Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share time.
Vol. 926 No. 1
Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share time.
I will refer first to the Government amendment to the Bill, which is seen by people as a disgraceful manoeuvre. The Dáil and the electorate are very clear about what is happening, namely, that Fine Gael and, unfortunately, Independents are now opposing the repeal of the eighth amendment. They are ensuring that it will never happen within the lifetime of this Government because the timeline they have put forward would bring everything to 2018. It is to be hoped that this Government will not be in existence at that point. Certainly, the arrangement with Fianna Fáil would suggest as much. What is happening is not surprising in view of the fact that some of the architects of the eighth amendment - including the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan - are key figures in this Government. What will enrage and anger many women and young people is that Independents who were elected on a platform of repealing the amendment and a lifetime commitment to opposition to political whips are now buckling under a whip and kicking this issue to touch. Women must wait, as must young people who are very impatient in terms of downgrading the church's grip on people's lives.
During the debate on the eighth amendment in 1983 there was a Salem-style atmosphere in the House. A host of Deputies spoke about a holocaust of the unborn. Members, with a few very notable exceptions in the Seanad and other places, obviously had no regard whatsoever for women experiencing crisis pregnancies. Today, we have a very different debate because this is about bodily autonomy, a concept that is now increasingly demanded by the population. We do not think that, under our Constitution, an embryo or foetus should have equal status to a live woman.
The momentum for repeal has been increasingly obvious. We have had the Maser mural, repeal jumpers and #twowomentravel. There was an historic march for choice attended by 25,000 people. I, the Socialist Party and the Anti-Austerity Alliance salute, in particular, young people who have made a decision that they are going to fight to bring about change on this issue. They have been inspired by the marriage equality campaign last year. They will not accept the Government's Irish solution to the Irish problem.
The Dáil is now a severe impediment to progress on this issue, yet it is the only place where a referendum can be triggered. If Deputies really want the repeal of the eighth amendment, they should vote for this Bill because there will be a series of stages to progress it. Meanwhile, the Citizens' Assembly can deliberate. To those involved in the repeal movement I say that we must continue the pressure to end the possible stymieing of a very important issue. We need to look no further than Poland, where hundreds of thousands of women and men came out onto the streets and forced their Government to change.
In the past two months, another trend has emerged. There has been a series of articles, opinion pieces and polls which tell us that women are asking for far too much and that we should give them a little bit of, rather than full, abortion rights. An article by Michael Clifford suggested that the radical left should tone things down. The left is the only force in this country that has ever championed repeal and the pro-choice view, including in 1983 when three left-wing Deputies tried to prevent the madness that engulfed the Dáil. Society in Ireland, we are told, has not progressed that much and the new mantra is that people are not ready. We are told we must continue with the slow pace of incremental change that has been the hallmark of Irish society for decades. People are no longer prepared to do that.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, now tells us that there is not enough support for a pro-choice position. If the civil rights movement in racist southern states in 1950s America had listened to arguments of that nature, we would be a long way behind where we are today. Even if it was the case that only a minority of people are pro-choice, that does not preclude us from asking for what is necessary, namely, legislation to deal with the 12 women who leave this State every day to access abortion. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, tweeted a couple of them recently. In this country, three women access medical abortion pills from Women On Web and have abortions in their homes every day - that is 1,000 abortions in Ireland every year. That will continue, legally or illegally, regardless of whether a referendum is called. That is what the Government must stand over.
I remind the Government that this is the fourth anniversary of the tragic death of Savita Halapannavar. Four years on, it is not even discussing the absence of what led to her death, that is, abortion to protect a woman's health. It is not even thinking about that. The slow pace of change it wants people to accept is quite incredible. I do not think that what the Government is claiming is the case. I am of the view that if we held a referendum to repeal the eighth, we would win a majority in respect of our position.
The key point is that we must keep women's bodies out of the Constitution. It is not the place to be dealing with what the Taoiseach has said are not black-and-white issues. It is not normal to do so, it has been a disaster for 33 years and it has had a chilling effect on doctors. The latter was particularly the position in the case of Savita but also in the context of many other women.
Some parties are actually suggesting that abortion in cases where a woman's life is at risk, where rape has occurred or where fatal foetal abnormalities exist is an adequate response to what is needed. We totally reject that. We put forward the idea that we must repeal the odious eighth amendment and then legislate for what is needed. I would also contend that the people who argue that we should not move too fast but, rather, that we should proceed at a slow and steady pace are not in touch with the popular mood. It is only three years ago that people on the other side of the House thought it was fine to introduce a 14-year jail sentence for women who have abortions. Nobody in society thinks it is acceptable. The commentators in the media did not predict the significant turnout in working class communities for the marriage equality referendum.
Opinions are not fixed. We should have a debate if the Bill is passed - we need to have a debate the length and breadth of the country. However, tying repeal of the eighth amendment to any restriction in terms of legislation would be to predetermine the outcome of the debate and suggest in advance that there are deserving and undeserving abortions. We need women to be trusted to make those decisions, and that is the view of the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.
We believe that there is an underestimation of the real radicalisation that has taken place in society. Nothing short of dealing with a situation where working class women, poor women, migrant women, those who cannot travel so easily, young women, students and all women should be able to decide this for themselves. It is a matter of bodily autonomy.
I will finish with a quote from Martin Luther King. Every single social movement has been told, "Hold on, you're looking for too much". He answered by saying, "For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" ... This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never"". I remind people who were elected and voted only 18 months ago on this side of the House for this very same Bill to review their position.
The first observation I wish to make is how interested the people in the Chamber are in this Bill. They cannot wait to debate it. Over 70 people in the House committed in advance of the election to supporting a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment. I am stunned by the presence of those who think that a debate on half the population is so important that they turned up and bothered to stay for this debate. As the debate progresses, we will see how many stay away and how many turn up. My guess is that shame, mortification and the fact that they made U-turns are keeping most of them away.
There are experiencing mortification of being called out on their own hypocrisy, and mortification and shame on the question of how women in this country have been treated and continue to be treated. I will quote one of those women. She is known to this House. She is a woman called Ms Amanda Mellet who suffered from fatal foetal abnormality and about whose case the UN human rights committee attacked the State for cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and discrimination and violation of Articles 7 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. To quote Amanda:
I still suffer from complicated grief and unresolved trauma, not from the termination but from the way I was forced to have it. I hope the day will soon come when women in Ireland will be able to access the health services they need in our own country, where we can be with our loved ones, with our own medical team, and where we have our own familiar bed to go home and cry in. Subjecting women to so much additional pain and trauma must not continue.
That is exactly what those on the other side of the House are doing tonight with their tricks, their obfuscation and their twisting to push this Bill down the road by a year. They are forcing more Amanda Mellets into more pain and more trauma. I hope that is as far as it goes. If there is another Savita Halappanavar within the next year, they will have to think long and hard about their position. We have an historic opportunity for the first time in 33 years to rid this country, and particularly the women of this country, of a chain around their ovaries, bodies and lives. That amendment was put into the Constitution when I was a young woman. Along with Deputy Finian McGrath, we were out campaigning against it. We now have an historic opportunity to undo that and that is because of the young people in the Visitors Gallery. Those young women, who were not even born when that amendment was inserted into the Constitution, want the right to be able to say how they live their lives, control their bodies and what this Government has to say to them. They have never had a vote on whether that amendment should stay in the Constitution or not. The Government's amendment to our Bill to kick it down the road at least one whole year means that they probably will not get that chance in the lifetime of this Government, if it lasts that time. The Government has guaranteed that for them.
I will quote figures from very important research in medical journals. Some 250,000 women have left this country, North and South, between the years 1970 and 2015. Today, about ten women a day leave this country to procure abortions. Five years on, Women on Waves estimates that about 5,600 women have contacted it to get the abortion pill.
The legacy of the 1980s, when 15-year old Ann Lovett died giving birth in a graveyard in Longford, the legacy of Savita Halappanavar, the legacy of Ms X and Ms Y and the whole plethora of pain and suffering that was brought on women in this country cannot continue. If the women in the Visitors Gallery represent anything in this country, it will not continue, because despite the Government's obfuscation and kicking to touch, this fight goes on. This campaign to repeal the eighth amendment will not stop. The Government will get its answer on the street. It keeps saying that the centre will hold. Those women are the centre and they will not hold the Government's plan together for it to continue the barbarism and the low moral values of the 1980s. The Government cannot tell those women that it is the boss of them. It will not be allowed to continue.
I want to make a few simple points about this wonderful Citizens' Assembly that the Deputies opposite and the Taoiseach came up with in order to avoid dealing with the question of women having control and a say over their own lives. First of all, let us think about it. A well-off polling company, Red C, based in Dublin and internationally, chooses 99 citizens to sit down with professionals from the legal and medical professions to talk about what is good for women. What is good for women? What is good for me? Do I decide whether I can have a right to terminate a pregnancy or do 99 citizens, a doctor, a lawyer and a judge make that decision? Put that opposite what real democracy looks like: a constitutional referendum that is put before about 3 million voters in this country who are given a free choice to decide whether or not that oppressive amendment stays in the Constitution. There is no part of the Constitution that controls an aspect of a man's health. There is one part of the Constitution that controls an aspect of a human being's health. That is the eighth amendment. It utterly and totally discriminates against half the population. The so-called Citizens' Assembly, with Richard Jolly TV Ltd., a budget of €2 million, Q4PR to do the publicity and Beatrice.ie to do the e-mails is going to tell the vast majority of us how we should live and what we should think.
