been made on the date for the referendum and that it may not be held. It appears the Pro gressive Democrats, embarrassed by the support they have given to this measure to date, are now seeking refuge in not having the amendment put to the people.
The Constitution is not the place to deal with an issue which is as complex and, ultimately, as personal as abortion. I was opposed to the 1983 referendum and campaigned against it. I have opposed the holding of another referendum and I believe legislation should be introduced to give effect to the X case decision. I very much recall the debate in 1983. During the course of it when it was argued that exceptional circumstances might arise, when cases like the X case and C case, which eventually occurred, were being postulated and when it was suggested that they would cause enormous legal, constitutional and human difficulties, those who supported the referendum argued that these cases could not happen. The argument that it cannot happen is again a feature of the debate we are having at present.
The essence of the current proposal is to remove suicide as a grounds on which an abortion may be permitted. I find it astonishing that this is being seriously considered. Is it being suggested that illness or risk to life comes only in physical form? Surely after 100 years of the separate discipline of scientific psychology and after a couple of 100 years of psychiatric medicine, it must be recognised that there are behavioural, psychological and mental factors which may give rise to a risk to life. Is it also being suggested that medical practitioners are only to be entrusted with decisions in these matters where their practice relates to physical medicine and not to the practice of behavioural or psychiatric medicine?
If, for example, a woman presents as suicidal no matter what the circumstances – for example, a woman who may be very seriously mentally ill – it is now being included in our legislation and with the force of the Constitution that medical practitioners may not intervene in that pregnancy no matter what the risk to her life. No matter how one can dance on the head of the pin, that is reducing the rights of that woman and the so-called equal right to life of that mother. That relates to what is being excluded by the Bill. However, we also have to look at what is in the Bill and what we propose to put in our Constitution.
Up to now abortion has been regarded as a physical operative procedure performed usually a number of weeks into pregnancy and performed in a medical facility or hospital. That situation is changing due to two developments, in particular. First, pregnancy testing can now be undertaken at a much earlier stage of the pregnancy and, second, post implantation pills are now being developed – some have already been developed and are available – the effect of which is to induce a termination of pregnancy. I suppose, and without being flippant about it, what is being developed is probably the 21st century version of the bottle of gin and the hot bath.
Let us move a number of years forward. The abortion response, if one can put it that way, to a crisis pregnancy will not be what our experience of it has been to date – in other words, the pregnancy test takes place two or three weeks into the pregnancy, there is a number of weeks of agonising by the woman about what she is going to do and then she makes an arrangement to have a physical abortion in a facility in the United Kingdom. In ten years' time or probably much earlier than that – arguably even now – a pregnancy test will take place within a couple of days of pregnancy and a pill will be available which will induce a termination of pregnancy.
Let us look at what is in the Bill and how it responds to that. The Bill defines that as an abortion because it states that abortion means the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation. What that means is that the taking of a pill in those circumstances would be regarded as an abortion. The Bill then goes on to define that as an offence which is punishable on conviction by up to 12 years in prison. Let us think about what we are putting not only into the legislation proposed here but into legislation which will have the force of the Constitution and which cannot be changed without a change in the Constitution. We are going to create a criminal offence that can put a woman in prison for 12 years for taking a pill which will induce a termination of pregnancy. We are not just saying that – we are going further. What is being proposed is that if one attempts to do so, one will also be guilty of an offence. For example, a woman who has the pill in her handbag could be charged and convicted under this legislation because section 2(2) states, "For the purposes of this section, a person shall be presumed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of his or her conduct;". Similarly, a doctor who assists a woman or who prescribes the pill would be guilty of an offence.
Let us deal with the "it cannot happen" scenario. Given the way life goes on in this country and the way society sometimes deals with these things, even if this provision is put into the Constitution, we all know women are taking the abortion pill, as it may be called, and life carries on. What happens if a complication arises? Sometimes people can have a bad reaction to taking a particular pill or form of medicine. If a woman has a bad reaction and goes to her doctor, what happens then? Is the doctor required to report that a woman who has come to his surgery has taken a pill which is illegal not only under law but under the Constitution? What happens if a garda searching a woman's handbag under other legislation finds she has a pill which is not just banned in law but banned by our Constitution? If this legislation and referendum are passed, we will find ourselves back to the X case all over again. We will find ourselves in a situation where a women will be charged with an offence under this legislation for having taken the pill, about to take it or having it in her handbag and a file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Do not tell me it will not happen. It happened in the X case. The unexpected and the so-called impossible scenario materialised. If charges are brought, we will all sit around and hope the judge who hears the trial of the action will use his or her good judgment and common sense. We will all hope that not only will the woman not receive a 12 year sentence but that she will not even receive a 12 month or even a 12 week sentence for this offence. If a woman is sent to jail for even a day under this legislation, the telephone lines to Joe Duffy and Marian Finucane will be jammed. The telephone lines to every Member of this House will be jammed with people asking us what we will do about it. The reality is that by then, we will not be able to do anything because we will not be dealing with legislation but, according to this proposal, with the Constitution. It will be enshrined and embedded in the Constitution and it will not be able to be changed without another referendum.
I understand and respect that there are differing views on the subject of abortion and that it is a complex and difficult issue that gives rise to complex and difficult ethical considerations. I ask Deputies, however, whether they agree that a woman should be sent to jail for 12 years for taking an abortion pill or for having an abortion of any kind. I put the same question, through this House, to organisations and individuals who urge us to have another referendum on abortion and place a complete ban on it. Do they agree with the proposal that women should be sent to prison for 12 years or for any period of time for terminating a pregnancy?
This is not an abstract question because the provision in the Bill is black and white. Section 2(3) states that a person who contravenes section 2(3)(1), or attempts to do so, or aids, abets, counsels or procures any other person to do so, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 years or a fine or both.
I do not agree that women should be sent to prison for terminating a pregnancy. I do not agree that we should create in this House criminal law which, by definition, applies to only one gender. Not only that, but it is criminal law which is to be enshrined in the Constitution. No matter what circumstances arise, no matter what opinions we may form in the future about the offence which is alleged to have been committed or the decision of a judge in a court case, we will not be able to change it in this House, as we would any other criminal law, except by way of a change to the Constitution.
I urge the Government to rethink this proposal and withdraw it. In particular, I appeal to Progressive Democrats Members, who do not support this proposal unless they have had a most extraordinary change of mind, to oppose and vote against it. This is not something that should be put to the people. If it is, it should be defeated.
This is a proposition that should be put to the people who are the final arbiters, especially on issues such as this. We should trust them, whichever way they vote. For the past 20 years Members of this House and those outside have been well aware of the concerns expressed on all sides of the issue. It would be a failing on our part if we continued to ignore the problem and the views expressed in society.
Despite what Deputy Gilmore said, the Government did not depend on the support of Independent Deputies before it made the decision to put a referendum to the people. It was a matter discussed prior to the last election when we gave a commitment that it would be considered when we came to power. The Government did not set out to arbitrarily bring forward its own propositions, but established an all-party committee which did tremendous research and took great time before bringing its report to Government. It was well attended and assiduously supported by its members during the years that it sat. It listened to an unprecedented number of submissions from all sectors of society. It came up with three different proposals rather than one decision. The Bill before us is based on the proposal that the Government has decided to put to the people.
The Bill was launched in October. It addresses the complex issues surrounding the protection of human life. It is important to remember that it is about protection. Listening to some contributions it would be easy to believe that it is about the destruction of human life, which is far from the truth. As it protects unborn human life, it ensures pregnant women will continue to have access to all necessary medical treatment if problems arise in the course of their pregnancy. This is one of the issues that helped defeat the previous referendum when it was felt that women would not have access to all necessary medical treatment if problems arose during their pregnancy. The Bill recognises this and should take away some of the fears present during the previous referendum campaign. Medical people acknowledge this.
