As a matter of clarification, am I allowed to start and get a new slot? I do not want to run over the nine minutes, but if I do, am I allowed to do so?
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)
No. If the Deputy takes the nine minutes, which is the remainder of the Rural Independent Group's slot, that is it and he cannot contribute again. If, however, he does not wish to take the nine minutes, he can take up a full slot at a later stage.
Not now, though.
No. If the Deputy speaks now, he will have nine minutes.
I will take that time then. Is that allowable now?
It is allowable now but the Deputy will not have another slot.
Okay. I will make do.
The Deputy has nine minutes, as was left in the Rural Independent Group's slot last night.
I wish to make a very heartfelt contribution. Yesterday evening I and other Members were with people from the healthcare professions. We were with midwives, doctors, healthcare workers who are united and want to defend their freedom of conscience as to what they will do in the future and how they will deal with people who want to terminate their pregnancies and who will present to them.
We are where we are in society. The people have spoken. Some of us did not agree with the result of the referendum, but we live in a democracy and that is that. There are, however, certain matters on which we now want to hold the Government to account. One is the freedom of medical practitioners to have a conscientious say. We do not want people to have to leave their work. We do not want midwives or doctors to say they must retire because they will be forced to refer people. I have always held the opinion that people want to opt in rather than opt out. That makes more sense to me. Having spoken to people like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I know he is in 100% agreement that people should be asked that question about opting in rather than opting out.
I am very worried about the impression being given that the Government is reluctant to accept amendments to this abortion Bill. This is possibly due to the Government's reluctance to change the proposals offered to the people in the general scheme published before the referendum. There are two matters to consider here. First, the Minister has already changed some of the aspects of those proposals. Second, the people were voting primarily to repeal the eighth amendment rather than being definitive about the abortion Bill that would be introduced. I accept there have been broad parameters, but I do not think any amendment which may be proposed would be in contradiction with those parameters. Rather, they seek to introduce protections for the unborn baby, the mother and the medical personnel. Amendments in these areas would not remove choice or compassion but they would encourage a positive, life-enhancing choice and involve genuine compassion being offered to all involved. Many "Yes" voters would support these measures without changing the result of the referendum. They are worthy of consideration and support.
Many "Yes" supporters said they did not regard abortion as a good or desirable thing and they would prefer the number of abortions to stay as low as they are now. The Bill makes no attempt to keep abortion figures low, which ought to be one of its aims.
There should be no backsliding on the proposed 72-hour cooling-off period. While this is a token restriction, it is a restriction nonetheless, and it may give some women time to consider fully the gravity of the decision they are about to make. It might give them the chance they need at a critical time. It might also give them time to obtain full information on the stage of development of their child, what exactly an abortion involves and the positive alternatives to abortion that allow a mother and a baby the best chance at life.
How could any reasonable person deny this vital information to a woman in a crisis pregnancy? Numerous studies show that abortion can harm women and have an adverse effect on mental health. Surely a woman has a right to know this in order that she can avoid possible harm to herself and her baby.
The right to conscientious objection is also desirable and in harmony with the abortion regimes in many countries. It is a railroading of conscience to force medical personnel - doctors, midwives and pharmacists who provide a great service - to co-operate in something they regard as the finishing of the life of an innocent person. This co-operation includes referral and is not confined to direct involvement. It is quite possible for the Minister to introduce a measure that would enable doctors who are willing to get involved in abortion services to declare their willingness to do so on a register set up for such a purpose. The register could be made available through a website or the proposed helpline. On 7 October, when the Minister was interviewed on "This Week" on RTÉ Radio 1, he spoke about doctors opting in. According to their own surveys, most GPs are not in favour of becoming involved. Therefore, it is disrespectful and counter-productive to try to force them to be involved. If they are forced to do so, we could well end up with highly skilled, motivated and conscientious doctors, nurses and other medical personnel leaving their profession or the country. If they give up their work here, the shortage of GPs being faced by the health service will be exacerbated.