When the woman at the centre of the X case was imprisoned against her will by this State, I remember marching with a sheet of paper that had "Let her go" written on it, alongside tens of thousands of young girls who burst out of their schools, pushed aside the principles of the nuns and came down to the Department of the Taoiseach day after day to demand "Let her go". When it culminated in a big demonstration of tens of thousands on the street, lo and behold, the Supreme Court changed its mind. There you go: the independence of the Judiciary versus the will of the people. It will be the will of the people that will force this House to make a decision and stop kicking it down the road the way it did with water charges, the NAMA legislation and any other challenging issue that came before the Government. It kicked it down the road and hoped it did not come back. It is not going to do that with women and women's lives.
It took 21 years for this House to legislate on the basis of the referendum that took place after the X case - 21 years. What a bunch of cowards. The same bunch of cowards have absented themselves tonight from this House. Tens of thousands marched when Ms Savita Halappanavar tragically lost her life. Tens of thousands marched a few weeks ago, even though there was a bus strike on and it lashed rain. The demand was simple: we want a vote and we want to repeal the eighth amendment.
I wish to illustrate more hypocrisy by people in this House, by the morality of the church and by the State in this country. It is the utter hypocrisy of closed eyes, closed ears and closed mouth, like the three monkeys, to pretend it is not happening. Abortion in this country is a reality. It has been a reality forever and it will remain a reality. Tragically, what will also probably remain a reality are the serious cases like Savita, Ms X and Ms Y. We have the opportunity and duty to now ensure that the Government does not get away with it and that the fight continues.
I have here the abortion pill. It is very simple and very simple to obtain. It can be acquired on Women on Web over the internet. Loads of the young women in the Visitors Gallery are doing that. One of the reasons for that is because it is very safe. The World Health Organization, after trial and trial again, has said that it is safe. It is affordable and it can be obtained here in this State. One can also be sentenced to 14 years for procuring it, taking it and for helping oneself to have an abortion at home. I think, if they put their hands up, there are a load of women in the Visitors Gallery who could be arrested and fill two wings of Mountjoy. I could be arrested and given 14 years for having it, but the Government is not going to do that. Despite what is on the books and in the laws, the Government knows that if it dares to implement it, it would bring hellfire and brimstone down on top of this House and on wider society. We have moved on from the 1980s and the dark ages and we are not going back there. Though this pill will continue to be used, the Government will continue to deny that abortion is already a reality in this country and will be for tens of thousands of women.
I have to say that I was extraordinarily angry with the Independents in particular in the Government and the measures they took today to kick for touch on this issue. My anger is nothing compared with the anger that was felt outside at a relatively decent-sized demonstration at 5.30 p.m. this evening. Young women are furious with them. They are furious with Deputy Katherine Zappone, who was mainly elected on the basis of marriage equality, the repeal the eighth campaign and all of the good liberal and free-thinking things that people hoped to see enacted. They are furious with Deputy Finian McGrath, Deputy John Halligan and with every single one of the TDs and Senators who committed to repealing the eighth amendment in advance of the election. Are they going to do what former Deputy Pat Rabbitte did and make promises just to get elected without implementing them? If Deputy McGrath keeps nodding his head, he will probably be doing so for another year. If the so-called 99 wise men and women come back and tell me what to do with my life at the end of next June, they will already have witnessed an exodus of at least 3,000 women from this country in order to procure an abortion and tens of thousands will be more likely to procure this simple pill in the future.
At least the pill is affordable. Many women, including those in direct provision, do not even have the option to leave the country.
Many women do not have the money or the support at home or they cannot get time off from their jobs or source a childminder. Rich women can do it, but working class and poor women cannot and, disgracefully, we have imprisoned hundreds of women, who have no right to leave this country and return, in direct provision centres. If the UN thinks that it was bad for Amanda Mellet, and it was, and there will be more Amanda Mellets, let it look now at how we treat women in direct provision, poor women and children in care. There are major questions over the behaviour of this Government. It has an opportunity to do something real and meaningful for the future of women in this country, but it will just throw it away, enthusiastically and proudly, with both hands. How dare it?
I guarantee the Minister the fight is not over. The question of pushing for a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment will continue. More people will join in, more trade unions will back it and more workplace groups for repeal will be set up, despite the obfuscation of Fine Gael and the Independents with the collusion more than likely of Fianna Fáil when it comes to the vote on Thursday.
The Government is outrageous. It does not deserve to sit in this House making promises on the one hand and selling out half the population on the other. If tragedies such as these happen again, be it on the heads of those in government. In the meantime, the Government should think about all the women it is exporting and will continue to export until some day, when we have put enough pressure on the Government, we will sit in this House and vote to give the people the possibility of voting on whether they want to repeal the eighth amendment. I think the result of that constitutional referendum is what the Government fears.
I move amendment No. 1: To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
“Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a second reading in order that the Citizens’ Assembly, established by Resolutions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, can conclude its deliberations on the Eighth Amendment which is the subject matter of this Bill, and report to the Oireachtas in the first half of 2017.”.
Rather than the other side of the House telling me what I think on this issue, they might please allow me to outline what it is I think on it. The Government gave a clear commitment on how it intended to examine the complex and important issue of the eighth amendment. Since our last debate on this issue in July that commitment has been advanced. The Citizens’ Assembly has now become a reality and has held its first meeting. It will deal with the eighth amendment as its first piece of work and it, independently of this House, has declared its intention to report in the first half of next year. This morning, the Government confirmed that a special Oireachtas committee will be asked to respond to its recommendations within six months.
I concluded my contribution during the last debate on this issue by speaking as one of a generation who has never had an opportunity to vote on this issue. I begin tonight in that same place. Like all others who have never had their say, I want mine. However, I refuse to pretend it is as simple as those proposing this Bill present it. I realise, as keenly as anyone else, the long and complex history of abortion debate in this country.
It is now more than 30 years since the eighth amendment was enacted following a bitter and divisive political debate and amid controversy about the meaning and effect of the new constitutional provision. It is 20 years since the Supreme Court confronted the issue in the urgent circumstances of the X case and it is four years since the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. It is just three years since the last Government, of which I was proud to be a member, finally addressed the generational neglect of the Supreme Court ruling by passing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to give it effect. Despite the limited nature of that legislation, remember how it divided this House, political parties and people. Remember the differing points of view and the difficult, but important, discussions that it entailed.
Then, as now, this country, and this House, are bound by the Constitution. A referendum was held in 1983 and, regardless of one’s views, and I certainly have views, resulted in the adoption of a provision which became Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution and which is now commonly known as the eighth amendment. As the House is aware, Article 40.3.3° provides, “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 Private Member’s Bill before the House this evening provides for a referendum to delete the eighth amendment to the Constitution.
Proposing a Bill to amend the Constitution is the easy part. Telling the people what would replace that constitutional amendment in law or elsewhere is the difficult work we now must do. As the proponents of this Bill well know, and as I know, to hold a referendum one must do one's homework and one must properly engage with and inform the Irish people. We saw it with the children’s referendum and the important marriage equality referendum. It cannot be ignored that there are significant policy and legal issues involved in changing the eighth amendment. Simply deleting it opens up major questions for our existing laws and the future legislative framework which would apply. There are important questions that must be answered before proposing an amendment to the Constitution. Simply deleting it raises significant implications for medical practice and the ethical codes of professional regulatory bodies. Simply deleting it takes no account of the differences of opinion in society, and it will be the will of the people that decides this issue.
There are those who believe that the X case was wrongly decided and that there should be another referendum to row back on the right to an abortion in the case of suicide. However, two referendums which tried to remove suicide as a ground were held in 1992 and 2002 and were defeated. Recent public debate has indicated public support for termination of pregnancies in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. However, other groups, as is their right, would like to see much broader grounds for termination. Therefore, let us not pretend this is simple. This is a complex debate.
As Minister for Health, I understand that the inclusion of the eighth amendment in our Constitution has caused much hardship and uncertainty for women who experience a crisis pregnancy and for our health care professionals who provide a clinical service to them, and I am not satisfied with this situation. Our last debate in this House on the issue of abortion was on foot of legislative proposals by Deputy Mick Wallace on the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities. While I was not able to support that legislation because of the constitutional reality, as we listened to the stories of women who received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and I met them again only last week, we know that the current constitutional and statute law causes added distress to them and their families, who are already distraught. I would like to change this situation as soon as possible, but we have to provide the public with comprehensive information about the legal and policy changes that would follow upon a change to the Constitution. Clearly, if this Bill were to pass here tonight, it would do so both in a policy and legal vacuum.
For these reasons I would ask that we in this House, who only just set it up, give the Citizens' Assembly the time it needs to consider the issues and report back to the Oireachtas in the first half of next year. The establishment and the terms of reference of the assembly were approved by a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas only in July. The assembly is required to consider the eighth amendment of the Constitution and report its recommendations on the matter to the Oireachtas, as I have stated, in the first half of 2017. Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, a justice of the Supreme Court, is chairing the assembly, which comprises 99 citizens randomly chosen from the population. The first meeting of the assembly took place in Dublin Castle on 15 October and a list of dates has already been agreed to discuss the eighth amendment over the next number of months.
