I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I find it somewhat unbelievable that it is nearly three years since Deputies Mick Wallace, Joan Collins and I first introduced legislation to try to deal with the X case ruling in what was the first proactive discussion on Ireland's abortion reality. It was at that time four incredible women - Arlette, Amanda, Ruth and Jenny - went public about their circumstances and the tragic decisions they had to make to take a trip and have a termination after receiving a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. That was one of the first times people actively promoted themselves having had to undergo a termination. They went on the "Late Late Show" when they had a significant impact on people around the country. With their partners and families, they set up Termination for Medical Reasons. This week they were in Leinster House, waiving their right to privacy to share their stories. It is an absolute insult to them that the Government is attempting to oppose this legislation. It is indefensible and I appeal to the Government in the couple of days before the vote is taken to change its view. If it is really listening to the people in question about their pain and torture, the alternative of doing nothing does not seem to be good enough.
I acknowledge the role played by the individuals behind the campaign and ask people to view the documentary made by Mr. Luke McManus on YouTube. It includes the powerful and heart-rending testimony of people involved in this type of situation. It should be compulsory viewing for anybody before the vote is taken. On behalf of these wonderful people, I introduce this legislation which is the product of input by legal minds such as Ms Jennifer Schweppe in University of Limerick, Dr. Ruth Fletcher and Dr. Eimear Spain who gave of their time free gratis in the public interest and the common good. I salute them for this.
The Bill is about the rare and tragic cases in which parents receive the worst news possible during a pregnancy, often well into it, that the foetus to which they are so looking forward to giving birth has a condition which means that it has no chance of being born alive. The grief is unbearable, with the first reaction being hope this is and could not possibly be true, before the realisation sets in that the diagnosis is correct when the bottom falls from their world. There is nothing we can do to change that grief and there will be no happy ending with the Bill. We can ensure, however, that the ending would be less sad, as, although grief and loss can be dealt with, the anger stemming from feeling let down by one's country, shunned and stigmatised is entirely different.
When people are presented with this diagnosis, they are given two options. They can carry the pregnancy to full term or try to organise a way to leave the country to have the pregnancy terminated. Those who choose to continue the pregnancy would be unaffected by the proposed legislation. They receive very little support in Ireland; they are given the diagnosis and sent home to wait for the child to die. The Bill deals with the others, those who cannot bear the prospect of carrying on, with people congratulating them on the impending arrival, patting the bump and so on. They believe the best and most humane option for them is to terminate the pregnancy.
I will not repeat the stories and testimony we have all heard, but the mental and emotional scars people endure are made worse by the lack of medical help and support. Such issues have been highlighted by the masters of the maternity hospitals who have argued the current position means that people can be deprived of the opportunity to engage in full consultation with medical practitioners in Ireland. There is no post mortem on the aborted foetus or advice or counselling afterwards. There is a lack of follow-up services and secrecy. This is barbaric, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment - it is torture and it is happening today, as somebody is probably now receiving that heart-breaking diagnosis. Others will receive it next week and the week after. Ruth from the Termination for Medical Reasons campaign stated, "I cannot get over my own anger until it changes because it is happening to people every week and it is just not fair."
I am heartily sick of the nauseating hypocrisy we have had to endure in the House. There have been shallow words of sympathy and tears from Deputies, 50 of whom are on the record of the House as saying something needs to be done. If Members do not do it, who will do it, as we are the legislators? If those who said it really believe it, they must come in behind the Bill. We have circulated the open letter written three years ago by Labour Party members, including three MEPs, three Senators and 15 Deputies. They indicated to the then Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, that it was incumbent on the Government to introduce legislation to set out the criteria whereby terminations of pregnancy could be carried out in circumstances involving fatal foetal abnormalities. That was three years ago and five of the people in question are now Ministers or Ministers of State. They are part of the Government on which they called to do something. What are they doing? The Government has done nothing and its response is merely to tell us we cannot go ahead with our proposals. If they really believed in what we are trying to do, they would formulate an alternative, but they have not done so; instead, they have abandoned people. In the forthcoming days I urge them to change their position.
Nobody can put forward a legitimate moral argument for opposing the Bill. The Government is using the old nugget that the legislation is unconstitutional. That is a cop-out. This is the same constitutional provision that was used in arguing against us before Christmas. The Constitution is being used by the Government and others to block this legislation. In any case, the Government cannot know that the Bill is constitutional, as the only way legislation can be deemed to be unconstitutional is by testing it in the High Court or the Supreme Court. The Government has only received the opinion of the Attorney General and guess what? Attorneys General have been proved wrong.
It was a former Attorney General who took the action against Ms X in the Supreme Court ruling in the X case. Ms X won that case and the Supreme Court decided that that girl had the right to a termination in Ireland. Not only that, but of course we know that previous Attorneys General have strongly argued the opposite position to that Attorney General's. The European Court of Human Rights - in D v. Ireland, where the Irish case won - said that D's case was deemed inadmissible because the State argued that she had not exhausted all domestic remedies. The courts upheld the view that she had a reasonable prospect of success before the Irish courts in seeking a termination in those circumstances.
