I welcome the opportunity to speak on this particular issue. It is something that has been debated in this Chamber on numerous occasions. However, we are inextricably on a journey to allow the Irish people to arbitrate finally on Article 40.3.3° and to deliberate on it in the meantime, not only in this House but in broader society. I hope the debate is one that, as so far to date, is understanding and comprehending of varying views but at the same time acknowledging that the status quo cannot remain. We do have to delete Article 40.3.3° and address it through legislation as is proposed in the published Bill.
I refer to Emma who is 24 years old. She says that when a woman gets to the airport, she gets on the flight, known to be the very early flight that people take. When waiting to board the plane she can see the other women. They all know she is there for the same reason. Emma says there is an immediate sense of shame that comes with that. It is overwhelming. However, the worst part was when she got back to the airport afterwards. She had to wait for five hours to get the plane home while sitting there feeling she had just committed a crime. She was so traumatised by the travel experience that she still cannot wrap her head around it.
That is Emma's story. She is a 24 year old Irish citizen who last year travelled to England for a termination. It is against that backdrop that we are debating this particular issue. As the Minister has outlined, we do have abortion in this country. Article 40.3.3° has not prevented abortion taking place. It has just displaced it to the UK, the Netherlands, other European countries and sometimes to the United States.
When we sat in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and looked at this, I hope I went there with an open mind in the context of listening to the evidence, hearing what the witnesses had to say when they presented, both clinical experts and witnesses who had a view as to what should be done in terms of Article 40.3.3°. Varying views were expressed by those witnesses and there were varying opinions within the committee itself. However, the overwhelming view of committee members was that Article 40.3.3° could not and should not be retained and there was a need for us to legislate to allow for lawful terminations in this country.
There are many reasons as to why that is the case. However, the overwhelming reason was that we were jeopardising the health of Irish women. We were treating pregnant Irish women as second class citizens in this State. The minute an Irish woman becomes pregnant, she no longer has control over her own health care. It is dependent on others as well at that stage. That was a strong view expressed by clinicians of varying professional backgrounds on this particular issue.
Looking at where we are in respect of trying to address the issue, the first thing we have to do if we are to bring about change is to repeal Article 40.3.3°. The Minister has published his policy document which reflects broadly the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution recommendations. The reality is though, unless Article 40.3.3° is changed all those policy papers and positions cannot be implemented.
There can be no change and let us be very honest. Many people have expressed huge compassion with young girls who have been raped, women carrying a child that will die at birth and women who have been impregnated by a relative. They have expressed huge compassion. However, the reality is unless we change Article 40.3.3°, that compassion is only compassion and nothing else can be done to address their pain and hurt.
I urge that when we debate this issue, not only here but in broader civic society and during the referendum itself, we have to be honest. If I stand up and say I have huge sympathy for Irish women in the context of them having to go abroad to address the issue of fatal foetal abnormality, to have a termination in another country at a vulnerable time, to have to bring back their baby in the boot of their car or FedExed back to their house, then the only way that issue can be addressed is by amending Article 40.3.3°.
Some people ask can we trust politicians if we amend Article 40.3.3°. The corollary of that is they are basically saying we cannot trust women. All we are going to do is to legislate to allow a woman to make a decision. I have to say, personally, I strongly believe we must legislate and the only way we can legislate is by repealing Article 40.3.3° itself. Do we trust women? Do we trust the women who carry us for nine months, grimace in pain to bring us into this world, nurture us, care for us and who cry for us? At the same time, we as a society are saying if anything happens to a woman and she, for whatever reason, cannot continue with the pregnancy, she has to leave this country, leave the State and seek a termination abroad.
Do we say to a woman who has been diagnosed with cervical cancer, that she cannot have treatment in this country? Do we say that she first of all has to leave this country, go to England, terminate the pregnancy and them come back to continue with her treatment? If we do not amend Article 40.3.3° that is effectively what we are saying to that woman diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Do we say to a woman who is pregnant as a result of a vile rape that she must carry the pregnancy to full term? If she does not, and if she self-medicates and brings about a miscarriage, she is potentially criminalised. She could get a custodial sentence of 14 years. However, the rapist could get a criminal conviction of eight years. That is what we are saying today in the context of the legislation currently on the Statute Book as passed in this Parliament and in the context of the Constitution itself.
Do I say to a girl of 14 that she must carry the pregnancy to full term and that the State would only allow a termination if she is going to kill herself? That is what we say to a young 14 year old girl. That is what we said to a 14 year old girl in the context of the X case.