I thank the women and men who, on our behalf, are undertaking this mammoth task. It is a true example of civic service and they do have the gratitude and support of many. The assembly’s recommendations will be acted upon by a special Oireachtas committee which will be asked to report in six months. The Government is today asking the Business Committee of the Oireachtas to lay the preparatory groundwork for this committee so that it can begin its work without delay.
I know that the time this will take is too long as far as some people both inside and outside of the House are concerned but, just as the last Government addressed the Supreme Court judgment in the X case after 20 years of neglect and avoidance by politicians on all sides of this House, the current Government will address the issue of the eighth amendment. However, we want to do so in the best way. We must do the preparatory work to properly inform debate, to facilitate considered and respectful dialogue and to try to build, in so far as is possible, consensus across Irish society on an issue that has divided society for decades. I believe truly that the Citizens’ Assembly is the forum in which to do it, that it is the best way to do it and that it will do the people a great service in examining all of the complex issues involved. Deputy Ruth Coppinger referenced the marriage equality referendum. We saw the role the constitutional convention played in informing public debate, putting information into the public domain and teasing out issues. We saw a referendum on foot of it and we know how happy all of us were to see that referendum pass.
Although I cannot support the Bill before us this evening, I welcome the opportunity to debate this again. It is important that we debate it. No one is trying to silence debate, as I heard others state earlier today. In particular, I genuinely do welcome the changed tone that has been noticeable in our discussions, even in the past three years. We have to discuss the issue and address it. I would like to especially pay tribute to those who have come forward and told their very personal stories. Those stories have shaped my personal views and remind us all of how real people experience our laws and their effect on medical practice.
I wish I could tell them we could solve this tomorrow but I know that simply is not true. I recognise that colleagues on all sides of this House come to the debate with deeply held principles. I accept their bona fides and hope they accept mine.
For my part, I cannot and will not do women of Ireland the disservice of pretending that this question can be answered with one word, three words or one Bill. It is on this basis that the Government brought forward its reasoned amendment in order that the Citizens' Assembly established by this House and the Upper House in July can conclude its deliberations and make its recommendations and that the Oireachtas committee can act upon those recommendations. We have proved that we will address the issues that were neglected for generations, as happened in the X case. I am determined that we should address the issues related to the eighth amendment. Let the Citizens' Assembly do the very important work it needs to do.
I wish to share time with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on an issue that has been discussed in the House on numerous occasions, sometimes in a very confrontational manner. In recent times, the tone, manner and language used in debates on this issue have changed in a positive way.
The Bill proposes the simple deletion of Article 43.3.3° and many people believe this is the correct approach to the issue. Let us be clear, however, deletion of the article would leave a serious challenge in terms of what would be the role of clinicians and what support we would put in place across the broader legal framework. Simply deleting the article without giving consideration to the legislative underpinning that would be required could have many implications.
Views on this issue in the Fianna Fáil Party vary, as they do in the Oireachtas generally and in broader society. It is incumbent on everyone to try to advocate his or her position in a meaningful way, while understanding that there are deeply held views and convictions on all sides. I have stated on previous occasions that we must revisit Article 43.3.3°, which has a chilling effect on clinicians and forces many women to travel abroad. Many people in the centre take a very compassionate view of circumstances involving fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape. Let us be under no illusions, however. Strong views are held on either side of the argument, with some people advocating a more liberal regime and others contending that termination of pregnancies should not take place under any circumstances. Several years ago, for example, during the debates on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, some Members expressed the view that there should not be any termination of pregnancy, even where the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother was at risk. There are people who hold that view. We must move to a position in which there is no longer a chill effect on clinicians and they are able to take clinical decisions in the best interests of the woman independently and without fear. Neither the clinician nor the women involved must fear prosecution. We must arrive at a position where there is no chill effect on people who deal in a medical context with the issue of the life and health of a woman.
Simple narratives do not make for great debate. In the context of the repeal of Article 43.3.3°, I did not have an opportunity to vote on the eighth amendment in 1983. Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the fact that the amendment was inserted into the Constitution by Irish people and that they will ultimately arbitrate on the matter again at some stage. I have no doubt that a referendum will be held on the issue in the near future. The key point is whether it will be a simple question of deleting Article 43.3.3° and, if so, whether such a proposal would secure the support of the majority of the people. While one should not legislate or make decisions based on opinion polls, there is a middle ground in this argument which would be supportive of moving to address, in a compassionate manner, circumstances involving fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape, as well as the freedom to make clinical interventions in the context of the health and life of the mother. This is critically important.
Beyond this, some people are certain that a proposal involving the simple deletion of Article 43.3.3° would be carried. I am not sure that is the case because many people would be concerned that to do so would effectively entrust the Legislature with introducing legislation to underpin certain views and beliefs on this particular issue. The question is whether Irish people would be willing to trust Parliament to introduce the legislation that would have to follow if Article 43.3.3° were deleted without having any knowledge of what form that legislation would take. I have made this point on a number of occasions and I have also supported in this House Bills aimed at addressing the eighth amendment.
I was not enamoured of the decision to establish the Citizens' Assembly. We should have established some form of commission to examine the legal, ethical and moral issues surrounding this issue and to report quickly to the Dáil. We could then have held an Oireachtas hearing and made a final decision on what proposal, if any, would be put to the people. While the Citizens' Assembly established by the Dáil and Seanad is not the best roadmap for addressing and teasing out all the issues, it is the process that is in place. Regardless of whether I, Deputy Coppinger or others like it, we must deal with the reality. Ms Justice Laffoy and 99 citizens will listen to the differing views on the matter and produce a report which will, I assume, be made available to an Oireachtas committee to adjudicate on its recommendations. The Dáil and Seanad will then make a decision on the matter. We cannot circumvent the reality that the Oireachtas will ultimately decide what type of referendum, if any, will be put to the people. We must achieve a consensus in broader society and the Oireachtas. This requires that we articulate and explain our respective viewpoints and convince others of their merits. The idea that one can dismiss those who have different views does not lead to a healthy debate.
On 8 May 2015, I spoke on Deputy Coppinger's previous Bill on this issue. The tone and language of the debate in broader society demonstrate a greater understanding of the various positions taken on this issue. As the Minister for Health noted, people have bravely told their stories about the impact of having to travel abroad for terminations has had on them. In the area of fatal foetal abnormalities in particular, we have heard harrowing stories about families having to make very difficult decisions. That they have subsequently found there is no support available in their own country to help them through the trauma is repugnant. This area must be addressed quickly. People will argue that the Citizens' Assembly is a pathway to prevarication but I hope that will not be the case. If it reaches some form of consensus that ultimately brings the House together in terms of making a decision, that would be welcome.
Reference was made to the referendum on marriage equality. Let us be honest, until recently many people believed a referendum on marriage equality could not pass. Certain Deputies and parties expressed strong views on the issue. While the Fianna Fáil Party called for the issue to be addressed, it certainly helped that there was discourse and debate on the issue and that respect was shown for differing views on it. One hears sarcastic remarks about middle Ireland, the centre holding and so forth but a consensus was reached and middle Ireland was happy to support the marriage equality referendum.
I am definite that if it had been left to the extremes on both sides, without there having been a platform or a pathway for middle Ireland to be heard, we could have had a very different outcome. I think it shows a certain maturity as to how we bring about movement on very difficult social issues.
Overall, as I said previously, I have not definitively made up my mind on how I will vote on this Bill. I want to see a referendum and want to see the issue addressed but, at the same time, I believe much of the time these Bills are coming before the Dáil when we know we have a process that should be able to shape broader debate in this House in the coming months, when the Citizens' Assembly reports. I do not think it is doing the broader debate a service when it is introduced primarily to embarrass some people. We have to be conscious that it sometimes is used for political debate rather than for public debate and ensuring there is proper discourse and understanding on the matter.
With regard to clinicians, when one speaks to medical experts such as obstetricians and gynaecologists, there is no doubt there is still a chilling effect. The fact we have legislation on the Statute Book that only allows for interventions to save the life of the woman is extreme. While the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was a move in the direction of addressing that issue, it has not addressed it fully and fundamentally. We must accept there is a need for a genuine look at Article 40.3.3° and the eighth amendment in the context of clinical outcomes and interventions and of making sure we have clear guidelines and do not tie medical decisions based on a chill factor or a fear factor. Most of the time we trust our clinicians and, on this issue, we should trust them, the woman and the family to make the decisions.
There is another area of which we must be conscious. If we are to move to where some of us would like to be, where we actually consult the public in the context of a referendum and have a broad debate, one could argue we would probably need a number of options to be discussed in terms of what is possible and feasible. As I said previously, if it is just a deletion without any consideration being given to what is beyond that, we could end up in a situation where the public simply would not support it and we would be back to square one. I do not believe we should make this judgment without having done a detailed analysis of the findings of the Citizens' Assembly. We should then bring that into an Oireachtas committee and have swift hearings. We have to make a decision on this and cannot prevaricate any longer.
Reference was made on a number of occasions to the fact this issue has been ignored for many years. Nonetheless, we had referendums on it on a number of occasions and it was rejected as recently as 2002. As far as I can recollect, it was rejected by the extremes on both sides, in that those who were fundamentally opposed to abortion objected to it, as did those who were very much pro-choice, and the middle ground lost out. We are now in situation where it is again being debated.