Common humanity and decency means that adequate pain relief must be provided for babies who are being aborted. There may be arguments about when the unborn baby feels pain. Some say it is quite early in a pregnancy. It would be compassionate to ensure adequate pain relief was provided for a baby who might feel pain during a procedure like this. That would be common decency.
There must be a requirement that all reasonable care be given to a baby born alive, perhaps after a failed abortion or an early termination under the grounds outlined in the legislation, to give it a chance to survive. Surely a living baby who has been born is, in legal terms, a citizen of the State who deserves all of the protection and support to which he or she should be entitled. We have heard too many times about cases in other jurisdictions in which babies have been left to die. Surely there would be broad support for an amendment that would rule out such inhumane treatment.
The term "fatal foetal abnormality" has been used too loosely. There may be public support for babies with such abnormalities who will die just before or at birth being terminated but not for babies who may live for days, months or even years after birth being terminated. It is too limiting to suggest, as the legislation does, that if "extraordinary" measures have to be used to keep these babies alive, they need not be taken. Measures that could be classified as "extraordinary" are being used on a regular basis in intensive care units in maternity hospitals to give unfortunate babies a chance at life. Such heroic and lifesaving efforts are being highlighted in RTÉ's ongoing series "The Rotunda".
We should support amendments that would ensure the promotion of positive alternatives to abortion such as adoption and financial support for mothers who wish to keep their babies and fear they might not be able to cope without such support. Surveys have shown that women often feel forced into having an abortion because they have no choice. If the legislation was amended appropriately, it could reduce or remove these temporary pressures.
We must also guard against abuses such as abortion on disability or sex-selective grounds. There are no specific provisions included in the Bill that allow for abortion on such grounds. Unfortunately, there is no specific ban on such abuses. In the case of disability, there is a real danger that an abortion will take place on mental health grounds. In effect, a woman will be allowed to have an abortion because she fears it will be too stressful to have a disabled child. We learned from media debates during the referendum campaign that this was already happening in approximately half of cases, including in cases in which Down's syndrome was detected in unborn babies. If we are to make sure we get this right, it is important that we have a thorough debate. I remind the Minister that before the referendum he promised that we would have such a debate. We must not make the mistake of rushing legislation without thinking it through first. Future generations will not thank us for getting this wrong or creating a new scandal in the future, even as we lament current scandals of a similar nature.
What I say I mean and what I mean I say. I have concerns and worries. At the same time, I fully respect the way the majority of people voted when the vote took place. I am not going against it. All I am saying is that even some of those who voted in favour of repeal have concerns. They have asked us, as legislators, to deal with this difficult subject. I am asking us to deal with it in a responsible, intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate way.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 which I welcome. As one of those who opposed the introduction of the eighth amendment in 1983, I welcomed the outcome of the referendum held on 25 May. It was particularly welcome that the proposal to repeal the eighth amendment had been carried by such a significant majority. I thank all those who worked and voted for the repeal of the amendment, especially the members of the Tipperary Together for Yes campaign who worked throughout County Tipperary. As a result of their work, over 60% of those who voted in the county voted in favour of repeal. As someone who opposed the eighth amendment in 1983, I could see that things were very different on this occasion. In 1983 it was very difficult for those who opposed the eighth amendment to make their views known. On this occasion, there was significant support for the proposal that the eighth amendment be repealed and many people were prepared to canvass and work for repeal. People from a broad cross-section of life supported repeal of the eighth amendment. While I have no intention of rehashing the debate that took place during the referendum campaign and in the past 30 years or more, it is appropriate to recall that the proposal to repeal the eighth amendment was carried by a significant and clear majority on 25 May. A well informed decision was made after a process involving full and transparent public consultation. The heads of the legislation were made available as part of that process. Now that the people have voted heavily in favour of repeal, it is important to pass and implement the Bill before the House as soon as possible.
The Bill follows on from the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act 2018 which was signed into law by the President on 18 September following the referendum held on 25 May when the people voted to delete Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution and replace it with wording which confirms that the Oireachtas may make laws "for the regulation of termination of pregnancy". The Bill seeks to give effect to the decision of the people to permit the Oireachtas to make such laws.