Irish maternity services have a high reputation. The Government is anxious that the law should protect best medical practice and remove any doubt about the legality of treatment that doctors may consider necessary when rare life-threatening medical conditions occur during pregnancy. This is something of which people must be informed. It must be made clear that best medical practice is available to those with problems during pregnancy. This is important for men also. Some imply that fathers have no interest in their wives or their children, but I do not hold to that theory. Both fathers and mothers have deep worries if anything goes wrong, although the mother will, naturally, have more contact with the child. This protection of best medical practice should take away concerns and the misconceptions about what will happen if the Bill is passed.
Since coming to office the Government has engaged in exploring the issues in depth. It has listened to many individuals and organisations. Up to 100,000 submissions were made detailing views on the protection of unborn life. It considered ways of moving forward which can command the support of the people. It would have been wrong and a waste of time if it brought forward a proposition which was not well thought out and feasible in order that it might have a chance of success if put to the people. That success will be for the best possible motive – the protection of human life.
The Government is aware that addressing constitutional and legal issues may have little impact on Irish women who choose to travel abroad for abortions. Many of those who participated in the consultation and discussion process which preceded the production of the Green Paper and later the report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution have recognised this also. The study, Women and Crisis Pregnancy, commissioned by the Department of Health and Children and carried out by the department of sociology in Trinity College, was very useful in providing an understanding of the factors leading to crisis pregnancy and the experiences of women in this situation.
The All-Party Committee on the Constitution identified a range of issues to be addressed in a strategy to combat crisis pregnancy. It also pointed out that several Departments, State bodies and voluntary organisations have responsibilities for aspects of these issues. The complexity of the programmes needed and the co-ordination necessary for their success requires a single planning focus. It proposed the establishment of an agency to draw up a strategy to combat crisis pregnancies, promote options other than abortion where a crisis occurs and provide post-abortion services. The agency would also have responsibility for overseeing implementation of the strategy.
Having considered the recommendation of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, the Government decided to set up a statutory agency to be known as the crisis pregnancy agency. Some £6.5 million is being provided by the Government to fund this new agency which will be established initially for a period of ten years. Not only will it deal with the health sector, but also with education, employment and housing. It is important for the agency to be all-encompassing, especially for the many single women who become pregnant. They not only require health care but also education, employment and housing.
Preventative issues concerning the education of young people and adults, as well as services appropriate to their needs and lifestyles, will be addressed. Much concern has been expressed about the need to make women more aware of their options should they experience a crisis pregnancy, to enable them to consider these carefully and to assist them before making decisions about the course of action they want to take. This is another major area which will be addressed by the new agency.
One of the conundrums in our society, where levels of education are higher than ever before and so much information is imparted via the mass media, is that many young people are not aware of the facilities available to help them in times of crisis. I hope the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will help to reduce these deficiencies.
I wish to refer to another issue which was highlighted in the report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. Concern was expressed that legislation on abortion might have implications for the use of the morning after pill. The All-Party Committee on the Constitution felt that legal uncertainties that might exist with regard to the morning after pill should be removed. These treatments are intended to prevent pregnancy and, as such, do not come within the definition of abortion as set out in the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill. This legislation will, therefore, remove any doubts about the legality of emergency contraception in the form of the morning after pill and the IUD. The question of licensing any particular medicinal products will remain a matter for the Irish Medicines Board, the independent agency with responsibility in this area.
The Bill would overturn the Supreme Court decision in the X case, including suicide as a ground for abortion and other aspects of the judgment which could introduce wide-ranging abortion services. It would recriminalise deliberate, intentional abortion for anyone who aids or abets it and would differentiate between abortion and cases where the baby may die or be harmed by treatment necessary to save the life of the mother, but where practicable effort must be made to preserve the baby's life. This is the first time this has been done anywhere in the world. It could be argued that the legislation is unattractively written and off-putting, but essentially it does the job it was intended to do and will be a definite brake on the development of an abortion culture in Ireland.
Even though, theoretically, Ireland has had abortion since 1992, no legal abortions have been performed here due to the strict guidelines of the Medical Council as adopted in 1993 and 1998. However, things are changing and that may not hold in the future. That is one of the reasons it is necessary to have a legal underpinning for current medical practice.
I would ask some people who are opposed to abortion and misunderstand the proposals to study them carefully and consider the consequences of rejection. If the referendum proposal were to be defeated it is most probable that abortions along the lines of the X case would follow some time in the future, and the situation may be further liberalised by court action if this loophole is not closed. I recommend to those individuals to heed what the Pope said in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which stated:
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where the logistical vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law aimed at limiting the number of authorised abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Voting for such law does not in fact represent an illicit co-operation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
People should take note of that pronouncement by the Pope. Some misinformation has been spread concerning the Bill, some of it through misunderstanding and some deliberate. Wild stories have been spread: that the Bill redefines life as starting at implantation, but it does not; that it redefines the word "unborn" and leaves the way open for experimentation on human embryos, but it does not; and some even say that it allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. It does absolutely none of these things and people who make such statements should be challenged.
I wish to make some comments on suicide in pregnancy as that issue is being bandied about a lot by those opposed to the legislation. Suicide is a rare event and the suicide rate in Ireland is approximately ten per 100,000 per annum. The risk of suicide during the year following attempted suicide is approximately 1%, which is about 100 times that of the general population.
The most identifiable risk factors are: male sex; aged over 45 years; unemployment or retirement; living alone; receiving medical treatment within the previous six months; or having a pre-existing psychiatric disorder.
Pregnancy is not a risk factor in suicide. Pregnancy reduces the overall risk of suicide compared with the sector of the population that is not pregnant. In a study in the US, the estimated suicide rate for specific groups was: 0.6 per 100,000 pregnant women; 3.5 per 100,000 non-pregnant women; and 16 per 100,000 men.
A study in England and Wales over a ten-year period found pregnant women aged 15 to 44 were 20 times less likely than non-pregnant women to commit suicide.
Another study based on autopsy reports of all female residents in New York city, aged ten to 44, who committed suicide between 1990 and 1993 found that the number of suicides of pregnant women was only one third of that expected.
Not only is the risk of actual suicide lower in, and following, pregnancy but also the incidence of parasuicide is low despite the high rate of psychiatric morbidity in pregnant and post-natal women. While pregnancy is a potent protector against suicide, induced abortion appears to be a risk factor. A review in Finland of 73 women who committed suicide between 1987 and 1994 found a mean annual suicide rate of 11.3 per 188,000. The suicide rate associated with birth was 5.9 and that associated with induced abortion was 34.7.
The report on confidential inquiries into maternal deaths in the United Kingdom 1991-1993 reports two deaths due to suicide within 42 days of the abortion and another two deaths in women known to be substance abusers who died of substance abuse overdose within one year of an abortion.
Suicidal thoughts are relatively common in normal adolescent girls occurring in up to 16.5%, while in girls referred for psychiatric treatment suicidal thoughts occur in 36%. Actual suicide rates for teenage girls were 0.0003% for those aged ten to 14 and 0.0034% for those aged 15-19 years.
Prediction of suicide is at the basis of the decisions, relating to abortion, in Irish courts. Writing about the Supreme Court decision in the X case, Dr. Kelleher pointed out that suicide is a rare event and in all rare events the greatest likelihood is that the event will not occur. Research evidence indicates that medicine and psychology do not have the ability to predict suicide, even with a moderate degree of accuracy. Numerous studies have attempted to predict suicide in high-risk populations. The most thorough assessment showed that the prediction of suicide was wrong 97 times out of 100. There is no literature on the association between threats and completion of the act since threats are so common and completed suicide is so rare. Therefore, extrapolating clinically or statistically from threats to complete suicide is impossible.
All those who attended the oral hearings and were asked about suicide agreed that it is much rarer in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women. Those questioned included Dr. Seán Daly, master of the Coombe, Dr. Peter McKenna, master of the Rotunda, Dr. Anthony Clare, director St. Patrick's Hospital, and Dr. John Sheehan, consultant psychiatrist at the Rotunda Hospital. Even Dr. Alannah McGee, representing psychologists for freedom of information agreed when she said:
Our evidence would concur with the general thrust of the findings that have been presented to you that completed suicide during pregnancy is significantly reduced over and above levels in non-pregnant women of similar ages.