I suggest to the proposers of the Bill and, equally, to the Government that we do not prevaricate and do not use the Citizens' Assembly as a method of stringing out this debate. When this comes back to the Oireachtas, there should be swift hearings on it so we can come to an informed decision in this Chamber and in the Seanad in the context of giving many of the people who are most affected by Article 40.3.3° a choice in voting on this issue. I believe the younger generations have an entitlement to and are fully justified in having a say on this issue in the short term. I hope we come to the right decisions that will allow that debate.
If we are to move on this, we should move by trying to bring as many people with us as possible. I believe there is a middle ground in Ireland that wants to deal with issues such as the health of the mother, the life of the mother, the issue of incest and rape, and fatal foetal abnormalities. If we can move to that type of position, I believe there will be broad support. However, if it becomes divisive on both sides, we could be in a situation where the public are unsure and may not be willing to support changes to Article 40.3.3°.
Any debate on the eighth amendment is, was and always will be extremely divisive. However, to really have any understanding of what it means, one must walk in the shoes of a woman facing a crisis pregnancy and, indeed, her partner, or of a doctor who must work under conditions that are not always clear-cut.
The eighth amendment can be viewed as a massive platform of inequality, given the fact the last vote that took place on the matter was in 1983. The people whose lives are directly affected today by this amendment did not vote. In fact, most women of child-bearing age never had the opportunity to vote. Life has changed and the world has changed.
Reports from the UK Department of Health show ten Irish women a day still travel to the UK for abortions, with 3,451 travelling last year. Of those, 5% gave addresses in my constituency in Kildare. While this number has dropped significantly in the last 15 years, Irish women still account for the largest number of non-UK nationals presenting for abortion. The second highest number of women was from the UAE, where abortion is illegal and carries a custodial sentence.
It must be the most cruel and horrific of situations where a woman, hearing the news and feeling the joy that she is going to give birth to a baby nine months hence, then gets the tragic and awful news that the baby is not going to survive past birth. Who am I and who is anyone here to tell that woman what she should do or how she should feel?
We are a caring nation and there can never be a referendum, vote or amendment that will please all. However, it must always be the duty of us all to protect the most vulnerable in society, whether that is the unborn child or protecting a newborn from pain and suffering or saving the life, directly or indirectly, of a pregnant woman. As a society, we know so much more than we did over 30 years ago. We have revealed and discovered so much in the last 30 years about our nation. Ireland is now welcoming the people of nations across the earth. We are required to welcome those fleeing war and abuse and those escaping death and violence. Can they arrive in a country with so little choice and with such restrictions?
A change in law, one hopes, could only mean we are moving forward and evolving. Yet, it remains true what Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the hospice movement, said: you matter and you matter for every moment of your life. Free will and choice are powerful gifts. One person's wish may be another person's tragedy. The terms that are used when debating the eighth amendment can be hurtful and insulting to those who have faced the horrors of losing a child before or after birth. Terms such as "incompatible with life" and "fatal foetal abnormality" are often far too clinical to be used in times of such grief for a family. While such medical terms may often be required by medical professionals to allow them to cope with the difficult choices they have to make, we must remember the term coined by Orla O'Connell, a researcher in Cork University Hospital, while establishing the necessity for prenatal palliative care: incompatible with life but not with love.
My honest opinion is that I battle with what I feel about what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong to destroy a life but it is wrong to refuse a choice to a woman who is in this situation about what is right for her. It cannot be right that a woman has to carry a child that will not survive if that woman does not wish to do so. We have to listen to all sides with respect.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion without being labelled "pro-life" or "pro-choice". As far as I can see, everybody is pro-life, but to be labelled as one or the other causes great disrespect.
A referendum is the right way to go but we must be clear and unambiguous about the wording that would replace the current wording. The Government should have dealt with this by having a judge-led commission, which my party suggested, and by bringing forward wording to the House and ultimately the people in order that they could make a decision. It is a huge decision for our nation and all its people.
I am sharing my time with Deputy Kathleen Funchion.
I thank Deputy Coppinger and her party for bringing this Bill to the floor of the House. I acknowledge the work done by her and others, including some in this House, on this important issue. I do not wish to play politics with this issue because those women who are watching this will not thank us for that. This is bigger and more important than point-scoring and cheap shots, and the talk by Ministers and some others on the Government side to the effect that this Bill is somehow designed to exploit divisions in the Government benches is not only unnecessary but decidedly unhelpful. There are people in the Visitors Gallery and others watching us who want to have a referendum on the eighth amendment. They did not vote for a citizens' assembly. This was not the decision of the majority of people and it is important we do not lose sight of this and somehow pretend a citizens' assembly is the wish of the people. It is not. It has been said, and it bears repeating, that this Chamber is the citizens' assembly as we were elected to make decisions and not outsource anything we regard as a little uncomfortable or potentially divisive.
I want to make the Sinn Féin position very clear. We support the right of a woman to seek, if she wishes, a termination of pregnancy where her life and mental health are at risk or in grave danger. We support the introduction of legislation, North and South, to allow for terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest. In the Twenty-six Counties, this will require the repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. I have placed a motion on the Order Paper to this effect and this is part of the action that is needed. I am outlining the position that Sinn Féin will be taking when this is debated in the Dáil and I know that all parties should and will have an opportunity to outline their respective positions. I state this not to pre-empt the result of any debate but to be absolutely clear about my position and that of my party.
It is now 33 years since the eighth amendment was inserted into our Constitution. When it comes to matters of women's health and the involvement of the State, we have not exactly covered ourselves in glory, and we need to face the fact that we have failed women and that we must take every opportunity to make amends for this.
One should remember retired Ms Justice Harding-Clark's report into obstetric practices at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, the report by the maternity and infant care scheme review group, the maternity services task force, Ann Lovett, symphysiotomy, Ms X, Savita Halappanavar, Ms D, and Ms Y. The UNCHR report that found Ireland failed to protect Ms Amanda Mellet from "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment". That was very recently and a direct result of the eighth amendment. We discussed that very finding here very recently and there was an outpouring of sympathy for Ms Mellet, her family and all those who find themselves in her position.
These were just words. They tripped easily off the tongues of those who sought to grab headlines, but when the opportunity presented to vote to support the women and their families, their support evaporated. Without even having the manners to be ashamed, those in question proudly voted with the Government and made a very clear statement that they were happy for this treatment to continue. They cast their votes to ensure this treatment would continue. What we are seeing is a litany of abuse and the neglect of women, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable. We have commissioned reports, task forces and groups to look into these issues and we have published recommendations, but nearly every year without fail we hear of another tragic failure of our system to protect and support women. That abject failure is, in part, attributable to the eighth amendment.
Before anybody claims better investment in maternity services would offset the need for repeal, let me be very clear. We need repeal and we need better maternity services. We need to consider what it is like for women in Ireland today and examine honestly what that says about us as a country. Women deserve support during pregnancy and after. They should have access to all the supports necessary for their health and mental well-being.
I was a child when the eighth amendment was introduced. I was a child when I watched my mother cry because Ann Lovett had died on her own in a grotto in the cold and in the dark. My mother cried her heart out. She did not want it for her daughter. I am a grandmother now and do not want it for my daughter. I do not want it for my grandson or his generation. We do not need to have the eighth amendment. We can support this legislation. We all know we have to have a debate about it but we need to repeal the eighth amendment.
I commend Deputy Coppinger on bringing the Bill forward. My colleague has already set out our position. Let me make it clear that we support the right of a woman to seek a termination of pregnancy where her life and mental health are at risk or in grave danger. We support the introduction of legislation to allow for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest. In the Twenty-six Counties, this will require the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution. We are obviously all aware of this in debating tonight.
It is important to realise, and we sometimes forget this in this debate, that the important issue is women's health and well-being. We have no role in that at present. A decision should be made by a woman and her doctor. It is not up to us, as politicians, to tell a woman what she should or should not do. She should be able to make the choice in consultation with her doctor.
This Government's delaying tactics are not acceptable. It is not acceptable that politicians in here shy away from this conversation and their responsibilities. Meanwhile in everyday life, more women suffer as a result.
The UN judgment this summer was the latest in a series of rulings that has made it clear that the eighth amendment has to be removed from the Constitution, yet here we are still stalling on this matter. We need a referendum on the amendment and the Government must stop dragging its heels on the issue.
Our party recognises that where a woman wishes to continue with a pregnancy, even in challenging circumstances, she should be fully supported in that decision. We have also called for the introduction of an all-Ireland protocol on prenatal diagnostic screening in pregnancy to support this.
A Fianna Fáil Deputy mentioned the number of women who leave the State every day for an abortion. This is the reality, which we continue to ignore. We were all elected and given a job to be responsible and to be legislators. We cannot decide to talk about and make decisions on certain issues that we feel are popular while just talking about other issues that are unpopular and uncomfortable or creating a citizens' assembly, conventions or talking shops. We were not elected to do the latter action. We have to be able to make responsible decisions and stand up for the women of the country in that regard. We must not continue to simply export our issues. We have a duty to protect the safety and health of women here. This Government has a responsibility to provide the necessary measures to support women with what they need on this very important and sensitive issue. I appeal to all Deputies to support this legislation. Let us get this issue dealt with finally. It is what people want. I cannot stress enough that it is our responsibility. We have kicked this matter down the road for long enough. I appeal to Members to support the Bill.