The main purpose of the Bill is to set out the law governing access to termination of pregnancy. The explanatory memorandum reads, "The legislation permits termination to be carried out in cases where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant woman, where there is a condition present which is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth, and without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy." It is important to ensure that the Bill provides for a situation in which there are free, safe, legal and local termination services.
I do not intend to rehash the debate, which has gone on for years, but I will draw attention to two elements of the Bill, the first being the waiting period. A mandatory waiting period of three days is stipulated for a termination to proceed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, mandatory waiting periods that are not medically necessary constitute a barrier to safe abortion access and can result in care being delayed. The imposition of mandatory waiting periods also undermines a woman as a competent decision maker in her own right. Since such unwarranted waiting periods can cause delay in accessing services, it is clear that they are inordinately onerous and can result in unnecessary restrictions. It is also unclear from the Bill whether the three-day waiting period is included within the 12-week limit. For these reasons, the mandatory period should be removed from the Bill.
The second element is conscientious objection. Doctors, nurses, support staff and health professionals must of course be entitled to object on a conscientious basis. For the conscientious objection clause to be workable and not hinder a patient's right to termination services, though, there must be an obligation to make an appropriate referral so as to ensure refusal of care does not create an obstacle to accessing services. It must be clear that conscientious objection can refer only to an individual and not to an institution. In rural areas where access to services and options is limited due to, for example, geographical restrictions, services must be made available locally. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has specifically recommended that states should ensure that an "adequate number of health-care providers willing and able to provide such services should be available at all times in both public and private facilities and within reasonable geographical reach." Clarification is needed as to the oversight process for medical practitioners opting to use conscientious objection and the question of how a guarantee of access to abortion care will be provided not just in theory, but in fact, right across the country.
These two elements must be considered. The waiting period should be removed while ensuring that, while the conscientious objections of individuals are honoured fully, referrals are made available and services are provided locally.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. Like most of the Deputies who have contributed in recent days, many of us did not believe we would get the opportunity at all. This is clearly important legislation and it will have a profound impact for many Irish citizens, particularly the women of Ireland. The Bill is important not just in terms of respecting the democratic decision of our citizens, but in ensuring that women have bodily autonomy, are treated as equals in their own country and are no longer forced to travel to access the healthcare they require or take medication in their homes in unregulated and potentially unsafe environments.
As a people, we have made a decision to no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend that abortion for Irish women is not a reality. It is a reality, and crisis pregnancies happen every day. Since the referendum, many have undoubtedly occurred. For too long, the State has lacked compassion and failed to recognise the difficult circumstances in which women can find themselves when faced with a crisis pregnancy. Our citizens have taken the lead on this issue and have clearly and decisively said, "No more". With a vote of 66.4% to remove the eighth amendment from our Constitution, the people have said that they can no longer tolerate a system whereby the needs of our sisters, daughters, friends and relatives are not put first. Indeed, my own constituency of Dublin Fingal voted 77% in favour of removing it. Having supported the "Yes" vote in the referendum, I am committed to supporting this legislation as it passes through the Oireachtas.
To paraphrase the words of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, following the referendum result, instead of echoing the sentiment of the eighth amendment whereby women in crisis pregnancies were told to take the boat or take the plane, the people of Ireland clearly said, "Take our hand". For 35 years, the eighth amendment was in Bunreacht na hÉireann. At the time of the referendum, no citizen under the age of 53 had ever had the opportunity to have a say on whether it had a place in our society. On 25 May, voters both young and old overwhelmingly stated that it did not represent the society in which they wanted to live. I am glad we now live in a country where such a restrictive and oppressive article no longer has a place in our Constitution. For many years, a large number of Deputies had stated that the Constitution was no place for such an amendment in the first place and that it should primarily have been a matter for the Houses to determine the fine detail. After all, the Constitution is a guidance document and should not get into detailed specifics. While that is my view, I believe it has support across the country.