Dr. Anthony Clare and Dr. John Sheehan outlined the difficulty in predicting suicide. Dr. Clare referred to a statement from Dr. Kelleher to the effect that for every hundred cases of suicide predicted the prophecy was wrong ninety seven times. Dr. Geraldine Moane representing psychologists for freedom of information accepted this figure when questioned closely on the matter by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe and she said "certainly, they are 97% wrong".
A number of contributors referred to the psychological impact of having an abortion. Dr. John Sheehan, consultant psychologist to the Rotunda quoted from a Finnish study on suicide which found a six-fold increase in suicide after abortion. This study was cited by a number of other contributors. Perhaps the most telling analysis of the suicide question in relation to abortion was the statement of Dr. Anthony Clare:
So if I were to summarise, I would say that the only real reason you will find psychiatrists involved in this is because we have been drawn in to try and get people off the hook over this issue. Who better than to get the psychiatrist to tell you that ‘if this is refused, this woman will kill herself.' Well no such statement can be made with any great safety whether the person making it is a psychologist, psychiatrist or a general practitioner.
It is also worth noting the findings of the 1994 commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Rawlinson, into the operation and consequences of the Abortion Act, 1967, in Britain, which concluded as follows:
The Commission heard from witnesses representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists who stated that although the majority of abortions are carried out on the ground of danger to the mother's health, there is no psychiatric justification for abortion. Thus the Commission believes that to perform abortions on this ground is not only questionable in terms of compliance with the law but also puts women at risk of suffering a psychiatric disturbance after abortion without alleviating any psychiatric problems that already exist.
It would be ludicrous to allow a procedure on grounds of suicide risk if that procedure itself increased the risk of suicide, as clearly demonstrated by the Finnish study. The response to those who are suicidal in pregnancy is to offer appropriate psychiatric help. The complete range of psychiatric services is available to these women and should be utilised in full.
Those Deputies who continue to raise the issue of suicide as grounds for abortion are re-inventing the wheel and obviously have not read the contributions of the mental health professionals to the all-party Oireachtas committee. Their antics would seem to be a classic psychiatric case of denial – denial of what has been detailed in the report of the all-party Oireachtas committee on abortion and denial of the scientific information available on the risk of suicide in pregnancy. Deputy Owen pondered the question last week of why the body of psychiatrists had not publicly condemned the Government measures. The answer is that psychiatrists recognise that the disorders and behaviours they treat do no constitute grounds for abortion.
If objectors on the Opposition benches really cared about women, instead of hurtling accusations of misogyny at speakers, they would welcome these measures and voice their concern at any proposal that sought to legislate for procedures, such as abortion, that place women at risk of suicide, instead of playing political and ideological football with this proposal and ultimately with pregnant women's lives and those of their pre-born children.
I was not involved in a public fashion in the debate that took place in the House previously, but as an ordinary voter I followed the debate with interest. I was aware of the highly charged situations that arose in the House and in debates around the country and I am aware through family members of the difficult experiences many public representatives faced in 1983 and 1992. The same tension, bitterness and disrespect do not pervade the debate today although I am not sure the Tánaiste will receive the consensus she seeks.
We will have the debate, that has been missing so far, only when this proposal is teased out in the public domain and when people get a chance to go over the detail. Like others, I have not received a large volume of correspondence on this issue but in the past week all the correspondence I received on the matter opposes the legislation. Many positive things can be said for the Government proposals. The most welcome is the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Fine Gael published a Private Members Bill over the summer, the Care of Persons Board Bill which demonstrated our desire to address the lack of support for women with crisis pregancies. Support is essential, as acknowledged by many speakers today.
An issue that is of great concern is that we are now attempting to reverse the X case judgment and to state that in legislation. In 1992 the Supreme Court determined in the X case that a threat to self-destruction can amount to a substantial risk to the life of the mother. Today we have a proposal which specifically excludes self-destruction. In the Government's wording this legislation excludes from the definition of abortion any medical procedure carried out by a medical practitioner at an approved place in the course of which, or as a result of which, unborn human life is ended where that procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the practitioner, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life other than by self-destruction.
Why is this? Why do we decide that suicide and the threat of suicide are not real illness and therefore do not entitle a woman to an abortion? I have been told by various professionals that suicidal tendencies cannot be measured and that their existence is based on opinion only. Where does the psychiatric profession stand on this question? I know of no study of suicidal pregnant women.
I understand that pregnancy is a protective state of being and that most pregnant women develop nurturing and protective tendencies towards their unborn child. I am sure this is true for most pregnancies but what studies have been carried out on crisis pregnancies? What were the feelings of the unfortunate 14 year old girl at the centre of the X case and what attitude did she have towards her pregnancy? None of us will ever know. The debate at the time centred around her right to travel. How many studies have been carried out on suicidal women in crisis pregnancies? I do not believe such a study exists. We have heard much discussion on the non-risk of suicide among pregnant women. However, not all preg nancies are normal. Many pregnancies exist in a situation of crisis rather than of happiness and support. Age, poverty, family commitments and the fear of social stigma can all create a crisis for a pregnant woman. A crisis pregnancy is completely different from a normal pregnancy.
The Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr. Peter McKenna, wrote in a recent article in The Irish Times:
I have reservations concerning the fact that the risk of suicide has been removed specifically as a justification for termination. I personally have never seen a patient where a termination is necessary for psychiatric reasons but I have a niggling fear that some day I might. [He goes on to say] I am still unhappy that a specific cohort of patients are being excluded for no better reason than their inclusion could be open to interpretation.
This expresses my own concern. I am aware of the report given by Dr. Anthony Clare to the all-party Oireachtas committee in which he appears to exclude a pregnant woman having suicidal tendencies.
Doctors differ and opinions vary but we are being asked to make a judgment on something with which we are not medically equipped to deal. I am neither a medical nor a psychiatric expert. I could get several different opinions from a number of medical professionals. Which of us could stand with our hands on our hearts and say that no pregnant woman should ever be allowed an abortion if she is suicidal? Which of us can say that such a situation will never arise? The fact that we are attempting to attach such a provision to the Constitution is alarming.
I fail to understand why mental health does not have the same standing as physical health in this area. Have we made any advances in our sympathy for mental illness or our understanding or recognition of it? What will this referendum and legislation mean for the recent advances in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression or post-natal depression? Society now regards these conditions as illnesses and treats them accordingly. Are these advances to be downgraded? It is being argued that a person, male or female, who says he or she is suicidal cannot be trusted. How do psychiatrists stand on this question? Are they to be trusted? It is implied that a pregnant woman could easily claim to be suicidal and thereby demand an abortion in this jurisdiction. If that were the case we would have seen such claims made since the Supreme Court judgment of 1992. Following that judgment any woman is entitled to an abortion in this country if she is suicidal. The Minister said that the inclusion of suicide "would not command wide support and could, in effect, ultimately open the way to social abortion". If this were the case the Minister's fears would have already become a reality since 1992 but the floodgates have not been opened. The Supreme Court judgment has not led to abortion on social grounds. However, the number of Irish women travelling to the UK for abortions since 1992 has increased to more than 6,000, and this is merely the number of women who give Irish addresses.
The essence of the current proposal is exactly the same as that put to the people and rejected in 1992. I do not believe the views of the electorate have changed since then. They made their judgment on three proposals in 1992 and I believe they will do so again, when and if they vote on the referendum. We are going back over the same ground. The same positions were articulated in this House at that time, although I believe some Members have changed their opinions since then.
The proposal has been described as anti-women. It says to a section of the community that we do not accept their bona fides in a particular situation. It is dangerous to ask the people to make a judgment on the mental health of a pregnant woman. The women of Ireland will reject this amendment and many men will support them in their views. I agree with Deputy Michael Ahern when he says this is not an issue for women only. Many women who travel to the UK for abortions do so with the support of their male partners, many of whom travel with them. Many men play a part in supporting women when they are pregnant and in the period following pregnancy or abortion. The issue affects men and women, although women deal with the physical reality of pregnancy.