I am sharing my time with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
The Labour Party will be supporting this legislation to bring about a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution. The very introduction of the eighth amendment was opposed by the Labour Party in 1983. We were very much alone at that time. The Constitution was never the place for such a proposal. Unfortunately, our history since 1983 has proven our stance to have been the correct one. The last time we voted on this matter, Labour Deputies were bound by a programme for Government that had prioritised legislation for the X case, which we delivered. At other times we could not, as a party, vote on any Bills that we knew, unfortunately, to be unconstitutional.
Today is very different. On the first occasion - in opposition - on which we are presented with a Bill on the eighth amendment which we know absolutely to be constitutional, we are very happy to support it. In fact, we feel very much obliged to support it.
The Labour Party has always been to the fore on progressive social change in this country and we will continue to support such change. Whether it was in the context of amending labour laws, changing the law on contraception, decriminalising homosexuality or bringing in divorce, it was very much our party that pushed for these developments. Even recently, the campaign for marriage equality happened because the Labour Party insisted - on foot of a commitment in the previous programme for Government - that it should. What a joyous and hopeful campaign it was. Of course, the Labour Party did not alone persuade the massive majority of the people to vote in favour of marriage equality in the referendum. That was done as a result of conversations across a range of areas - at breakfast tables, in pubs and on social media. However, the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment will be much different. Unlike marriage equality, accessing an abortion is certainly not something to be celebrated. We will all need to be conscious of this as the debate unfolds. We will also all need, collectively, to respect everyone's views and to stop pigeonholing people into two camps, namely, pro-life and pro-choice. I was very much taken by a social media post recently by somebody who said that a recent pro-choice march was just the usual suspects, "liberal students from Dublin universities, Trotskyites", and a reply by Emma Burns, a 42 year old mother of two and a disability rights advocate, who started the hashtag #KnowYourRepealers.
Times have moved on. There is something to be said in normal circumstances for the examination of this issue in a complex way though the Citizens' Assembly. If the Government this time around had proposed to re-establish the Constitutional Convention and apply a tight deadline to this work, we would have possibly supported it. However, preventing all politicians from being members of the assembly was a mistake and the deadlines that have been set are intended to push this item down the road so that the Government will not have to deal with it. The Minister's cop-out tonight in the amendment is, I believe, an embarrassment for him, for Fine Gael and for the Independents who support this Government. It is wrong to prevent the House, the Legislature of the people, from even voting on the Bill passing Second Stage. I am very disappointed by the Government and, in particular, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and certain Independent Ministers who have been very vocal on this issue previously. Obviously, they do not fancy having a referendum during their period in Government.
It is a fact that, on average, 12 women a day travel to the UK for abortions. This fact cannot be ignored by any of us. For those with financial resources the journey is an arduous one. For many migrants or those living in poverty it is a journey they cannot make at all. That is wrong. It is also wrong that no woman currently of child-bearing age has had the chance to vote on these laws. If a woman or girl is raped or is the subject of incest and becomes pregnant as a result, our laws force her to carry that unwanted pregnancy to term. If a crisis pregnancy causes a woman acute medical distress, we tell her she simply must live with it. This is simply barbaric. The Labour Party supports repealing the eighth amendment and then legislating properly and comprehensively to deal compassionately with the situations I have just outlined. It is denial of bodily autonomy and it inflicts real damage on real women - our sisters, daughters, nieces and friends. They are the people the eighth amendment really hurts.
We did not expect the Government to seek to use archaic parliamentary procedure to try to block a vote on this Bill. In truth, however, we do not expect the Bill to pass because of the stance the Government has taken. However, the Labour Party will vote for it and we call on all others across this House to do likewise so that we can move towards a repeal of the eighth amendment and a compassionate settlement that works for the women and for the people of Ireland.
I thank Deputy Kelly for sharing time in order that I might place quite clearly on the record of the Dáil my view that the eighth amendment should never have been put into the Constitution and needs to be taken out. We absolutely support the Bill before the House this evening.
I have been knocking on doors as part of various campaigns since 1983. My first campaign was against the eighth amendment going into the Constitution, and I have never encountered so much venom on doorsteps as I did on that occasion. It should never have gone into the Constitution. We have had the hypocrisy ever since of the idea that Ireland has somehow or other been protected from abortion. The truth is the opposite. We have abortion in Ireland; it is just that we have it in Britain and in various other countries, but mainly in England. The statistics show that the abortion rate actually increased after 1983. In fact, the number of women giving Irish addresses in UK abortion clinics nearly doubled from 3,650 in 1982 to 6,673 in 2001. Other Deputies have provided similar statistics. They are significant numbers. In fact, Ireland has a higher abortion rate - as a proportion of its population - than many other countries. However, abortion just does not happen in this country. That is hypocrisy, and it is about time we got rid of it. It has no place in the Constitution. I am not sure whether the Fianna Fáil position is that we should replace the eighth amendment with some words about the circumstances in which we should allow abortion. Either way, it is our job, as legislators, to decide on legislation. Abortion law should not be in the Constitution. We really need to take our responsibilities here and we need to put it to the people that times have changed and that it is time we had a referendum on this issue. I do not believe we should have any delay whatsoever.
In the past five and a half years, as an elected representative in the Dáil, I and my colleagues have supported five Bills that challenged the eighth amendment and the lack of access to abortion for women with diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities. Every time we had this debate, we came up against the eighth amendment. The eighth amendment has always been the problem. During the most recent general election campaign, there was a fairly good campaign to repeal the eighth which saw people talking to Deputies about the issue of abortion. Many Deputies say they support repeal of the eighth amendment. I think five in Fine Gael have now come out very clearly in support of repealing the eighth amendment. It is a step forward but the Government still lags behind the mood of the people. The people are way ahead of the Government on this. I heard the point made about the marriage referendum. The people were way ahead of us on that too. There was not any particular group that pushed it. The grannies with young sons and daughters who are gay knew what they needed in their lives. They were way ahead of us. That is why the referendum got so much support. The Minister is way behind on this. His Government is way behind on this.
A RED C poll conducted on behalf of Amnesty International has shown that 55% of people agree that expanding access to abortion should be one of the priority issues for this Government. The people want us to deal with this issue. They do not want us to put a group of individuals in a room to make a decision and come back with some recommendation. I certainly do not want to see anything with a constitutional aspect to it that recommends merely changing the Constitution coming back from the Citizens' Assembly. That would be wrong. It has been wrong all along. I think I have gone over my time so I better conclude.
Today, on a whole number of fronts, new politics looks decidedly old. Let us be honest: women's reproductive rights are essentially being sacrificed in a political game tonight. That is what this is - a game so that people who oppose this Bill can pretend they do not. It is pathetic and it is never the way this House has done business. It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, which has already been replicated in the case of the fracking Bill. People are elected to this House to make decisions. The Government should make a decision, stand by that decision and man up.
The manoeuvring on the Government benches today was disgraceful. Here we are, in essence, with another Irish solution to an Irish problem, another monument to our hypocrisy on this issue. I think people have reached a turning point and have got to the stage of no more.
I probably moved the first of these types of Bills, but I am very glad that this will probably be the last one because a repeal of the eighth amendment will be delivered, probably not because of this Government but most definitely in spite of it. Ordinary citizens, young and old, have demonstrated time and again that they are not prepared to continue imposing extra hardship, extra stigma and extra financial strain on women with crisis pregnancies, forcing them to go to the extra expense of travelling, leaving behind their support network, sometimes being too sick to travel, having later abortions with more stress, leaving their children behind and organising for the remains of a much-wanted child to be brought home in the boot of a car. All this is done simply to preserve the lie that there are no Irish abortions.
Of course, there are Irish abortions and they are pretty much the same as the abortions that go on in every other country. One in ten Irish women, including many people in this House, serving Deputies, staff, their sisters, mothers and partners have all had abortions. Pretending that is not the case is the modern version of the mentality that said, "There's no sex on in Ireland, so lock up your women behind the walls of the Magdalen laundries". That attitude has no place in a modern Ireland where tolerance, compassion and kindness are the bywords of people who recognise that it is not a black-and-white issue and the best people to make the decision in those not-black-and-white circumstances are the women who are faced with that decision.
Abortion is a normal part of the reproductive lives of women the world over and is a normal part of the reproductive lives of Irish women. For God's sake, let us end the hypocrisy and get rid of the amendment. Why do we need to put in restrictions? Our abortion regime is effectively governed by the 1967 British Act so we might as well bring that here in any event.
We have been a few years arguing about this and many years waiting for things to be done right in this area. It reflects poorly on those in this House that they seem to be in tune with very powerful conservative forces in Ireland but seem less in tune with the ordinary people.
Our draconian laws do not stop women from seeking abortion; they just do it somewhere else. The sad part about it is that it prevents women from receiving the medical care and support they need. A Dutch website that sells the abortion pill has had over 6,000 applications from Ireland in five years. Women are taking it without medical advice and support. We are putting women's lives at risk by refusing to do what needs to be done. The hypocrisy is frightening. How can we listen to the international condemnation of Ireland? The UN Human Rights Commission found Ireland's ban on abortion to be "cruel, inhuman and degrading". It found the denial of abortion to a woman made pregnant through rape as torture.
The Minister can say that the citizens' assembly will deliver in the most efficient way. However, he is prolonging the misery, degradation and abuse of human rights of women in Ireland for another period. We may even have a change of Government before it is eventually repealed. I have seen measures of a financial nature implemented overnight, but we are kicking the can down the road for at least another year while women continue to be abused in this manner. It reflects very poorly on the House.
