Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 8:
In page 5, lines 26 and 27, to delete "section 9 certification".
- (Deputy Peadar Tóibín)

Deputy Healy-Rae was in possession but is not present, so I call Deputy Boyd Barrett. I ask Deputies who are not taking part in the debate to leave the Chamber.

I will refer to some of the Technical Group's section 9 amendments that are in this grouping, but I also wish to comment on some of the amendments tabled by the Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, and others who are opposed full stop to the section, who are coming at it from a different perspective. Deputy Tóibín and the Minister of State referred a number of times to the concern they have about the floodgates opening. It is important to respond to this point. In recent hours I listened to the debate, which often got bogged down in the important and necessary detail of the Bill and the arguments around that detail. It is important to say that in so far as the term "floodgates" is even useful in this debate - I am not sure it is - the floodgates are open. Whatever happens with this Bill will not affect one jot the number of desperate Irishwomen who seek and receive abortions. Desperate women whose health or whose lives are at risk, desperate women who are suicidal, desperate women who get the awful news that their baby has been diagnosed with a fatal abnormality, desperate women in a whole range of circumstances will still make the decision to have an abortion. The only issue is where they will have that abortion, not whether they will have it. Those who profess to be pro-life or anti-abortion when they make their arguments fail to acknowledge that fundamental point. Abortion is an Irish reality and Irishwomen in their thousands are forced to travel to Britain to receive the treatment they need or want.

In spite of those Deputies who propose to strike section 9 from the Bill, although it is clear the Government will not accept their arguments, women will still seek those abortions. It will make no difference. The Deputies have to answer that question if they are addressing these issues in good conscience. If women need or are going to seek those abortions in any case, do those Deputies believe it is acceptable or right that those women are forced to go abroad and be away from their homes, with all the stigma, without support and in spite of the costs involved? I believe it is unacceptable, and those who call themselves pro-life and express a concern for the care of women must address that point.

The Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, made the argument that it was the job of the Oireachtas, not the Supreme Court, to legislate. The implication that what we are doing in legislating for the X case was somehow dictated by the Supreme Court, which was going outside its remit, is a very legalistic and convoluted argument that does not stand up at all. The Supreme Court has not dictated to the Parliament. We know that because its judgment was made 20 years ago, yet the Parliament still has not legislated for it. It was forced to legislate not because of anything the Supreme Court said but because of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar. That is why we are here today. It is why we have finally been forced to deal with this issue. We had tragedy after tragedy and then, most recently, we had the awful and terrible case of Savita Halappanavar. The argument made by the Minister of State in comparing the threat of suicide in this situation to a threat of suicide by a person who may be deported is a terrible one that tries to undermine the seriousness of that threat.

People who are deported generally speaking receive awful treatment. They are incarcerated, they are often grabbed in the middle of the night, in many cases they are bound and gagged and shoved onto planes with little or no regard for the consequences of their deportation. For the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Creighton, to say that to concede the argument of somebody facing that prospect who might feel suicidal would be to open the floodgates to people to make false claims of suicidal ideation in order to avoid deportation, desperately trivialises the horror of deportation for many people who face that reality. When she says the alternative put forward in a case to which she referred, that there should be a care plan, as she proposes in cases of suicidal ideation in pregnancy, and compares that with a judge saying a care plan is necessary for someone who faces deportation and says they might be suicidal, she should acknowledge that no such care plan is ever put in place for deportees, irrespective of whether they say they are suicidal. They are just bound, gagged, put on a plane and deported once the decision has been made to deport them. It is a very bad comparison for the Minister of State to make. The logic of it is to suggest that women who threaten to commit suicide, or say they are suicidal because they are pregnant should be incarcerated rather than have their wishes for a termination granted. That is completely unacceptable.

It is a pity that some of those who oppose abortion have constantly said, and say again in the debate on this group of amendments, that abortion is not a treatment for suicide, as if that were ever the issue. Nobody has ever claimed abortion was a treatment for suicide. Those who oppose giving such rights to the women who are suicidal and whose lives are at risk as a result of suicidal ideation need honestly to admit, or at least address when debating this issue, that if a woman is pregnant and feels suicidal at the thought of continuing with that pregnancy, and if she is forced against her will to carry on that pregnancy, that will almost inevitably increase the anxiety, suffering and stress she will feel and very likely contribute to a greater risk to her life and of her carrying through with that threat of suicide. It does not mean that having the right to a termination automatically does away with suicidal ideation but they surely must acknowledge that forcing a woman who does not want to have a child and feels suicidal at the thought of having one is dangerous and puts women's lives at risk.

As other speakers have said, there is an unacceptable and unsustainable distinction being made by those who oppose any limited introduction of abortion in the case of suicidal ideation. They are making an untenable distinction between physical and mental health, suggesting that somehow the bar that one has to reach for a threat to one's life because of mental illness or suicidal ideation should be higher than it would be for a physical medical emergency. In medicine no such distinction is made. No distinction can be made in medicine between a physical and a psychological threat to life and it is wrong to do so.