The Supreme Court judgments following the X case and the C case both stated that if it were established as a matter of probability that there was a real and a substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and that this real and substantial risk could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy, such a termination would be lawful. Having been through the process in 1992 I fail to understand the value of putting the issue to the people again. From what I have seen and heard I have no doubt the proposal will be rejected.
Much of the debate so far has centred on arguments for and against the constitutional amendment. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency also deserves to be discussed in detail because it can make an enormous difference. The recommendation of the committee on the Constitution to establish such an agency followed a proposal from Fine Gael. It is in this area that we will do most to reduce the level of abortion. While the legislation will do nothing for the 6,000 women who travel abroad each year, the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency is a very valuable initiative.
I hope we will be able to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies through education and raising awareness, particularly of contraception. I welcome the Minister's statement today and in a number of earlier press releases that the agency will address the needs and concerns of women who have already had abortions and provide them with the kind of support that has been lacking to date. As the debate progresses, we should not forget that choosing to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion is a very lonely journey for any woman. These women have few supports in this country.
The committee report outlined the reasons women cited for proceeding with an abortion. Job related concerns were cited by 36 women, the stigma of lone parenthood by 30 and the needs of the child by 30. A further 28 cited financial concerns, 27 were not ready to have a child, 34 could not cope, 32 stated they were too young and 19 already had a child. Others mentioned education and training while some said they never wanted a child. Social stigma, however, is cited again and again.
The recent report on lone parents produced by the National Economic and Social Forum outlined the problems many single parents face. They include poverty and barriers to employment such as child care, housing problems such as finding accommodation, and rent problems such as dependency on local authorities for rent and supplementary welfare allowance. These issues need to be addressed. I welcome the fact that the new agency will underpin and support the work being carried out by these agencies which already provide a valuable resource for women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, particularly young women.
To reduce unwanted pregnancies, particularly among young people, there must be a greater emphasis on education, notably sex education and the use of contraception, in particular. We have heard a great deal about sex education programmes prepared for children. However, some schools, including some I know, have not adopted these very valuable programmes. Many parents depend on the education system to provide their children with practical information and education on sexual matters. While there will always be some who do this at home, we cannot depend on parents. It is important that sex education is available in schools also.
Many unhelpful labels, both pro-life and pro-abortion, have been bandied around in this debate. The majority of Irish people do not want abortion made available and I do not know of anyone who wants abortion made as readily available as in the United Kingdom. However, people do want to ensure the life of the mother is protected in all circumstances and that medical opinion is respected. I hope the debate will advance with respect shown to both sides.
Although I am not a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I would like to contribute on Committee Stage. I ask the Minister to hold Committee Stage in the House in order that we can tease out the matters of concern to my party.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. I commend and thank the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Cabinet for bringing the Bill in its present format before the House. It is the result of a great deal of research, debate, thought and deliberation and represents the best possible solution to our legal dilemma. It best represents what the people have said consistently in successive referenda and is the best option for the future of Irish society.
The proposal will overturn the Supreme Court decision in the X case, including suicide as a ground for abortion, and, perhaps more importantly, other aspects of the judgment which could introduce wide-ranging abortion. Other suggestions, which would further copperfasten the intended effect of this move, will be taken on board by the Government. No one has the monopoly of wisdom, especially in this 20 year debate, but the proposal contained in the Bill represents an honest attempt to finalise a debate and campaign which have dragged on for more than two decades.
It could be argued that the legislation is unattractively written and off-putting. We have seen this type of legislation used effectively with regard to the Good Friday Agreement. The essential point is that it does the job it was intended to do and will act as a brake on the development of an abortion culture in Ireland.
I welcome the possibility that it will be the ultimate solution, but I am realistic enough to know that, even if this measure is passed in the Oireachtas and approved by the people, medical advances, both good and bad, which are currently beyond our imagination, may force us to return to this Chamber in the future. We, or our successors, will have to deal with that. I am convinced, however, that this logical and reasoned amendment is the best possible course and will find favour with the vast majority of our people.
Occasionally, legislation is presented in this House about which one can be totally positive. This is, thankfully, one such item. Few subjects generate as much emotion or controversy as abortion. Now that the debate is under way the media will be filled with opinions of every shade and hue and tempers will rise accordingly. Already we have seen the predictable articles from eminently predictable journalists, primed no doubt by equally predictable politicians, declaring that the last thing we need is another divisive debate and referendum campaign on the subject of abortion.
I do not agree and their stance is the usual hypocritical one. Those who favour abortion often disguise the fact by using phrases such as " the right to choose". Change for them means the widespread availability of abortion. Change means making available what they claim to be a civil and basic human right of being able to kill another individual, albeit one still in the womb in the protection of its mother. How anyone could either reason for that or see any possible right or logic in the claims is beyond me. I believe it is beyond the comprehension of the majority of the Irish people who, at the end of this process, wish to see a legal regime in place which protects, not only the rights of every individual, but their dignity and right to life as well.
That is what we are charged to bring about. That is our duty and that is what this measure sets out to achieve. Perhaps such people would like the old absolutist dictatorial way of no debate, only decree. It would suit their purpose to have their proposal slipped through on the nod, with little or no debate, no consultation and no opportunity to endorse the will of the people in a constitutional provision or even legislation.
I support this Bill and would ask people who are opposed to abortion and misunderstand the proposals to study them carefully and consider what the consequences of rejection would be. If it were defeated it is most probable that abortion along the lines of the X case would follow sometime in the future and perhaps be further liberalised by court actions if this loophole is not closed now.
One must give a certain grudging respect to the Labour Party, who on this occasion has shown no equivocation and has made its stance abundantly clear on the subject. It has gone as far as having its annual conference give it a clear direction in favour of abortion on demand and, by extension, the opposing of this measure before the House today.
Fine Gael are less clear on its position, but Fine Gael does not seem to know which way to jump on any issue. All it can be sure of is that it will eventually choose the losing option. A certain expression from Fine Gael's past involving soup and a fork comes to mind. I think that so far – we have to acknowledge we are not very far advanced nationally with this debate – we have seen a colouring of the waters by the media and an emphasis that leads us towards a liberal abortion regime. I oppose that strongly. I consider it wrong, bad law and a very backward step for this country. I believe the proposal before us is the best option possible and is the result of proper preparation.
There has been much misinformation spread about this Bill some of it through misunderstanding, some deliberate. Wild stories have been spread that it redefines life as starting at implantation, redefines the word "unborn" and leaves the way open for experimentation on human embryos. Some even say it allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. It does none of those things and people who make such statements should be challenged. I repeat the same words I have spoken in this House before. I am not a spokesperson for the pro-life lobby or any other pressure group. If my views, opinions and beliefs run parallel to theirs, then so be it. I accept their right to campaign for a particular view, just as I accept the right of those opposed to put forward theirs.
I do not see this as a Catholic Church or any other church issue. It is an issue of right and wrong, of what is acceptable in our society and what is not. Most of all, it is a matter of what has been approved and accepted by the people in the democratic privacy of the polling booth. That, and only that, is what is at stake here. The previous Government shirked its duty on this issue, but it will forever stand to the credit of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and the Government of today that it is now being tackled head-on and the path being chosen is that which has been dictated by the people in two referenda. On previous occasions, the intent of the Oireachtas was frustrated in this matter and once more we have to place our intent on the record and ask the people to endorse it. The simplicity of the proposal before the people and the comprehensive way it is being dealt with on this occasion leaves me in no doubt that the people will come out to vote and will give it their resounding approval.
Loath as I am to mention the June experience, I feel that on this occasion the approach by the Government has been impeccable and will be shown to be so in the polls. There will be attempts to muddy the water. There will be the campaign of misinformation, some of which has already started. There will be the cry of "not another divisive campaign". By its very nature, any proposal being put to the people will show that there is a body of opinion for and against the proposal. That is the nature of politics. Every proposal is opposed for a variety of reasons, not all of which are even complementary.