We have recognised that Irish women are having abortions, and will continue to do so. As a society, however, we can no longer force them to travel to another jurisdiction in order to access healthcare that we should be providing them here at home.
In this House, we have spoken about how the referendum result and this legislation will impact upon women. However, I wish to voice my strong support for changing the term "woman" in the legislation to "pregnant person". In an Ireland of so much positive social change in recent years, we must foster inclusion and ensure that no person is left behind. Using the term "woman" in the legislation might have negative impacts and effects for the transgender community. This is something we can and must avoid. Society, including this House, must recognise that Ireland has changed dramatically in a social, legislative and political sense over many years. I do not proclaim to understand all of the societal changes. I am 40, but I sometimes feel old when I try to get to grips with these issues. It is not my place to instil my views on anyone else, though.
The opportunity to contribute to the Bill at this stage of its development is important to me and many others. As such, it is important that every Member and not just the Cabinet, my party, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or any of the other parties that are wholeheartedly supportive of this matter be given the right to have a say on it regardless of whether that Member opposes the removal of the eighth amendment.
Many discussions have taken place on decisions of conscience among both members of the medical profession and Members of the Oireachtas. I believe it is their right to state their own position on this matter. However, I respect some of the Members who were quick to come out and say they respected the overwhelming result of the referendum in May and will support or acquiesce to this Bill passing through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I believe that is the right thing to do, particularly in some constituencies where the decision was not only a landslide in favour of a "Yes" vote but where there was an extraordinary outpouring of support for the removal of the eighth amendment from the Constitution.
The Government published the heads of the Bill prior to the referendum which showed its intention for the legislation should the referendum have been passed. That outlined the Government's intention to legislate for access to terminations up to 12 weeks, with no restrictions, and only after this in cases, for instance, where there is a significant risk to life or health of the mother, or what many term a fatal foetal abnormality which will lead to the death of the foetus. I believe, as legislators, that given the strength of the "Yes" vote in the referendum, we have a duty to enact legislation to give effect to the measures outlined in the heads of the Bill. This legislation does just that.
I will address the issue of conscientious objection. While I agree that medical practitioners should be entitled to conscientiously object to participating in a termination, I firmly believe they should be obliged to refer a patient seeking a termination to a doctor who does not conscientiously object. In modern society, while respecting the beliefs of each individual, there must be a line whereby we do not impose our own beliefs on others. As such, I believe the requirement for a referral to be of paramount importance.
I have read stories recently about how, in areas in Italy, women may have to visit numerous hospitals before finding a doctor willing to perform a termination or they may turn to unregulated treatment. That cannot be allowed to occur in this jurisdiction. We have a duty to ensure that women in Ireland receive the healthcare they deserve, which is what the people of Ireland requested that this Oireachtas deliver. Including the requirement for doctors who conscientiously object to refer to a doctor who does not object is vital in achieving this.
The referendum decision to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution and to allow for the termination of pregnancy to be regulated by the Oireachtas signifies a maturing of our society and a move to a more compassionate, equal and caring society, one which is no longer afraid to address the realities which face its citizens.
As we debate this legislation, I acknowledge the work of those who campaigned tirelessly for days, weeks, months, years and even decades in the lead-up to the referendum, the women who so bravely told their own personal stories, the Together for Yes organisation and especially the younger members of our society who worked so hard to deliver the historic "Yes" vote to remove the eighth amendment. I sincerely hope each of those young people fully realise the impact they had in this campaign and how their actions worked to make a historic change to our Constitution. I also hope they remain politically engaged.
In debating this Bill in this House, let us not rehash the referendum debate but work together constructively to deliver legislation which is reflective of the will of the people, as showcased by the 66.4% vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment. Let us work together to deliver a society which is more compassionate and caring towards those facing a crisis pregnancy, and let us ensure they no longer have to travel to access healthcare which we now have the power to deliver for them in their own country.