I will not quote from the judgments in those cases, but they are clear in stating that even if the unborn had a right to life, the right to life was not actually engaged as it had no prospect of life outside the womb.
I have heard the Minister say that he is relying on the same advice. However, the advice the Government got before could not relate to this because this is the first time there has been an amendment to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. When the latter Bill was being moved, the then Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, said it could not confer new rights to terminate a pregnancy - it had to clarify existing rights. That is exactly what we are trying to do with the Bill before the House.
Where a foetus or an unborn is incompatible with life - where it is agreed by two medical practitioners that it is not capable of being born alive - then it is our contention that it is perfectly permissible to have a termination in this country. The advice of the Attorney General before made the point that if a foetus had a condition that made it incompatible with life, but was capable of being born, then it attracted the protection of Article 40.3.3°. If the Minister is saying that - and he seems to be - then the corollary is also true - that if it is not capable of being born alive, then no such protection exists. Not only are we saying that abstractly, but the courts have also examined what it means to be born alive. There is no universal standard, but it is clear that doctors can determine with relative certainty whether a foetus will survive.
The recent tragic case before Christmas 2014 of PP v. HSE, involving a woman who was on a life-support machine, added to what we are saying here. In that case, they discussed a genuine prospect of the foetus being born alive, they talked about the stress for the family and the foetus, and said it would be a distressing exercise in futility had it continued. Therefore, the ruling went on to mention Article 40.3.3°. We believe strongly that that legal opinion has added to the other points. There is an overwhelming body of legal opinion that now states it is compatible with our Constitution to have this situation. The only way we will know that, however, is if we have it tested and pass this Bill.
The only other reason that is advanced to oppose this idea is the sort of urban myth that medicine can never be sure a baby would not survive. We have all heard the stories of these strapping lads who are marching around the country, whose mothers were told that they were never going to survive. I have to say that this is absolute nonsense and an insult. If they are strapping lads now, they were born years ago. Medicine has moved on dramatically since then.
A woman being told that there may be a difficulty with the foetus and to expect a problem, is an entirely different situation from a scientific diagnosis given under modern medicine that some foetus has a fatal foetal abnormality. We are talking about foetuses without a brain, a skull or kidneys - tragic complicating conditions that give them a zero chance of life. The myths about a misdiagnosis do not apply to these circumstances.
I find it insulting that women, couples and doctors would get a diagnosis two-thirds through a pregnancy and say "That's shocking, so we'll head off and terminate the pregnancy". It is the most heartbreaking thing to happen to anybody. There are tests and more tests, while people hope against hope that they could be wrong before, unfortunately, the reality dawns that there is no hope in that scenario. Making a decision in those circumstances is no different than the decisions that are made every day to turn off a life-support machine. It is tragic and heartbreaking but absolutely necessary. To consider it as anything else is insulting, in my opinion.
There are legally and medically sound reasons why this Bill is valid, as well as humane considerations. Apart from that, it is absolutely necessary in order for us to comply with the most basic obligations in terms of our human rights. Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said it was very concerned about the criminalisation of people in these circumstances. It talked about the severe mental suffering caused by the denial of abortion services for women in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. The committee said it was a breach of articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 17, 19 and 26 of the UN Convention on Human Rights. The UN committee told us to revise our legislation, as well as the Constitution. That is what we are trying to do here today.
The Bill before the House would bring us in line with Northern Ireland. Last week, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice had a ruling against it whereby the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission won the right to take a judicial review in the North. The courts there said it was not good enough for the Minister for Justice just to consult on these issues, he also had an obligation under human rights law to deal with them. We, too, have an obligation to deal with these issues.
All the boxes are ticked on this matter - medical, legal and human rights law. Time after time, opinion polls indicate the Irish people want this situation to be dealt with. They want people to be able to face these tragedies surrounded by their loved ones, their families and medical support. The only thing that is in the way is this House, which is blocking that. It is completely and utterly unacceptable that that is the case. Anything we get opposing this measure will simply be excuses. That is an absolute betrayal of people in this tragic situation.
Amanda, one of the founders of "Termination for Medical Reasons", said:
Stop making excuses while women in this horrendous situation continue to contact us week after week, unsure of where to go or who to turn to; in shock at the extent to which they are abandoned and stigmatised in the wake of the Irish Government's continuing excuse making. Enough is enough. You are the legislators. You are the law makers. You have signed up to deal with these sensitive issues. It's your job. I'm tired of this sadness and the anger that comes with answering phone calls and emails from distressed expectant parents in the same situation that we were in two and a half years ago, and having so little to offer them other than emotional support. Change is beyond due. I would say to this Government, it is finally time to recognise it and deal with this issue.