As one example of less than clear and responsible reporting, I quote from the Evening Herald of 4 October, where under the title of “Abortion: Saga Goes On” Mary Carr attempts to give the background of the two decade history of the abortion debate. It is woolly to say the least and if it were not to have an effect on how people approach the matter at present, it is one piece which could easily be discarded. Under the sub-heading: “It's back” it says:
In 1983 the nation was convulsed by a bitter abortion referendum campaign. Now the issue that has divided Ireland ever since is back to haunt us. But how has it come to this – and why has Bertie Ahern decided to act now?
Politics itself is divisive. There is a natural division of opinion in every facet of life, especially in politics, otherwise we would not have five parties represented in this House or the need for them. There are few enough questions on which there will be anything approaching unanimity, though I am convinced that the majority of people are still fully committed to a ban on abortion.
In explaining the eighth amendment of the Constitution, the right to life amendment, Mary Carr states:
In the early Eighties, there was a vigorous campaign from the Pro-Life campaign and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child to have an amendment inserted into the Constitution prohibiting abortion. The argument was that abortions may one day be legally possible unless such a safeguard was in place. But aside from the vocal and well-funded pressure groups, no such demand was coming from the general public. Nevertheless, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael caved in and committed to supporting such an amendment.
There is an immediate suggestion there that it is in some way wrong to hold pro-life views. The parties we are told "caved in" to doing what was right. That is a misrepresentation of the facts. The reason there was no widespread demand from the people for a referendum at that stage was that very few knew it would be required. It was a subject which was out of sight until brought to the forefront by the pro-life campaign. Thankfully, there were people alert to what was on the horizon, including members of Fianna Fáil, who had the foresight, commitment and courage to fight for constitutional protection for the unborn. Is there anyone today, almost 20 years on, who does not believe that without that campaign, which both alerted the people to the possibility of the introduction of abortion and eventually brought about the constitutional amendment, attempts would not have been made to have abortion brought in through legislation and on the pretext that it was a human right? I do not believe so. The people responsible for that chain of events have earned the gratitude of the people and I know that in time there will be a better understanding of the service they rendered to the people.
Having sketchily traced the history of abortion to 1992 and the passing of two of the three amendments, the newspaper article asks why things cannot stay as they are.
"Politics" is the reply, suggesting that the sole reason for action is to retain the support of the Independents. Whatever validity might have been attached to this in the early years of the Government, given that we are within six months of a mandatory election, it will matter little when the next election is called or precipitated.
This is just one more cheap shot, one which the people may choose to believe, but which is wrong. Everyone in this House knows that for the past nine years we have been in a legal limbo in regard to abortion and a situation has existed which should have been remedied by a referendum or legislation. Even taking two years to lay the groundwork properly and have the necessary consultation as well as publish a Green Paper seems to be a reason for criticism rather than an acknowledgement that a careful, prudent and proper course was followed.
It appears that one is damned if one does and damned if one does not and even when action is necessary and long overdue, credit cannot be given by some to the Taoiseach and the Government for having the courage to enter where the last Government feared to tread.
The Herald also reported:
The Pro-Life lobby have been fretting about the possibility of further court cases paving the way for a form of social abortion. They don't accept abortion can ever be the answer to a life-threatening medical condition.
I am not a spokesperson for any organisation or lobby, but I do not think that a majority within or without the pro-life movement would totally disregard the threat to the life of the mother. I am aware and accept there are occasions where applying medical procedures to save the life of the mother results in the death of the foetus. This has widespread acceptance among the medical profession and the general public and to say otherwise is an outdated argument.
Everyone agrees that the current legal position in regard to abortion needs attention. There is a division of opinion on how the problem should be tackled. Some argue for a legislative solution in order that down the line it can be easily re-entered, changed and altered all too easily. The opposite view suggests it should be tackled via a referendum. Given the people's clear indications on several occasions previously, any objective assessment would suggest this would be the proper course. The foundations have been laid, the groundwork done, and all the indications are that the current proposal represents the views of the people and, by extension, will find favour with them. This is one of our functions, to interpret and represent the will of the people and turn it into legislative action.
I want to make my position clear on this matter. I am totally opposed to abortion, whether carried out in Britain or any other jurisdiction, and equally opposed to such a service being available here. Those who hold this view are regularly accused of exporting our problems. I do not agree. This is the only jurisdiction for which we, in this House, have a responsibility and we can only ensure that what happens here is in accordance with the wishes of the people and the law of the land.
I would prefer if women did not go to Britain or elsewhere for abortions. I would prefer if they were actively encouraged and assisted to stay in Ireland and bring their pregnancy to a successful conclusion. That would be in their best interests in the long run and that of their baby.
That is the reason I also welcome the parallel proposal to establish a crisis pregnancy agency to help achieve this and I am pleased that the Minister has done this in advance of the current proposal. It is long past time that the voluntary agencies, funded privately and voluntarily or by the Churches, were relieved of some of the burden of dealing with crisis pregnancies. I have no doubt that, through their work during the years, they have not only prevented a great many abortions, but saved mothers the subsequent trauma which inevitably follows an abortion.
We should formally thank them for doing this work, which was at least as appropriate to the State as it was to the volunteer bodies. There is no quantifying the work they have done and the misery they have prevented. We could well wonder whom among those young people who walk our streets, attend our schools or toil in our work places, might have been denied an existence but for the intervention of these agencies. That is what it boils down to, people alive today who might otherwise have been consigned to oblivion.
The title of the Bill indicates it is a positive measure. It is not couched in any anti-style of language, but proclaims that it is positively for the protection of human life in pregnancy. There is a new clarity, too, about what constitutes life before birth, which I also welcome.
The legal and parliamentary mechanism whereby this provision is being inserted into the Constitution requires that similar legislation be enacted within six months of a successful referendum. I urge the Taoiseach to complete the business of having the legislation passed within the life of this Dáil in order that this difficult question can be solved once and for all.
The public wants this matter brought to a finality and has indicated precisely in what fashion it wants this done. The current proposal fulfils that duty and I unreservedly support it.
I am not so sure about the indecision or readiness or preparedness of Fine Gael, but all will be revealed in due course. In relation to spoons and forks, I hope those opposite do not end up with a wooden spoon after the next electoral joust.
As a legislator, I, like many others, consider I should make a contribution to this debate. As I am not a family doctor, I do not have a qualification in that area. As I am not a lawyer, I am not certain what role a lawyer would have to play, although lawyers have managed to make decisions on legislation such as this in the past. I have a clear recollection of the debate that took place during 1983.
The Deputy has a great memory.
I answered thousands of letters at the time from people on both sides of the argument. I started off by being persuadable for want of a better description. As each wave of persuasion came, I tended to go in the opposite direction, such was the degree of passion, for want of a better description, delivered in the course of correspondence and debate.
I am glad there is a more rational debate on this occasion. I distinctly remember it being said at the time that the debate arose as a result of a promise made by party leaders before an election. If there is one lesson to be learned from this, it is to beware of making promises before elections, especially those that one might have difficulty keeping.
The Deputy had better remind his troops about that.
That should be the watchword of all politicians, including those opposite.
They are still making them.
Unfortunately, we are still making them. The sooner we come to grips with this the better for politics and our society.
The debate evolved and at the time we were told that the amendment brought forward was the amendment of all amendments, that it was the one that would set aside everything, resolve all problems and eliminate the possibility of abortion at any stage in the future. It was a change from the original wording. It was agreed by the main parties in the House and eventually put to the people and carried. We all know what happened. The sad part is that it was not the amendment to end all amendments because it was breached in the first difficult case that arose. There were legal and medical experts on both sides who were able to argue everybody who spoke on this matter out of existence and said that debate would be the end of the argument. There are those – more power to them if they are correct – who will say today that this will be the end of the debate, but unfortunately it will not. For some reason this debate goes on and on.