I look forward to supporting this Bill and, in the new year, to the women of Ireland being able to receive the healthcare they require with dignity and no longer being faced with the prospect of having to travel to the United Kingdom or further afield or, worse, consuming unregulated medication at home. I fully intend to support the Government on this Bill. I understand I may be sharing the remainder of the time in this slot with Deputy Durkan.
Does Deputy Durkan want to take the remaining time in this slot or does he want a full slot?
I am easy about that. It depends on the House.
It is the Deputy's choice. He can have ten minutes now.
I will wait for another slot.
I will be brief in my contribution to the debate as I do not wish to cause undue delay in the passing of this Bill. I personally have a strong pro-life view and would not like to see unrestricted access to abortion in Ireland. As a realist, I realise I cannot force my view on every citizen or on the two thirds of the people of Ireland who expressed a view contrary to mine in the referendum. It now falls on us, as legislators, to set out the law governing access to the termination of pregnancy in this country. As I have said previously, we should engage in meaningful respectful debate on the issue, rather than rushing the legislation through. We all know that hard cases can make bad law.
I wish to speak for the people of the Louth constituency on this issue, the 66.5% who voted “Yes” but also the 33.5% who voted "No". There are particular areas of concern for me and many of those concerns have been voiced both by those who voted "Yes" and those who voted "No". The Bill proposes to provide for the early termination of pregnancy which may be carried out by a medical practitioner who, having examined the pregnant woman, is of the reasonable opinion formed in good faith that the pregnancy concerned has not exceeded 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Bill further provides that the termination of pregnancy may not be carried out unless at least three days have elapsed from the date of certification. I, like others, have a concern regarding the timescales involved in cases which fall outside of the "early termination" definition, cases outlined where a fatal foetal abnormality may be discovered later on in the pregnancy. I and others need clarification on those timescales as the Bill does not specify how late on in such a pregnancy a termination can take place. I, like others, would have a huge problem with any form of late termination of pregnancy. I know this is a very complex area but it deserves teasing out and discussion.
I support the rights of medical professionals and employees who should not be forced in any sense to be involved in abortion. This Bill does not affect any current legal provisions relating to consent to medical treatment. The intention is that the provisions of the Bill will operate within the existing legal provisions on consent for medical treatment. Medical practitioners, nurses and midwives, many of whom have been in contact with our offices, should not be obliged to carry out or assist in carrying out terminations of pregnancy if they have a conscientious objection to doing so.
It is proposed that abortion services will be offered to women from January next through a GP-led service. I presume a panel with the names of GPs available to deal with the service will be advertised so as not to place any doctor who has a conscientious objection in a compromised position. Consideration should be given also to enshrining the rights of those medical professionals who have a conscientious objection within the legislation.
Before the referendum, I expressed my hope in this House that any debate in advance of such a referendum would be conducted in a manner respectful of the different points of view. That is the spirit of any democracy, and everybody is entitled to his or her views. I was saddened to see the acrimony that ensued on both sides but I hope as discussion continues on this legislation that all views will be heard, respected and listened to and freedom of speech, thoughts and opinion will not be in any way derided, mocked, belittled or ridiculed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. As we are all well aware, on 25 May this year the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly, clearly and emphatically to remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution which acknowledged the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother. As a result of this decision, the onus is now on the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion in this country.
As many in this House are aware, I strongly supported the retention of the eighth amendment and the right to life of every unborn child and I still do so. However, I stated clearly after the result of the referendum that I will not obstruct or oppose the passage of this legislation through the Dáil. I will engage constructively on all Stages. I was surprised that pre-legislative scrutiny was not an option for this Bill. As Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I know that this is a legislative process that is used frequently. What was the thinking behind the decision not to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill?