Do I say to a girl who has been violated by a person she should be able to trust that she must carry her father's child to full term? That is what we are saying as it stands in the context of Article 40.3.3° and the legislation that has grown from that. If a girl is raped and impregnated by her father, the State will not do anything. The problem must be sent off to England. I find that quite offensive, being truthful.
What do I say to a woman who is so delighted and excited by the fact that she is pregnant she tells everybody about the joy and the fulfilment of that and then, suddenly, she gets the devastating diagnosis that she has a child that has a fatal foetal abnormality. The child will die at birth or just before or just after. She will get congratulations and the comments on her looking fabulous and questions of whether it is a boy or a girl. All the time she knows she is carrying a child that will die. That had a profound impact on the members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution that I sat with during the debate on this issue. Some of the members still have said they cannot support repeal. I respect it, but that in itself had a profound impact. The reality is that unless we repeal it, I can do nothing for that woman, nothing. Nobody else inside here can do anything for her either. She will still have to go to England to terminate that pregnancy. She will still have to bring it back in the boot of the car or courier it back. Testimony from the witnesses who had to go on that very lonely and sad journey to Belfast, Manchester or Birmingham really tore at the heartstrings. I refer to when people are making these decisions and when we are having that debate. I urge them to be mindful of their language and sensitive to the fact that many women have gone abroad wanting to have that pregnancy. However, because they could not continue with it for the reason that it would die at birth, they felt they had to end it for the reasons I have outlined.
I urge colleagues to be mindful of their language and sensitive to the fact that many women have gone abroad, women whose pregnancies were wanted but who could not continue with them because their babies would have died at birth. They felt that they had to end their pregnancies for the reasons I have outlined. The journey that such women have had to take, if nothing else, is enough to convince me that we need to repeal Article 40.3.3° and introduce legislation that would allow for terminations here.
In terms of the 12-week gestational limit, people have asked if it is contrary to the public view and too liberal. It has been suggested that Article 40.3.3° could be amended but the proposals put forward by the joint committee and published in the Minister for Health's policy document this morning might undermine the argument. We must be very honest about this. Are we to say to the Irish people that they should remove Article 40.3.3° but that we will leave a lacuna in the context of the debate and not say anything about what legislation is likely to be introduced in the event of the them deciding to strike down the aforementioned article? In advance of this debate and during the joint committee's hearings, almost everyone was asking what would replace Article 40.3.3°. This is what we are going to put forward but we cannot say definitively that it will be passed. That will depend on the Dáil. There could be a general election in the meantime or soon afterwards but it will be the Oireachtas that decides what will be in the legislation. This relates back to my original question. Do we trust politicians to legislate? Some people - including politicians themselves - are saying that they do not trust politicians to legislate but what they are really saying is that they do not trust women.
I firmly believe, having listened to all of the evidence and engaged in debates in this House, in broader society and in the committee rooms, that Article 40.3.3° has done a huge disservice to and caused a lot of pain for many women for a very long time. The figures are there to prove it if people do not believe me. Somewhere between 160,000 and 180,000 women have gone to the United Kingdom alone since 1983. Today, nine or ten women will leave Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports to travel to the UK for a termination. This evening, three girls or women will take abortion pills. They will put a towel down, lie on a bathroom floor and induce a miscarriage. That will happen in houses throughout this country tonight. Nobody can deny that it is happening. Terminations are taking place. They are unlawful in this country but they are taking place in bathrooms by way of abortion pills. They are also taking place lawfully in the United Kingdom because women are forced to leave this country. In all logic but, more importantly, in compassion and understanding, Article 40.3.3° must be replaced and we must be allowed to legislate.
In terms of whether politicians will do the right thing, we are here at the gift of the Irish people and if the people feel strongly on the issue in the context of the type of legislation that should follow on from the referendum, I am quite sure that all of these issues will be consistently debated in the years ahead in the proper forum, during general election campaigns and in the context of parliamentary debates in this House. Let us be very honest - that is how laws are made. I cannot understand the argument or suggestion that politicians would act against the interests of Irish people. The vast majority of us in this House, whether male or female, will act in the bests interests of Irish citizens. To date, however, we have been unable to act in the best interests of Irish women because of Article 40.3.3°. As we debate, listen and engage, we must be mindful of the language we use and conscious of the fact that if we use very harsh words to describe what happens during a termination or try to evoke emotions beyond the reality, we are insulting and hurting women who have already been through a traumatic experience. As I said previously, at least 160,000 women have had terminations in the UK. Tonight, three girls will have a termination in a bedroom or bathroom, having procured abortion pills on the Internet. They may be on their own, with nobody else knowing about it.