In the past couple of days I, like other Members of the House, received correspondence inquiring about the definition of when life begins. It is starting the debate all over again about whether implantation or conception is the correct interpretation of the beginning of life. I am not a theologian and I do not know if I am qualified to come to a decision in such a debate. I do not know that the lawyers are qualified either. I doubt that the Supreme Court is in a position to make an absolute definition, but only a judgment on the debate. I am a male member of society. A woman probably looks differently at that issue. She would look at it against the backdrop of perhaps having to make a decision. Again, I am not saying whether she should go one way or the other. That would depend on the compelling factors at the time. However, it could be difficult for a woman in a situation like that.
I have dealt with cases, as have other Members, and will no doubt deal with cases in the future, where advice had to be given to people in difficult circumstances. One does one's best. I have not advised anybody to have an abortion or not to have an abortion. It is a matter for the individual. Obviously it has to be the woman who makes that decision as she is the person most directly involved. That then brings into focus the question of the unborn and at what stage life begins. We are thus back to the argument of whether it begins at implantation or conception. Where do we go from there?
I do not envisage an end to that argument. I listened carefully to this debate in the past. I distinctly remember when the so-called X case arose. The proposal before the House is to incorporate legislation in the Constitution and to interlink the two in such a way that they cannot be separated without another referendum. What happens in the case of a woman or girl who is a ward of court? I am aware of the argument that has taken place as to how this might be resolved but I do not anticipate an easy resolution if there is a division at the time such a case arises. The argument cannot be postponed for a couple of years so that it can be worked out. The decision has to be made and cannot be postponed. It may well be that whatever side one comes down on, one may be wrong. The critical issue is that in the event of such a scenario developing, what happens then? Where do we go for advice? Do we go to the lawyers, doctors or theologians? Can we expect that the advice available will be ultimately correct? I do not believe it can be.
I hate to be judgmental, particularly in regard to situations in which I do not have to make a decision. It is not a personal decision so it is easy to give advice to others. It is easy to tell somebody what is the morally upright thing to do. I have to admit that I do not know how I would react if I were in that situation. For that reason, I hope I would be humble enough to admit to being a mere mortal and to try to get away from the usual judgmental advice that is handed to us, as it were, from some higher authority that we dare not question in relation to a subject about which we know little. After this debate, I hope there will be peace in the land in relation to this subject. I am not in favour of abortion but it is easy for me to say that since I am not likely to have to make a personal decision in relation to it.
That is one side of the argument. The other side of the argument is the right to life, which I accept and endorse. I do not accept that anybody has a higher moral ground or stance. Each Member of the House is equal in their knowledge of the situation and of the circumstances likely to arise in the future. I do not believe, therefore, that we should be deferring to opinion, whether it be eminent legal opinion, the Supreme Court or medical opinion. We all have the right to make up our minds and to state our views. That is the best way to be fair.
In 1983 we were told the referendum was the end of the debate. I am reliably informed by those who know such things that this proposal is also the end of the debate. I do not think so. In the event of a hard case arising – there are many variations of what would constitute a difficult case – what happens then? Who takes the decision? Do we have a referendum? Do we go to the Supreme Court? The Irish solution to the Irish problem is fine but I hope that whatever happens hereafter will be humane, compassionate and caring. Those are elements in the debate that were lacking in the past. I hope they are present in the current debate.
What happens in the future when we might have to deal with the situation as it arises again? A couple of things can happen. We can do nothing. We can throw up our hands and say we do not want to discuss the issue further. If somebody is caught on one or other side of the argument, we can say "tough luck" and walk away. That would not be a compassionate or caring thing to do. I have no doubt that circumstances will arise at some stage in the future which will be so compelling as to make it virtually impossible for people to claim it does not concern them but is a matter for the law courts, the medical profession or for another referendum. I am not sure we can go down that road. Unfortunately, I fear it will come to that.
One of the issues that arose in the landmark X case was the risk of suicide and the threat to the life of the mother creating a situation where the life of the unborn could be terminated. It is not an easy decision. Who is in a position to come to that judgment now? What has happened in the meantime to prove beyond doubt to the various professions involved that in such a situation the methodology of the proposed legislation is sufficient to address the issues raised? Nothing has happened. I hope I am proven wrong. In the event of that situation emerging again, what do we do? What will we do if a tragedy occurs? Will we have another referendum? Will we seek legal advice once again? What will we do?
Fine Gael has been castigated by Government Deputies. It is unusual for them to do so and I know it pains them greatly to embark on such a tirade. The leader of my party requested replies to a series of questions which were carefully considered and well phrased. The questions were mindful of the history of this issue. Some of the replies were vague and unsatisfactory, to say the least, so further information is required. I do not feel embarrassed that Fine Gael has not decided one way or the other just yet. By considering the issue, we are doing the right thing. There will be no time for reflection after the referendum. Therefore, before the referendum, there should be a full clarification of the matters raised by Deputy Noonan in relation to abortion.
Deputy Kenneally claimed that the Independent Deputies who support the Government had nothing to do with the timing of this referendum, but that is not what they say as they claim to have been instrumental. The political question that automatically arises is whether the Independents are wrong. Have they told a fib? Are they spinning a yarn? I would be careful if I was a Government Deputy as I would not be able to rely on my Coalition partners. I would quiz them carefully to be absolutely sure of what is being said. Although we are approaching a general election, the landing may go wrong. Instead of suggesting that the Independents had nothing to do with the timing of this Bill, perhaps Deputy Kenneally could have admitted that it was brought forward and the Government is responding to the views of the Independents.
I started by pointing out that I am a mere male Member of this House. I have the right to comment during this debate, but I do not claim to have the same knowledge or clarity on this matter as female Deputies. It is a normal and natural state of affairs. It is unlikely that I will have to make a personal decision in relation to this matter but I respect the views of those who have had to make such a decision. Compassion and understanding of the events that led to the problem should be demonstrated. Our society should support those who have made decisions and who may later have felt that the decision was right or wrong. Hindsight always brings clear vision, but we should be caring and compassionate to those who have to make difficult decisions. If we do not display such values, we have lost our way.
It is to be hoped that this matter will not have to be revisited again. It seems extraordinary that a Bill and a constitutional amendment are to be linked. I assure the House that this will happen again, when people learn about the possibility. People on housing lists may call for their needs to be incorporated in the Constitution. Similar provisions may be made in areas like education and health, for example, for those looking for orthodontic treatment or for those on waiting lists. Why is it not written into the Constitution that such people may have recourse to the Constitution to have their needs addressed? It is a thorny operation and I hope the right decision will be made. This should be the last time we have to address the issue of abortion in my lifetime, but I am afraid that will not be the case.
I welcome and support the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, which will provide constitutional and legislative protection for human life in pregnancy. It is a reasonable, comprehensive, fair and compassionate response to a difficult topic. The Medical Council's guidelines from 1993 and 1998 have provided a de facto legislative substitute in relation to abortion in recent years, which is hardly to the credit of this Parliament. Although we have waited for this Bill and the constitutional amendment, at least they are here now. Some of the criticism of these Houses that has been heard in recent years, especially since the X case, has been warranted. Certain issues needed to be addressed by the Oireachtas, but they were ignored. It was not as though the issues could be addressed in a day or a week or a shorter length of time and it is understandable that it has taken so long. I welcome the fact that comprehensive legislation, which includes a proposal for a referendum, has been brought forward.
Taking up the point made by Deputy Durkan, there may well be merit in revisiting this legislative model in the future, although perhaps not for the issues he mentioned. There may well be instances where it will be desirable to enshrine legislation in the Constitution. It is something that future Parliaments may look at. I find it difficult to follow the logic of those who oppose the holding of the referendum and the discussion of the Bill on the grounds that they have not had enough time to absorb the issue. I could understand if somebody outside the Houses made that point, but it is difficult to understand why Members do so.
Deputy Durkan made a good point when he said that politicians should be wary of making pre-election promises. It is good advice, regardless of the issue under discussion. Political leaders find it difficult to resist making such commitments when the battle has commenced and when rumours are circulating that other parties are about to make promises. Although we may consider ourselves to be clever parliamentarians, we have to admit that various lobby groups frequently outfox us. Despite the sophistication of party machines, individual candidates give commitments when adrenalin is running a couple of weeks before an election and they later find they are surprised to have made such promises. I do not make my comments with specific regard to the issue of abortion as the status quo could not have been maintained, even if no commitment had ever been made.