During the many discussions prior to the referendum, the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach promised safe, legal and rare abortions and I will be holding them to account on this. Some of the concerns that I hope to have addressed on Committee Stage are also concerns that I had during the referendum campaign. In particular, I refer to section 10 on the risk to life or health, which provides that a termination of pregnancy may be carried out where two medical practitioners, having examined the pregnant woman, are of the reasonable opinion formed in good faith that the foetus has not reached viability. I want to tease out the definition of viability, accepted in Irish maternity hospitals as 23 to 24 weeks. This is deliberately vague and seems to allow for abortions late into the second and third trimester. Viability is the point at which a child can survive outside of the womb with or without medical assistance. This is not a fixed point in time and with continuing medical advances, children are surviving from an earlier and earlier age. If an unborn child is past the point at which medical technology can support that child outside the womb, there should be an absolute legal prohibition on an abortion at that point. The Bill contains no express cut-off point of viability in the case of abortions under the so-called emergency ground, where a doctor certifies that an abortion is immediately necessary to avert an immediate risk to the woman's life or of serious harm to her mental or physical health.
My next concern relates to unborn babies with disabilities. During the campaign the Minister for Health stated that disability, including Down's syndrome, would be excluded as grounds for an abortion in any legislation but there is absolutely nothing in this Bill ruling out abortion on such grounds. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eight Amendment of the Constitution looked at the issue of disability and specifically excluded it as grounds for a termination. The committee differed from the Citizens' Assembly, as noted by the Minister for Health in the Seanad on 17 January 2018. Why are there no specifics relating to disabilities in the Bill? I have read the legislation several times and have not found the word disability anywhere.
Like other colleagues, I have been contacted by medical and health professionals from all over the country who have grave concerns about freedom of conscience provisions in the Bill. The right to freedom of conscience is a fundamental right protected by the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. One doctor told me that he trained for 11 years and entered his profession to protect life, not take it. The Bill proposes to force doctors to refer women for abortions against their conscience. This is deeply unjust.
There are many medical and health professionals who will carry out abortion procedures and they were to the fore during the referendum campaign. However, there are many more who simply cannot agree “to make such arrangements for the transfer of care of the pregnant woman concerned as may be necessary to enable the woman to avail of the termination of pregnancy concerned". In New Zealand, for example, even though health professionals have a responsibility to inform a patient that she can avail of abortion services elsewhere, there is no direct responsibility on them to transfer the care of the two patients in order to end the life of one. This is the crux of the issue. I met a 33 year old nurse yesterday who told me that when she was in her first year of training, at 18, she found herself to be pregnant. Her son is now 15. She told me that she will leave nursing as a result of the referendum. She may work with older people or work in a nursing home but she is too conflicted to stay in general nursing. There is no way that she would be able to work in a situation where the life of an unborn child might be ended. We must respect and listen to the many medical people who are very conflicted on this issue.
During the debate prior to the referendum there was much discussion of how we can reduce crisis pregnancies. We need to have that discussion again. How can we support women faced with the most difficult choices? How can we help homeless women who are pregnant? A couple of weeks ago we heard about a woman who was homeless and living in emergency accommodation who had stillborn twins. The stress of her situation cannot have been easy. We need perinatal hospices for those who are faced with the most challenging circumstances so that whatever decision they make, the necessary supports are there for them. If they decide to bring their baby into the world for however long, they must get wrap-around supports. I accept that we could not continue to export our problems. I also accept that many couples found themselves in the most horrific circumstances, expecting a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality, a life-limiting condition and the only option open to them was to go abroad to England. I know and accept that this was not right. At the same time, those who want to bring their baby to life, whether that baby lives for six hours, six days or six months, must be supported.
Sex education in schools is extremely important. The importance of providing vital information to our young people on dealing with crisis pregnancies and all of the options available cannot be overstated. Free contraception is also extremely important, especially for young women who might not always be able to afford it. The provision of same will certainly limit unplanned pregnancies.
It is vital that there is no reduction in the mandatory 72-hour waiting period. This was a core part of the proposals on which the Government fought the referendum campaign, with the Taoiseach and others promising that the existence of a waiting period would be a safeguard against abortion being seen as the only option. If women request counselling, this service should be available to them. It is vital that women with an unplanned pregnancy that they may not want to go ahead with are given the option of talking to someone and going through all of the options available to them. Whether women decide to go ahead with an abortion or not to go ahead, counselling should be available to them to enable them to make the decision that is best for them. In last week's budget €l2 million was allocated for abortion services. Why can we not see similar ring-fenced funding put in place to support women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies who might want to have their baby but who might not be in a financial position to so do? These women might be homeless, in an abusive relationship, or have mental health difficulties.