I wish to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.
This Bill, called the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of the Eighth Amendment) Bill, is set to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution. It is ill judged if taken in isolation from supporting legislation. It would amend the Constitution to remove Article 40.3.3°, which recognises the right to life of the unborn. That progressed over many years and we eventually evolved to giving ladies the right to travel and the right to information.
Thanks a million.
This was a particularly Irish solution to an Irish problem.
The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in 2013 redefined the circumstances in which termination could be administered or procured where there would be a real or substantive risk to the life of the mother, which included suicide. These were the only grounds on which a termination could be procured. This gave a statutory right for termination of pregnancy. In 2009 the Supreme Court defined life as that which had the capacity to be born. Article 40.3.3° only offered protection after implantation in the womb. These are all very restrictive definitions. Yet in 2013 the risk to the health of a mother was insufficient to justify a termination.
The UN Human Rights Committee advised that Ireland should review its termination requirements and add different reasons for termination - to save the life of the mother, which we have; to preserve a woman's physical health; to preserve a woman's mental health; in the cases of rape or incest; in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality; for social and economic reasons; and on request. This is the suite of options from which the UN recommended that Ireland should choose.
Termination for a social or economic reason or on request is a form of birth control in relation to pregnancy. In Britain termination was introduced to preserve a woman's physical or mental health, but that evolved into termination on demand.
Twenty one of 28 countries in the EU allow abortion on that entire suite of options.
This is not a simple issue or otherwise it would have been solved many years ago. Medicine and pharmaceuticals have moved on over the years and it is now possible to obtain through the post a pharmaceutical product that will act as an abortifacient. This is subventing and outstripping the Constitution, the law and the medical profession for better or for worse, making all these institutions redundant.
We have the options to repeal, amend or retain the eighth amendment. That is the decision the people will have to take in a referendum. It involves ethics, compassion, education, social values and choices. It is a huge social question which will have to be carefully considered and debated. Should the eighth amendment be repealed, legislation will need to be carefully crafted to reflect the will of the people. Pro-life versus pro-choice are opposites within the same spectrum. We will need to find common ground which is fair, just and compassionate.
It will come as no great surprise that I will be opposing this Private Members' Bill. My opposition to the repeal of the eighth amendment is a matter of public record. I was clear about that position in the run-up to the general election and I am even clearer about it today.
The Bill before us recommends altering the Constitution to remove any reference to that most fundamental of human rights - the right to life. A constitution is a statement of the highest principles which guide a nation and its legislators. It is in inconceivable to me that we should arrive at a point where the right to life of the unborn child is excluded from those principles.
What are we about as a people if we do not work to "cherish all the children of the nation equally", as stated in the 1916 Proclamation? What is deeply troubling to me and to many others across the country is that during the whole course of the repeal the eighth campaign, there has been no mention whatsoever as to what would replace it. Time and again, I have heard representatives from the parties proposing this Bill and the repeal the eighth campaign being asked what protections they would put in its place for the unborn child.
No clear answer has been forthcoming at any stage. Are they seriously suggesting that at a constitutional level no protections at all should be in place to protect the right to life of the unborn? If they are and that is what they intend, it is a battle they cannot win. The vast majority in the State do not support the view that there should be no limits in accessing abortion services. That is a fact the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit seem content to ignore in the pursuit of what is, by any measure, an extreme political stance. In Ireland's system of government the Constitution is the highest guarantor of the rights of people. To alter it and rely solely on legislation which can be amended or deleted is not a strong enough protection for the right to life.
We know that given the chance, the parties which are proposing the Bill would remove even the limits set in the so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act about which we have heard so much. I have no doubt that they would do the same in the case of any future legislation brought before the House. That is a clear indication that they want no limits, on when or how an abortion can be sought. That is unacceptable to me and, I contend, the majority across the State. I will, therefore, be opposing the Bill which I see as a further attempt to undermine the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child as outlined in the eighth amendment.
As far as the Citizens' Assembly is concerned, I believe, like many in the Repeal the Eighth campaign, that this House is the citizens' assembly, to which Members sought election. Many of us have made our views known clearly and in an forthright manner. We were elected to deal with issues, not to set up an assembly and ask the 99 people involved to deliberate on what is a very difficult issue. Are we just passing the buck? Deputies should deal with issues in this Chamber, as we ought to do, as we were elected to do, as we are entitled to do and as we are empowered to do under the Constitution. The Citizens' Assembly was ill-advised and has been ill thought out. While I have respect for the justice who heads it, there were question marks over the process of selection of the people taking part in it.
The next slot is to be filled by members of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. Is Deputy Catherine Murphy sharing time?
Yes, with Deputies Catherine Martin and Seamus Healy.
How many times is this House going to find an excuse to delay what is surely the inevitable, the opportunity for citizens of the State to have a say on an issue that has affected so many in the past 30 years? What is happening tonight is that politicians in this House, some of whom only last month marched through the streets of Dublin to call for the holding of a referendum and who have been vocal in the media on the need to hold a referendum on the issue, are ducking the opportunity to provide for the very thing they have sought. It can be parsed any way one wishes, but that is what is happening in this Chamber tonight. There are so many shades of opinion on this issue that it is fair to say very few people are on the same page on it. One thing, however, is clear from poll after poll, that is, that the majority are in favour of holding a referendum to allow the people, not this House, to make a decision on it.
We have had the alphabet soup of women and their families who have been brutalised by the lack of coherence as to what the eighth amendment means for the medical profession in Ireland. A person would need to have been born before 1963 to have had a say on the issue. I was one of the ones who had an opportunity to vote in 1983 and I voted against including the eight amendment in the Constitution. The Constitution is not the place in which to deal with this most sensitive of issues. I remember the debate clearly. There were very extreme views on both sides and the debate was characterised by very narrow legal definitions. In the interim we have seen very real cases that were far from academic. Some were very high profile such as the A, B and C case, the X case, the Y cases and so forth. The Bill before the House is calling for one thing - upholding the right of the people to have a say on the issue. The Social Democrats will be supporting the Bill and urge other politicians, who in standing for election promised that that would be the position they would take, to take it when they vote on the Bill later in the week.
The Green Party welcomes the Bill because, as a nation, we must have the courage to deal with this issue. Women should not have to steal away from their country to access a safe medical procedure and no woman’s life should ever be put in unnecessary danger. Ultimately, the Legislature must bear responsibility for the ongoing endangerment of the health and safety of women. On a number of occasions court judgments have, rightly, reminded us that it is our function to legislate. The courts have, correctly, signalled their unwillingness to fill the gap by doing the job of legislators. Tonight the Government is compounding that ongoing failure through its proposed amendment which will cause a further unnecessary delay. This latest delay, this intransigence and foot dragging put in peril the health and safety of more Irish women. We understand the work of the Citizens’ Assembly is ongoing and that it should be allowed to complete its work, but its job is not to legislate. That power lies exclusively with the Oireachtas. The Government’s amendment will paralyses that legislative function and, in so doing, once again deals a severe hammer blow to all those who had hoped 2016, in the era of so-called new mature politics, would offer real change. The truth is that the Government lacks the political courage to lead from the front on this issue and, in the absence of a willing Government, the Citizens' Assembly moves centre stage and suddenly represents women’s best pragmatic hope in the lifetime of the Thirty-second Dáil. The Green Party wishes the Citizens' Assembly well, but in the meantime this Oireachtas should never have its voice softened - it should be heard loud and clear. It is not right to expect Members of the Oireachtas to temporarily lose their voice, their resolve and their right to vote. It is because the voices of elected representatives in the past were not sufficiently loud, effective, just, coherent and steadfast that we are where we are today with some women’s lives continuing to be endangered. Sadly and ironically, it is as if the present is catching up with the dark and uncaring days of the past. Ireland can no longer pretend or indefinitely postpone and prevaricate. That is why the Green Party will be supporting the Bill because we believe a referendum is needed to repeal the eighth amendment as soon as possible.
I welcome the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of the Eighth Amendment) Bill 2016 and commend Deputy Ruth Coppinger on bringing it forward. I confirm my support for it. I am old enough to have opposed and voted against the eighth amendment in 1983, believing then as I do now, that equating the life of the mother with that of a foetus was fundamentally unsound and would be detrimental to the health and lives of women and that it would have unforeseen, as well as entirely predictable, consequences. We have had a number of referendums and legal challenges as a result. Some of the unforeseen consequences include restricting the right to travel to another state and the freedom to provide or obtain information on services lawfully available in another state. It was always entirely predictable that the formula used in the eighth amendment would produce risks to the health, well-being and lives of expectant mothers. Sadly, that has proved to be the case during the years. The issue is, of course, sensitive and controversial, but regardless of one's own views on termination, it is important that citizens be allowed to have a say by way of a referendum on the issue. I believe, in particular, that the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities, inevitable miscarriage, the life and health of expectant mothers and rape and incest must be addressed urgently.
Is Deputy Paul Murphy sharing time?
I will share time with Deputies Gino Kenny and Mick Barry.
There has been a lot of talk about compassion this evening; compassion offered by politicians from the establishment parties responsible for the eighth amendment and compassion offered to the brave women who speak out about their experiences of travelling abroad to access abortions. It is an improvement on the shame offered to them in the past by establishment party politicians but it is nowhere near good enough. To be blunt, they do not want politicians' compassion. They want their rights. The Bill has not been brought forward, as was suggested, to cause trouble for the Government or anyone in the Government. It was brought forward so that women can have their rights and the right to control their own bodies.