I disagree fundamentally with the arguments that these people make. My problem with section 9 is the opposite of theirs because sadly, as a political fudge, the Government has made unnecessary and unacceptable concessions to the untenable arguments made by those who oppose any limited introduction of abortion in the case of a possible suicide. The Government also makes the distinction in the legislation between a physical threat to life and a threat to life as a result of suicidal ideation or psychiatric illness. The Minister makes that distinction in the Bill and I believe it is absolutely untenable. As I said on Committee Stage, and the point was made very strongly to the Minister by psychiatrists and groups such as Doctors for Choice, if somebody has to be certified in a situation where there is no pregnancy involved as being a threat to themselves, as a result of mental illness, there is only a requirement for one psychiatrist and a GP. There is no requirement for two psychiatrists, an obstetrician and indeed a fourth doctor, in that the Bill requires consultation with the GP as well. Why does the Minister make that distinction? There simply is no basis for doing it. It puts more obstacles in the way of women whose lives are at risk and who are feeling suicidal because of their pregnancies. The Minister is making that distinction only because there is a pregnancy. That means he is in a dangerous way playing fast and loose with a threat to the life of a woman, putting extra obstacles in her way in accessing the service she needs or feels she needs. That is unacceptable. That requirement, among other serious flaws and weaknesses in this Bill, has forced some of us who are pro-choice to say we simply cannot vote for it. Much as we wanted a Bill that would legislate for the X case and even if, as far as we were concerned, it did not go far enough, we would have voted for it, had the Minister not tightened it up to such an extent that it is actually regressive and puts more restrictions in the way of women accessing terminations when they need them than there were before this Bill was drafted. That is quite shameful on the part of the Government.

I am speaking to amendment No. 58. Many parts of the Bill are to be welcomed in that they provide legal clarity for medical professionals when they are faced with a situation in which a woman's life is at risk and where action is necessary to save her life that may result, as an unintended consequence, in the death of the unborn. The Bill, however, contains some flaws and once again, as I said last week, we are suffering from a belief in Irish exceptionalism or indeed what has been described in the Chamber today as a group-think. We somehow believe that we alone, relative to other jurisdictions which have attempted to introduce legislation, can bring in limited access to abortion on the grounds of mental health. We know from experiences in the United Kingdom, California and New Zealand in particular in the 1960s that they could do this but within a few years the number of abortions being carried out reached into the tens of thousands. Many other jurisdictions have had a similar experience and a similar debate. In this area we seem, as Irish people, determined not to learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions.

We know from experience in the United Kingdom, California and New Zealand that a few years after abortion was introduced, the number of them being performed reached into the tens of thousands. Many other jurisdictions have had a similar experience and debate. In this area, many of us seem to be determined not to learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions but rather copy them so we may learn the lesson the hard way. This determination flows from an odd belief that we are exceptional relative to other countries. We often say such and such might have happened that way in that country but Ireland is the exception. I do not believe that. The present economic calamity we are enduring was caused by that type of belief. We were told we could not go wrong with property prices, that the fundamentals of the economy were sound as well as good and we were different than anywhere else in the world.

Section 9 will lead to abortion becoming far more widely available than its supporters disingenuously now claim. Many of its supporters need to be honest with themselves first and then to the public. Some supporters of this Bill have been very honest and see what I have foreseen. They have also been honest with the public with respect to their decision on it.

Earlier today Deputy Ó Cuív raised an issue which I have encountered over the course of this debate. When one raises an objection to aspects of this debate, one is normally met with slogans such as “You do not trust women”. That is unacceptable and is a nonsense in this debate. As I said last week in the Chamber, people in general are trustworthy. People occasionally lie to achieve a purpose. Some people are women. I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, to have to reduce the debate to this extent. However, when one is met by protestors claiming one does not trust women, sometimes one has to reduce the debate to this type of nonsense to address the issue.

We have seen interviews with David Steel who introduced the Abortion Act in 1967 in the UK Parliament in which he has expressed regret at how the operation of the legislation eventually worked out. He has stated that if he had known the eventual consequences of what had materialised he would not have proposed the Bill. David Steel has some excuse. He did not know what we know now.

One could argue that in 20 years' time many of us will regret supporting or rejecting the Bill. We could look back and feel guilty or somewhat foolish. As legislators, it is our responsibility to reconcile both sides of this debate. The rhetoric that has been deployed by some people in this debate has been somewhat dishonest.

It is not a fair representation when an opinion poll asks if one supports legislation to protect the life of the mother during pregnancy and then presents its results as being indicative as full support for the legislation. Of course, one is going to support that legislation. When it asks if it is important that medical professionals have clear guidelines and legal clarity around the circumstances in which an intervention to save a woman’s life which would result in the unintended death of an unborn baby, one would have to question what the answer would be. When it asks if one supports legislation that allows for an abortion in the case of suicidal ideation, knowing that in every jurisdiction it has been introduced it has led to abortion on demand, what would the answer be? When it asks if one supports legislation that allows for an abortion up until the final week of pregnancy, what would the answer be?