I doubt if circumstances could have led to a better resolution of this problem than that proposed by the Government. There has been much debate on the matter in Oireachtas committees in recent years. Although many people will disagree with me, it is fair to say that a huge majority of those who voted "Yes" in the 1983 referendum disagreed with the subsequent Supreme Court interpretation. Many people were sympathetic regarding the specific case and may have understood the leeway afforded by the Supreme Court decision, but the overturning of the referendum, which was the de facto outcome of the Supreme Court judgment, was a step too far for many people.
The question of whether male Members of the House or male members of society are entitled to hold a view on this matter has been raised and they are, but female Members of the House and female people in society have a valid but different perspective which they manage to put across to the men in their lives strongly enough for it to be taken on board. It is a very high standard to set for legislation or for a constitutional referendum that it should forever more comprehensively address the issue under consideration. It is not a fair benchmark to set for any legislation or constitutional amendment. The only reasonable requirement is that it should address the current situation as comprehensively as possible and provide for reasonably foreseeable circumstances. We would do well to take a commonsense approach to issues that come before the parliament and make the best judgment we can on the basis of current knowledge. That is what we are doing on this occasion and the great majority of people who have contributed to this debate have done so along lines of commonsense, compassion and justice in the interests of seeking to do the best that can be done.
It is interesting to listen to the veterans of the campaigns of 1983 and 1992. Although I have been here quite a long time, I was not here for either of those debates and that gives me a different perspective.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Deputy is lucky he was not. We had a rough time.
Many of the people involved in those debates were pursuing particular agendas. Even if I disagreed with some of them, I was prepared to allow that their beliefs were genuine and that they pursued their agendas with vigour and commitment because of those beliefs. In some respects this debate has been bedevilled, as perhaps all debates are, by people on opposing sides refusing to accept that what is said by people on the other side might be coming from some genuine base, perhaps fear of what change might bring or some other consideration. We need to be mature enough to accept that the considerations that inform contributions to a debate have validity in their own right. Deputies Barnes and Shatter were quite critical this morning, unfairly in some respects, of people who hold views broadly similar to mine. However, the arguments they presented were well thought out, clear and honest. Deputy Shatter frequently draws attention to deficiencies in legislation, even legislation passed by his own Government, as happened on one occasion. On that occasion it turned out that he was right in relation to legislation on marriage – I dealt with a few cases where difficulties arise because of that legislation. It is well to be open-minded and listen to the views of those who present clear and well thought out arguments, even if in the end one continues to disagree.
One point which deserves further consideration – it is not central to this legislation but it is much more than peripheral to it – is the issue of adoption and the obstacles put in the way of Irish families seeking to adopt children. I can understand why it could not be centrally included on this occasion but it is a hugely important issue. The current situation reflects badly on us. We are far too mistrustful of those who are prepared to welcome children into their families. Part of the resolution of the difficulties of crisis pregnancy resides in the whole area of adoption. I hope we will deal with that much more comprehensively than we have done heretofore.
Not having been here for the debates in 1983 and 1992 I believe the active protagonists in the debate laboured under the illusion that the debates were equally divisive outside this House and outside the milieu of the debates themselves. They were close to being irrelevant for the vast majority of Irish people. I was a reasonably well-informed 30 year old citizen in 1983 and the divisiveness passed me by entirely, as it did my friends, colleagues and family. We all weighed up the evidence and voted according to our best judgment. That is all we can expect of people on this occasion, and that is what will happen when this is put to the people.
One of the paradoxes of modern liberalism – and I seek to be as liberal as I can – is that it sometimes seeks to marginalise and vilify people of orthodox Catholic background. Despite being in many ways considered a man of the world I attend mass and the sacraments. I strongly believe in the power of prayer and I find great support and consolation in my religion. At one time I could have said that with impunity, but I realise that nowadays those relatively innocuous statements make me almost a figure of ridicule for some in liberal circles because their liberality extends only to those who agree with them. There is a remarkable intolerance of people who do not share their views. Despite my pitiful status as an arch-conservative, I voted "yes" for divorce, "yes" for the right to travel, and "yes" for freedom of information. For all those things I might be at least equally vilified by people on the other side of the debate.
In making these points I seek to bring into the debate a balance, or perhaps the perspective of the ordinary citizen in the street. All I have done on this occasion is to weigh the evidence. I followed the proceedings of the constitutional committee quite closely and found it enthralling. I listened to the arguments of the medical and the legal experts and found out many things I had not known. Having considered myself reasonably well informed, I was disabused of that notion early in the proceedings. Having had that opportunity to listen in, I believe the Bill before the House adequately addresses the outstanding issues, especially concerns about the life of the mother. I commend the Minister for having brought it to this stage.
Like Deputy Bernard Durkan and several others who spoke today and previously, I am not burdened by any medical or legal training so I bring to the debate only the perspective of a lay person, at least on those points. The constitutional review committee did excellent work and produced an excellent report. I confess I did not read all of it. I found the bits that were of some importance and read them. Colleagues who served on the committee put in an extraordinary amount of time and effort on the kind of work that seldom gets noticed in the media and that will not bring them any political advantage when they face the people in the next general election. It is difficult to commit oneself to that kind of work in the House. Many other committees do similar work which is not recognised and which is greatly important in achieving a balanced outcome in terms of legislation. The level of participation by people who have been to the forefront on all sides in this debate was quite extraordinary and quite excellent. I listened to some of them and found them to be much more humane and sensible than my previous perspective of them would have judged. It was an excellent exercise for parliament to engage in and one that is to be commended. I hope the Members of the next Parliament will seek to continue it in relation to many issues where public participation can be facilitated and medical and legal experts, lobbyists and others with a particular interest in a subject can effect democracy in the old Greek sense that allows the people to participate in the work of the parliament. We are always wailing and bemoaning the fact that people do not vote in elections and are not prepared to sit in cold halls at branch meetings of political parties. We are always saying that people do not participate. Parliament has a role to play in encouraging participation.
Virtually all the polls on this issue have shown that a substantial majority of people want the matter revisited in a referendum, although not all of them are in favour of the pro-life or pro-choice position. However, they want to have a say and there is good reason for taking account of that. There are good reasons for saying the current situation in relation to abortion and crisis pregnancy needs to be addressed. Many members of the public and the media distrust politicians. They feel they will have a greater say on this matter, regardless of the outcome, if it is put before them in a referendum, and that is true.
We have tended over the years to make the mistake of not referring issues to the people on a frequent basis. Other countries, particularly Switzerland, have referenda several times a year on issues that Governments here would not dream of putting to the people. We have tended on balance to err on the side of excluding the people from decision-making. There are many issues we might usefully put before the people. Even if only 50% of people vote, as happened in 1983, or 40%, as in the referendum on the Nice treaty, they have the right to vote. Whether they exercise that right, they have made a decision. They have effectively participated by attempting not to participate. The essence of democracy is the right to extend to the people the possibility of participation in decision-making.
I understand why people do not want this issue referred to the people. They consider it to be as divisive an issue outside the House as it is inside the House. While that is wrong, there is some validity in making that point. This debate is probably more political than it might have been 12 months or two years ago. We all know that everyone here, except those fortunate enough not to put themselves before the electorate again, will be knocking on doors in the near future. One's view of life is tempered by the fact that an election is imminent. No one can blame Opposition Deputies for not being able to resist the temptation to have a cheap or good shot at the Minister or the Government.
Or Government Deputies for doing the same.
Absolutely. It is important to bear in mind that the political context is different from what it might have been at another time.
One argument which does not stand up is that the referendum is taking place because of the input of the Independents. It is fair to recognise and acknowledge that they have had an input, but other people have also had an input. If one was to take on board the views of people whose sup port was needed to keep the Government in power, would it not be better to do that earlier in the life of the Government to keep them on board? It does not matter if the election is in three weeks or in three or six months.