I was born in 1983, the same year the eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution. If we look at the debate at that time, and we want to see where the eighth amendment came from, we see the incredible influence of the Catholic Church and right-wing Catholic organisations, such as the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child and the pro-life amendment campaign. The intertwining of church and State is the key reason Ireland was the only democratic State to introduce a constitutional ban on abortion. This connection needs to be broken. We need a separation of church and State, repeal of the eighth amendment, and an end to a situation where the Catholic Church controls the vast majority of our public schools, our hospitals and, clearly, still has massive influence in the conservative political establishment. Even if we had repeal of the eighth amendment, and even if we had similar abortion legislation to that which exists in Britain, but we had a conservative medical establishment and a Catholic influence on sex education, we still would not have access to abortion potentially for those who need to access it.
I was not here in 1983, but there are Members of the House, including the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who were Members of the Oireachtas at that time. It was then Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, on behalf of the Government, who articulated the backward argument of the establishment then in proposing the eighth amendment. He dismissed what he called the secular humanist standpoint, stating there was no common ground for debate with those who believed in the right to choose. There was a voice of reason in the Seanad that day. He described the amendment as a piece of appalling political hypocrisy. That voice was then Senator Shane Ross. Today, he is in ministerial office. He might be in a ministerial car right now. He is prepared to engage in appalling political hypocrisy by voting not to repeal the eighth amendment and instead for a convoluted exercise in evasion designed to kick the can to the next Government.
To finish I will quote the then Deputy, now Minister of State, John Halligan, speaking on 17 December 2014, on an identical Bill to repeal the eighth amendment. He said:
It is about time people stood up and said enough is enough. Can somebody not break ranks over there and say, "I am going to support this Bill for those women who have died and for those women who will have to go to England tomorrow or in the next few weeks; I will make a change and I will stand up for the civil rights of women"?
Wherever Deputy Halligan is, it is his turn to stand up.
I welcome everyone in the Gallery. I observe the absolutely disgraceful non-attendance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. There are literally six people from the two parties, which is an absolute disgrace. No wonder people do not have confidence in the Chamber.
Ireland has come a long way since 1983. That journey of 33 years has led to a sea change in the fight for women's right to choose. There has also been the arduous journey which tens of thousands of women have taken from this State to access abortion services. This journey is one of the hardest journeys any woman can make in having to deal with a crisis pregnancy, sometimes alone, sometimes with their partners, families and friends. This journey will continue as long as we hide from the reality that 3,450 women and girls travel to Britain each year to have an abortion. The financial hardship this imposes makes an extremely difficult situation even more difficult for women who have to travel to Britain to end their pregnancy.
Many people like myself, and I am sure countless others in the country, have been on another journey, in getting to the position that ultimately it is a woman's right to choose. Today's generation of young women will not tolerate the Government's inaction and complete ambiguity on repealing the eighth amendment. Last year's marriage equality referendum showed this is not the Ireland of 1983 but the Ireland of 2016. The Catholic Church's moral grip on all of our lives should be a thing of the past and not a thing of the future. It is not a case of if but when there is a referendum. It will not be because of a citizens' assembly or the ineptitude of the Government, but the people demanding one. A sorry shame litters our history with regard to women's rights. There are women behind the anonymous letters in the X case, the Y case and the C case who went through absolute torture. The journey has never ended and it will not end. Give women the right to choose. Give the citizens of the country the right to a referendum.
I will start by acknowledging the campaigners for women's rights in the Gallery this evening. The Government may dither and delay and cover itself in shame, to be frank about it, but the campaigners in the Gallery are part of a mass movement in Irish society, which has not only put this issue on the agenda but which will sweep away the eighth amendment and get the job done. If we lived in a country which genuinely and truly respected women and trusted women and the decisions women make, we would have the eighth amendment repealed, we would have legislation in place for a woman's right to choose and we would have abortion provided through the health service without cost and without shame for all who need it. If we lived in a fully democratic society we would go one further and completely separate the church from the State.
This State is almost alone in western Europe in denying women access to widely available abortion services in its own jurisdiction. By the way, the abortion rate in western Europe is 12 per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44, which is the lowest sub-regional rate anywhere on the planet. It is in sharp contrast, interestingly, to areas of the world where abortion is more often than not illegal, such as Africa where the rate is 29 per 1,000 or Latin America where the rate is 32 per 1,000, which is more than two and a half times the western European rate.
One such western European country is the Netherlands. In the Netherlands terminations are legal for up to 24 weeks. They are free for residents of the country and a comprehensive programme of sex education and contraception is in place. In the Netherlands the abortion rate is 8.5 per 1,000. More than 95% of these abortions are in the first 12 weeks, the vast majority around the sixth week. Compare this to Ireland's abortion solution, which means just 68% of Irish residents who had an abortion in England or Wales in 2012 were in the first nine weeks. The comparable figure for residents of England and Wales was 77%. Women travelling from Ireland to England and Wales for abortion services are consistently more likely than UK residents to be at a later foetal gestational age. They are forced to travel, arrange accommodation, arrange child care and take time off. All of this takes time, particularly for women on lower incomes. The Irish solution, far from reducing the abortion rate, results in all likelihood in an increase in later term abortions.
This is just part of this Irish solution to an Irish problem that Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil plan to keep in place for the remainder of this year, for all of next year and for some of the year after, at an absolute minimum. Shame on them all.
The Government parties are standing over a disgraceful situation and they will not be able to hold back the movement for change in this country. It is going to change things despite them.
I wish to share time with the Ministers of State at the Department of Health, Deputies Finian McGrath and Catherine Byrne.
It seems to me the AAA-PBP is determined to disrupt the established process of the Citizens' Assembly. The Programme for a Partnership Government sought to establish the assembly and address the eighth amendment as a priority. I have long supported a repeal of the amendment. I support free, safe and legal access to abortion for any woman who wants it. I would have a referendum tomorrow, if it were possible, but there is still no guarantee it would pass. That is why I support the Citizen's Assembly and the work it is doing to discuss the relevant medical, legal and scientific facts around the eighth amendment. Those who want a repeal have waited too long for a referendum to waste their opportunity to win it.
Deputy Coppinger may dismiss my support of a repeal, but the indisputable fact is that when Ireland voted in February, more Deputies from Fine Gael than any other political party were elected. It suits the Deputy to attack Fine Gael on all fronts and to try to demonise Members who were democratically elected by their communities to represent them. If the AAA-PBP is hell bent on destabilising the Government and rejecting its efforts to address the amendment civilly, have its Members given much thought as to which party or parties would replace the Government? If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, Fianna Fáil supporters are most in favour of retaining the amendment whereas fewer than one in five Fine Gael voters supports retaining it in its current format. Do AAA-PBP Members believe they will secure enough seats in the next election to form a Government? They made little effort this time. We live in changing political times, but perhaps they will not change soon enough for them to achieve that goal. On this issue, would it not, therefore, be a more reasonable approach to support the progress being made by the Government?
Deputy Coppinger and her colleagues have a politically radical, left-wing ideology and they will rarely appeal to voters of the centre or centre right. However, they do not have a monopoly on caring about the eighth amendment or about women's rights in this country. I am ashamed of our nation's record when it comes to these issues. I know many people from my side of the political spectrum who agree with a repeal of the amendment but they are conflicted by the sense that by supporting the Bill, or others like it, they would be guilty of endorsing the other policies and activities of the extreme left.
That is ridiculous.
Even the Labour Party supports the Bill.
The Deputy is a disgrace.
These people do not feel aligned with those who supported the false imprisonment of a former Tánaiste-----
Jesus Christ, the Deputy is not able to say that.
-----or who think that the economy would benefit from a socialist transformation.
The Deputy should address her remarks to the Bill.
Can I ask that that be retracted?
The people who favour-----
The Deputy could not help herself----
Can I ask that that be retracted?
It is a matter for Deputy O'Connell.
The people who favour keeping the eighth amendment love to cultivate a culture of fear-----
On a point of order, the Deputy cannot be allowed to continue. I was not allowed to speak earlier on these issues.
I asked Deputy O'Connell to address the Bill before us.
No, she should withdraw the allegation.
It is matter for her to withdraw the allegation.
No, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle cannot-----
I am in the Chair.
As long as you are bringing her to order.
You were in the Chair earlier when Deputy Murphy could not refer to this issue. She must withdraw that allegation.
The people who favour keeping-----
She must withdraw the allegation she made.
Does Deputy O'Connell wish to withdraw the allegation?
No, I do not.
The Deputy should repeat what she said.
She will not withdraw it. I have no control.
I will not allow her to continue.
I have asked her to withdraw and I have no control over it.
I said I did not wish to withdraw it, but if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle asks me to withdraw, I will.
Is the allegation withdrawn?
The people who favour keeping the eighth amendment love to cultivate a culture of fear and shame to make their case. Those who support a repeal should not have to rely on such emotionally manipulative tactics. Fear and shame have no place in policy-making. Those who hold moderate views or who remain unsure of the necessity to repeal must not feel afraid or ashamed to admit they have not ever considered what the amendment means in their lives. The same applies to the members of the Citizens' Assembly who I hope will remain unscathed as they work to deliver their considered recommendations to this House. Those who support a repeal must engage with the undecided voters. I will continue to play my part on the path to repeal, however much abuse is thrown in my direction by either side.