We all approach the House with very good intentions. I have grave concerns about the lack of time limits in this legislation. We are in a dangerous place with respect to the notion the State would take any hand, act or part in the precipitation of the conclusion of a pregnancy of a woman where a baby would be born prematurely. We would not be in a position to assess the human rights concerns for that baby with respect to disability, pain or the State’s role with respect to the late development of that child.

I appreciate it is a sensitive issue. In that respect, I will be pressing my amendment No. 57. I would be grateful if the Minister could take my concerns on board. I have been moved by the quality of the debate tonight. It has been the most honest debate on legislation over the past three years. It has been a difficult position for many of us. Will the Minister carefully consider my amendment?

I will be supporting this Bill although with some regret because I believe it could have gone further. Some of those calling for the deletion of the section on suicide do not refer to the 1992 or 2002 referendums. In 1992, there were three separate ballots. The first sought to limit the right based on suicide and the citizens decided they did not want to limit that right. The second was the right to travel which was passed. The third was the right to information which was also passed. The referendums arose from the issues around the X case when a 14 year old brought into sharp focus what was at stake. This was not an academic issue but a real issue for a child.

The 2002 amendment to the Constitution also sought to tighten the constitutional ban on abortion. It would have removed the threat of suicide as grounds for legal abortion in the State. It was rejected by the people. We have a written Constitution that places the citizen at its heart. They have given us a set of instructions which we have failed to put into law over several decades. I cannot think of another issue which would have been so disregarded.

Deputy Keaveney talks about group think. Was it group think in 1992 and 2002? That was not an opinion poll but the people giving us a set of instructions as legislators to take on board and deliver upon. If this section is excluded, how will it be provided for as the people have given it as a constitutional right?

Could someone who is suicidal be committed?

Just think of the consequence if we take it to the logical conclusion. Is the Government going to curtail or remove the right to liberty of a woman or a child?

To our disgrace, we have seen how we have treated women in the past. We have seen things like the Magdalen laundries and the mother and baby homes. It may well be for different reasons. It may well have been partly because of that type of a reason. We have an obligation here. Why did citizens decide to include suicide? It was because the evidence was there that there was a 14 year old child who had been suicidal following a rape. I believe the Irish people displayed the kind of compassion that is a part of something that we can proud of in this country.

Last week I saw similar compassion, but I did not see it in Ireland. I saw it in Liverpool when I went to visit the Liverpool Women's NHS Hospital. The visit was specifically organised for the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities by the group, Doctors for Choice. We met an obstetrician and many other members of the staff in several sections of that fine hospital, which is the biggest maternity hospital in Europe and is attached to the university. I will go into that later if we have time to deal with the next segment. We asked what was different about Irish women. Was there anything noticeable that was different about Irish women when they presented with fatal foetal abnormalities, very often with a much wanted pregnancy? They told us that Irish women expected the staff to judge them and to be judgmental. It is almost a conditioning. They got compassion in another country when they should have got the same compassion and the same duty of care here because of that terribly tragic situation in which they find themselves. I would like the Government today to deal with that issue. If it cannot be dealt with in the context of the eighth amendment, I want to see this Government committing to dealing with that issue by way of referendum because it is absolutely barbaric. I found myself thanking the staff for their compassion, and I felt ashamed that our country could not offer that kind of compassion to the women here.

At a time when a young woman or a child find themselves in a situation where they are suicidal - if it happens to one, if can happen to others - when they need compassion and when they most need their family and friends around them, how does excluding this very restrictive segment from the legislation make them feel about themselves? Does it make them feel judged because they are going to another country? Does it make them judged as well because of the very fact that they are suicidal?

Then there is the issue of floodgates. Floodgates were going to open with artificial contraception, and we had an Irish solution to the Irish problem. We had two referendums on divorce and we had floodgates. The second time it was passed, it was passed with a very restrictive four-year minimum term limit. This morning somebody on the radio said we should relax that. Is there anybody batting an eyelid about that now? No, they are not. This notion of floodgates is rolled out on every single occasion when there is a social issue that needs to be addressed in this country, and we need to grow up and start doing things because they need to be done. We should not take this overly cautious approach.

I have met and spoke with numerous people over the past few months. I find that many men will say that they do not really feel comfortable dealing with this issue, and it is noticeable that they would say it to you. Many women just ask for one thing. They ask to be trusted. It is the women who are asking to be trusted.

One of my amendments was ruled out of order on the basis that it would be a charge on the State. I would love to see what has been the poor relation of the health service, namely, the mental health service, beefed up where it would be at a level that we would all like to see. The reality is that it is currently very under-resourced. I know we are in a very difficult financial situation, but it is an area that needs to be protected. The care path that has been identified would require very significant resources. I do not understand why some amendments are ruled out of order because there will be a charge on the State, while something like this can be included, because it is a very substantial obligation that is being sought. I would love to see it happen.

I believe that much more needs to be done. I will be supporting the legislation, because I think it is movement, even if it is very limited movement.

Debate adjourned.