The issue of abortion pills was very much to the fore in the committee's deliberations, chiefly because Ms Justice Laffoy indicated that the Citizens' Assembly did not have enough time to fully address it. She said that the evidence towards the end of the assembly's deliberations showed quite clearly that the issue of abortion pills would have to be examined and she urged our committee to do so. We looked at the issue in detail and came to the broad view that we would have to legislate for lawful terminations in this country up to 12 weeks. We came to that view on the basis of the evidence we heard from various individuals and because the use of abortion pills is very prevalent in this country. It is estimated that up to 1,800 women per year procure and use such pills. It has been argued that the 12-week gestational limit recommendation could undermine the campaign to repeal Article 40.3.3°. However, that gestational limit is not out of step with the norms in Europe. The gestational limit in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany is 12 weeks. In Italy, the limit is 90 days and in Luxembourg and Norway it is 12 weeks. The limit in Portugal is ten weeks, in Slovakia it is 12 weeks, in Sweden it is 18 weeks, while in Switzerland it is 12 weeks. The limit in Austria is three months, in Bulgaria it is 12 weeks, in Estonia it is 11 weeks and in Finland it is 12 weeks. In France, the limit is now 12 weeks. In that country it was originally ten weeks but it was extended to 12 weeks in 2001. The limit in Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia and Lithuania is 12 weeks, in Macedonia it is ten weeks and in the Netherlands it is 21 weeks. In Romania, the limit is 14 weeks, in Russia it is 12 weeks, in Slovenia it is ten weeks, in Spain it is 14 weeks, in Turkey it is ten weeks and in the UK it is 24 weeks. We did not just randomly choose 12 weeks. Our decision was based on the fact that it is within the first trimester and that abortion pills are taken to induce a termination up to the eleventh or twelfth week of pregnancy. Abortion pills are being taken here at a rate of at least three per day. That figure could be higher if women are accessing pills through websites we cannot trace. In that context, the committee felt that if we do not allow for terminations up to 12 weeks, girls or women who find themselves in difficulty, who are bleeding or experiencing other medical complications having taken an abortion pill, would be reluctant to seek medical treatment because it would still be a criminal offence. That was another very important factor in our deliberations on the 12-week limit.
While the committee's work and final recommendations were not unanimous, the majority view was that Article 40.3.3° should simply be repealed but we understand that this Bill, as published by the Minister, accommodates our view while also acknowledging the concerns of Ms Justice Laffoy. It still allows for judicial oversight in the event of Article 40.3.3° being deleted and legislation being passed in this House. The committee was concerned that if the Government were to go beyond repeal simpliciter, there should be some form of judicial oversight. What has been published by the Minister, to be debated by the Irish people and the legislation that will flow from that, if it is passed, will have judicial oversight, which is important in any modern, democratic republic.
On the question of the terminations, where and how they will take place and the policies governing same, many are claiming that this will overwhelm our already stretched health service. However, the evidence from obstetricians, gynaecologists, GPs and others suggested that this is not the case. They argued that they would easily be able to cope with transferring what is happening to Irish women in the UK back to Ireland. Women would not have to travel to the UK but could have terminations here. It has been argued by some that if abortion is made available here, there will be a major increase in the numbers having terminations. I find that argument offensive, to say the least. It is to suggest that if there is an abortion clinic at the end of the street, a woman will traipse down there after the weekend to have an abortion. The idea is that if abortion is available, women will just turn up and have one.
That is being expressed by people who believe women will make these decisions very lightly. I have met many women who have had an abortion and nobody took the decision lightly. Whether it would entail a journey to England or a visit to her general practitioner, women do not make that decision lightly. When we are debating this issue, we must remain within the facts. This year, 3,600 women will travel to the UK and at least 1,800 to 2,000 women will take the abortion pill in this country. They are the facts. If we legislate and allow for lawful terminations in this country up to 12 weeks in general, and beyond that time in the areas of fatal foetal abnormality and the health and life of the woman, our health services will easily be able to cope. They should be able to cope with it because it is primarily a health care issue for women in the first place.
I welcome the Bill. I speak in a personal capacity although I am the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health. I contributed to the Oireachtas committee hearings along with five party colleagues. We had varying views but the view I expressed is one in which I strongly, firmly and passionately believe, namely, that we cannot allow ourselves to turn our backs on Irish girls and women in times of need. It is time to change and to repeal Article 40.3.3°.