The Deputy is a great bit of stuff.
I hope I can make up for the time lost.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I support the repeal of the eighth amendment and that has always been my clear position. It will happen. Tactically, we in the Independent Alliance had to deal with this important issue and make a decision not to play politics or to grandstand on the issue. This is too important an issue relating to women's health, and those of us in the Independent Alliance also have different views. However, respecting difference and enjoying diversity is a core value of the alliance. Broader society gets that but, sadly, many of the conservative political parties do not seem to understand that. Today is another important step in the broader equality agenda and in women's health. I accept some of the criticisms made in the debate but the process has started.
What criticisms does the Minister of State accept?
If Members look closely at what we have achieved, they will see clearly that we have pinned down a timeline and managed to retain the Independent Alliance's core value of a free vote when the proposals are referred back to the Oireachtas committee and the House. Judge me then and judge me on my actions.
What criticisms does the Minister of State accept?
The Minister of State, without interruption.
Of course, there are different views within the Government on the substantive issue of the eighth amendment but there are many different views in wider society. I would like to bring people around to my point of view, which is to repeal the amendment and to get it over the line in a well-thought out, comprehensive manner. I hope we have all learned from the marriage equality referendum. We had to bring people with us and encourage change. That is the way forward. The Constitutional Convention helped to win the referendum. Politics is about bringing people with us and winning the referendum, and I believe that will happen.
I also strongly believe in the separation of church and State. We will not vote down the Bill. We have tabled a reasoned amendment to it because the Bill pre-empts the work of the Citizens' Assembly, the agreed independent process set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government to deal with this issue and approved by both the Dáil and the Seanad. That is the position I find myself in. Earlier, we asked the Business Committee to set in train the work to get ready for it. We will not adopt a collective policy position for the committee's deliberations.
I support the repeal of the eighth amendment and I want to ensure all women in the State are treated with respect and dignity, with their health and well-being at the top of my political agenda. The process has started and we can win the referendum to repeal the amendment. This will happen sooner than many Members think. I thank all of them for the differing views and for the way the debate has been conducted so far.
I thank Deputy Coppinger and her colleagues for the publication of the Bill. I also thank those who have spoken for their passionate and thoughtful contributions. Many of them suggested that Article 40.3.3° needs to be revisited. They have different views on how to strike the right balance and on what they wish to be in a final proposal to amend the eighth amendment. I share the views expressed by the Minister for Health earlier. Contemplation of changes to Article 40.3.3° requires considerable careful consideration of the policy and the legal issues involved. Removing the current constitutional protection to life of the unborn would have significant implications, opening up major questions for existing law and the future legislative framework that would apply. The deletion of Article 40.3.3° would also raise significant implications for medical practice and ethical codes of professional regulatory bodies.
The Government's decision to review our Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to allow the recently established Citizens' Assembly to consider the issue and report back to the Oireachtas is the best way to bring the whole matter forward. For these reasons, and those outlined by the Minister for Health, I cannot support the Second Reading of the Bill. Instead, I ask the House to allow the Citizens' Assembly, established by resolution of the Dáil and Seanad, to conclude its deliberations on the eighth amendment, the subject matter of this Bill, and report to the Oireachtas in the first half of 2017.
I call on Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who is sharing time with Deputy Ruth Coppinger.
The cheap political jibes and the red-baiting are beneath Deputy Kate O'Connell. They are also beneath the seriousness of a debate about women's lives and futures. Frankly, if I hear the expression "the moderate centre" again, I will scream. The moderate centre has not ruled women's lives. The Catholic Taliban, instead, has ruled women's lives in this State for decades, with the support of the two major political parties. The disciples of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and their oppressive doctrine have led to the abuse, the stigmatisation, the torture, the incarceration and the enslavement of women in this country for decades. These were shameful decades of mistreatment of women as second-class citizens. It brought us the shame of the Magdalen laundries and symphysiotomy, as well as driving 250,000 women since 1970 out of the country under the shadow of shame, stigmatisation, and criminality.
The persistence of that oppressive and abusive regime is manifest in the eighth amendment. The eighth amendment is responsible for the tragedies of X, Y, C. It is responsible for the death of Savita Halappanavar. It brought us tragedies like Ann Lovett, Amanda Mellet and countless more who have been the victims of rape and who have suffered as a result of wanted children suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities, as well as the tens of thousands of other women who just felt they could not go through with a pregnancy for whatever reason. That is the reality of what we are dealing with.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, said how difficult and complex all this is and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, talked about how we have to strike the right balance. For the women who have suffered crisis pregnancies and are forced to go to Britain under the shadow of stigmatisation and shame, it is complex and difficult. The issue at stake is not complex and difficult, however. It is very simple. It is about whether women should decide their own fate, control their own bodies, decide what medical procedures they need and want, decide when they should have children or if they should not have children. It is about whether politicians, lawyers, anti-abortion groups, the Church, or, for that matter, a randomly selected Citizens' Assembly of 99 people, instead should have that choice. Do we trust women and believe they have the right to make that decision or does somebody else have the right? That is the issue at stake.
I know there are people who support this delaying tactic and do not want this Bill to pass because they believe it is acceptable for the law or politicians or somebody else to decide the fate of women, to draw the lines as to when women can decide their own fate and when they cannot. For those, who gave a pledge before the last general election that they supported the repeal of the eighth amendment and they believed women have the right to choose, to pander and make concessions to those who do not believe women have that right is a shameful disgrace. It is a dangerous move, indeed. Members opposite may think it is tactical. It is the opposite. The people who oppose a woman's right to choose are the people who want to confuse and obfuscate, turning it into a debate about where we draw the lines. That is what will lose us the referendum or prevent us from ever getting it. Those who believe in a woman's right to choose should stand up when the vote is taken on this Bill and vindicate that right and fight for it. Otherwise, that right will not be achieved. A referendum and its victory is not inevitable unless we fight absolutely, unconditionally and unequivocally for a woman's right to decide her own life and control her own body.
In his speech, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, gave a picture that there would a terrible political and legal vacuum if we had a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. If it were repealed, it would be exactly the same the day after as it was the day before. The Minister seemed to be suggesting doctors would suddenly become major fans of carrying out abortions. Obviously, we would still have the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 which the Government wrote into law, criminalising women. The Dáil would have to deal with that situation and bring forward new legislation.
I was particularly horrified at the Minister's implication that the Government had dealt with the case of Savita Halappanavar, a claim of which he was proud. It did not.
I did not say that.
The Minister suggested it in his speech.
Four years on, that horrific situation has not been dealt with. We can and will, unfortunately, have more Savitas, unless there is a change.
I remind Deputy Kate O'Connell that she ran on a pro-choice platform in the general election. Tonight was her first opportunity since she came into the Dáil to actually vote for a motion which vindicates that stance. She used it instead to politically attack the left. I am not sure when she will ever be able to vote for a repeal the eighth amendment motion which does not come from the left. No other party or other force has championed it except left individuals, Independents and parties. She just displayed her snobbery and true colours tonight.
What magical formula is the Citizens' Assembly going to come up with? We are told to wait for it to find some magical formula to persuade middle Ireland, which we keep hearing about, to move its position. We can have discussions in the exact same way the Citizens' Assembly will. Apparently, however, it will wave its magic wand.
I want to correct one point made earlier. We do actually have abortion in Ireland. That is the main difference with the last major debate on this in 1983. Up to 1,000 abortions take place in women's bedrooms in Ireland. Findings published in a medical journal last week showed three women a day contact Women on Web alone, just one agency, to access safe but illegal medical abortion pills. Up to 97% of them said after that they felt they had made the right choice while 98% of them said they would recommend it to others. Up to 70% felt relieved. It is not the case that women feel guilty or it was a trauma or a tragedy. In terms of the gestation of the pregnancy, it was less than seven weeks for 79% of them. We have to recognise that Women on Web and other services like it are being accessed by women mainly with children.
The impression is given that if we allow abortion we will have single women, after a Saturday night out, turning up at their doctor's surgery the following week demanding an abortion. Women have abortions for a myriad of reasons and the majority of them have children.
I thank the Deputy for giving ladies the right to travel. I would like to correct the Deputy because ladies were not given the right to travel: people marched for the right to travel. Following the horrific incarceration in this country of a 14 year old rape victim in 1992 there were massive demonstrations, with many girls bursting out of their schools against the wishes of their head nuns and so on. I took part in those demonstrations, as did many other Deputies on this side of the House. Nothing is granted by the Dáil. Rights are never granted: rights are fought for and won. The lesson from today's debate is that the Dáil is now a conservative brake on progress. Even the so-called liberals who people might have thought would bring forward the repeal movement have not brought it forward. They are acting now in the same way. We have to build the left in this country. We may not surpass Fine Gael but we have to build a left majority in this country if we want the type of rapid change that is needed. It certainly will not be the case that Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil will take on the church in this country. That is absolutely ruled out, both parties having lived in its pockets.
The Deputy has exceeded her time by one minute.
We need to build a massive campaign to force these people to act. We need to look to Poland, Spain and other countries where mass mobilisations took place and wiped away the conservatism that is innate. In regard to ROSA, I appeal to people to join in the day of action on repeal of the eighth amendment this Saturday at 12 noon.
The division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 27 October in accordance with Standing Order 70(2).