The many people who support the pro-life view, as I do, must be more active than they have been in the past. The experience of the debate and the referendum on the Nice treaty was that most of the political parties assumed that because they were in favour of it, most of the people would also be in favour of it. Issues are usually more critically analysed by the people than we accept. This issue will also be critically analysed by the people – I hope it is a big number – who bother to make their way to the polls. It is important for those who have an interest in this issue to become involved and not to leave it to political people.
I welcome the establishment of a crisis pregnancy agency, although I do not have time to go through the details of it. The Minister said in his speech that last year alone 6,500 women who had abortions in Britain gave Irish addresses. There has been criticism that the agency should have been set up two, five or 25 years ago. Perhaps that is a valid point. However, it is useful to set it up in the context of this debate, the proposed legislation and the constitutional amendment. I hope it will have a strong impact on the lives of those with crisis pregnancies who must make difficult decisions.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Nuair a thosaigh mé sa tSeanad sa bhliain 1983 bhí reifreann á phlé chun focail a chur sa Bhunreacht chun an bac ar ghinmhilleadh a dhaingniú. Bhí an bac ann i gcónaí ach ba é an plean an bac a chur isteach sa Bhunreacht. Tá sé suimiúil domsa go bhfuilim anseo, ag tarraingt ar dheireadh mo ré sa saol polaitíochta, agus go bhfuilim ag caint faoi reifreann chun focail eile a chur isteach sa Bhunreacht. Níl díospóireacht na bliana seo leath chomh fíochmhar is a bhí sí sa bhliain 1983. Is dócha go bhfuil ciall ceannaithe ag a lán daoine. Ba chóir, mar sin, nach mbeadh baol ar bith go mbeadh an toradh céanna againn is a bhí i reifreann 1983, nuair a thug an Cúirt Uachtarach breith ar na focail. An bhfuil an baol sin ann anois? Sin an cheist.
Before the great debate of the early 1980s there were two definite positions in Ireland. The first was that abortion was banned by the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and the second was that doctors decided on the medical treatment needed by a pregnant woman even if this treatment led to the death of her baby. Why was there an amendment to the Constitution in 1983 which resulted in introducing legal abortion to this country? What have we gained from the 1983 effort? How much have we learned from it? Putting words into the Constitution to protect life was an attempt to adopt a belt and braces approach in case politicians went wild and introduced legislation to allow abortion. After approximately 20 years we are trying to get back to the stage where abortion is banned by legislation, as it always was, and doctors will make the necessary decisions. This is going backwards. Abortion is banned by our legislation without the need for any words in the Constitution. It is ironic that the inclusion of these words has left a loophole.
I listened to almost all the debate today and while I respect everyone's views, I am amazed that some Members on the Government side seem to think this Bill is about having or not having abortion in Ireland. We are discussing a legal document. Abortion is banned in Ireland by the 1861 Act and doctors have the right to make decisions. That has always been the case. Is the Minister shaking his head?
There is doubt.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): There is doubt now because the Minister did not use the word “registered” in the Bill.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): That will be made clear later, but it is a mistake. The wording of the 1983 Act was suspect from the time Dr. Garret FitzGerald was advised by the then Attorney General that if it was challenged in the Supreme Court it would lead to abortion. I was at the parliamentary party meeting when that advice was given. The challenge came in the 1990s. The warning was correct and, mirabile dictu, the effort to copperfasten an already copperfastened case managed to blow it wide open. As a result there has been legal abortion since the X case. Dr. FitzGerald did his best to prevent this by introducing different wording but he had to suffer outrageous insults from many who were not fit to tie his shoe laces. Those who held strong moral views can be forgiven for their genuine zeal but many politicians of the day hardly deserve the nation's thanks for playing politics with a serious problem.
The question is whether we will be in the same position regarding the new wording. With greater potential for challenging even some of the words, will the scope for abortion be further widened? The members of the Supreme Court will interpret any phrase or word that is challenged and the intentions of the voters will mean nothing. What happened to the wording in 1983 must be recalled. The debate is about what will happen the constitutional amendment when it is challenged in the Supreme Court and not about who supports or opposes abortion.
Promising a referendum before an election may be a help in getting votes while doing so following an election may be a major help in acquiring the support of four Independents but promising a referendum without proposing definitive wording is akin to flying by the seat of one's pants. Inserting words in the Constitution has proved extremely difficult and, even though the Taoiseach knows this, he still promised a referendum five years ago without having any clue as to the wording.
As proof of the ongoing difficulty the Minister for Health and Children stated when he opened the debate on behalf of the Government: "The Government has concluded that there is no simple sentence or paragraph that can be inserted into the Constitution which by itself will amount to a balanced, effective legal response to the complex medical and legal issues which surround the protection of human life in pregnancy". Almost five years since the Taoiseach said "no bother" and following continuous debate over the past 20 years, including the months of deliberation by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, there has been a realisation that it is not possible to arrive at the correct wording, yet we have been presented with fresh wording for another referendum.
I am not making this contribution because I am leaving the scene and not seeking re-election. I experienced awful bitterness in 1983 when it was almost dangerous to move around in public because of the belief that the wording would be interpreted as it was ultimately. I am baffled that the Minister has announced it is not possible to draft the correct wording and it will be patched up. Botched wording was proposed in 1983. Will the same be proposed in 2002?
During his contribution the Minister also stated: "The proposals are aimed at achieving a reasonable compromise". There was no such thing as a compromise in 1983. It was a very black and white situation. One side spoke with the authority of God and the other was influenced by the devil. A compromise has been proposed. Who will be compromised? Will it be the pro-life lobby, the pro-abortion group, the Church or the Legislature? Are politicians playing politics with a serious problem once again?
If some of the strongly held views of the past are no longer important, will there be apologies for the carry on in 1983, particularly for the way a good man such as Dr. FitzGerald was treated in his effort to do his best? He faced various accusations by people who were not fit to tie his shoe laces. When people realise that approximately 100,000 have travelled to England for abortions since 1983 they should ask themselves what effect had the 1983 referendum. Abortion was banned, doctors continued to make decisions and another referendum was introduced yet 100,000 women travelled abroad for abortions. What, as legislators, are we doing when we introduce various wordings?
Some people miss the point. The Government and Opposition engage in a performance to insert wording in the Constitution that is supposed to be useful. What is the advantage of using compromised wording, knowing that the Supreme Court may be asked to define words and phrases such as "unborn", "the conception implantation difficulty" or "medical practitioner", which Deputy Gay Mitchell pointed out should be defined as "registered medical practitioner"? I have received communications from the pro-life lobby, as I am sure the Minister has, questioning the definition of "medical practitioner". They pointed out that an individual who has been struck off the medical register for misconduct could be a medical practitioner. The Minister will probably amend the definition on Committee Stage. However, a problem could result if simple wording such as this gets through in the legislation on an issue such as this where every word is important.
The wording will only mean something when it is challenged in the Supreme Court, not when it is put before the people. The legislation can be challenged by both sides and the Supreme Court will sit in judgment. If the word "registered" is not included in legislation what will we be faced with in future? If after all the deliberations such a fundamental mistake can be made in the wording, are we leaving ourselves wide open to further interpretation by the Supreme Court that will negative any plans we have?
The All-Party Committee on the Constitution, which sought an agreement on wording for the referendum, accepted a Fine Gael proposal to set up an agency to help pregnant women by giving them advice on their options. I am glad this agency will be set up. I hope it will help many women to change their minds about having an abortion in England and, above all, I hope the agency will give them help when they need it most. I have never tried to be subjective on this issue. I would not like to be a 16 year old girl who has been raped or pregnant in my innocence having to face my parents and make up my mind about what I will do. Those are awful situations for the female members of the community and I do not want to pontificate objectively because in the long run objective and subjective views are far apart on this issue.
The provision of £5 million for the crisis pregnancy agency is to be welcomed as it provides scope for its establishment. Since the referendum will have no effect whatsoever on the number of women who travel to England each year, we can only hope that as the agency becomes established and women gain confidence in it, it will lead to a reduction in the number of abortions carried out on Irish women there. However, a referendum is not needed to establish this agency.