All legislation needs to be debated respectfully and diligently and this legislation is no different. I will engage on all Stages to try to strengthen this legislation so that abortion will be, as promised, safe, legal and rare.
The abortion referendum was divisive, and probably the most difficult discussion we have had as a nation since the previous referendum in 1983. In many ways it was more difficult in recent times because there was more consultation and people did not hide behind religion during this discussion. The fact that we did manage to have a mature conversation was very significant and it was gratifying to see the majority of the debates carried out in a dignified and respectful manner both in this Chamber and in the public arena. A host of different viewpoints were expressed but to see the positive engagement that took place shows our compassion and maturity as a nation, notwithstanding a small number of extreme views on both sides of the debate.
From my own conversations with constituents, colleagues, friends and family members, it became clear that many "Yes" voters were reluctant "Yes" voters and many "No" voters similarly voted "No" reluctantly. There were not many totally certain opinions at the outset but the seismic victory for the "Yes" campaign must be respected as reflecting the will of the Irish people. There were more votes counted to remove the eighth amendment than there were to insert it in 1983. This was a definitive mandate for access to abortion care in specific circumstances at home in Ireland. We cannot be triumphalist - and I say this as one who voted "Yes" - as this legislation progresses because we have to think of the gravity of the decision facing women in crisis pregnancies or with the devastating diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. Let us remember that this legislation was necessary to permit terminations to be carried out in cases where there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman or where there is a condition present which is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before or within 28 days of birth. In the case of a risk to the life or health of the woman who is pregnant, women can and must be trusted to make the best decision in the most distressing of situations together with their professional medical consultants.
The scaremongering about late term abortions is unfounded. The majority of women who opt not to continue a pregnancy do so in the early stages. In England and Wales, 92% of terminations are carried out at less than 12 weeks' gestation. Our own statistics are unclear as the Irish abortion rate remains unknown. We do know that at least 3,265 Irish women had abortions in UK clinics in 2016. Research indicates that the two biggest providers of online medication receive approximately 3,000 requests for help from Irish women each year. Some of these are the ones we will now be able to take care of in their own country. I understand that a communications campaign being prepared by the Department of Health and the HSE will encourage women to attend crisis pregnancy services as early as possible in their pregnancy.
I met with doctors and health professionals yesterday and, while I understand and empathise with the case for an opt-out clause, it cannot be at the expense of women's health. I respect the right to conscientious objection and the role it plays in the professional code of health workers but women's health must be paramount in all decisions that are made. This legislation represents the will of the people as 66.4% of the population voted for it. Review panels and committees provided for by this Bill give further safeguards and oversight of the process and, importantly, the Bill also makes it an offence for a person, by any means whatsoever to intentionally end the life of a foetus, otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. Stiff penalties would apply for this and rightly so.
Separately, it is important also that we introduce legislation to introduce safe access zones to prevent women being intimidated or harassed when seeking these services. It is important to remember that ten women a day are still travelling abroad to secure terminations while we continue to talk about legislation. These women experience financial, physical and emotional burdens. We must welcome the end of the unsafe and unregulated practice of procuring pills online to end pregnancies and our citizens travelling overseas to secure healthcare. None of these women has had appropriate follow-up care due to stigma and fear of prosecution. This legislation finally puts an end to the risks associated with illegal abortion and regulates for something that already exists.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, tá mé sásta deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille stairiúil seo. Tá gníomhaithe agus polaiteoirí ag caint faoin ábhar seo le cuid mhaith blianta. Ghlac daoine áirithe páirt i bhfeachtas fada thar níos mó ná 30 bliain ionas go dtiocfaimid go dtí an pointe seo. Tuigim go bhfuil imní agus buairt ar dhaoine, ach is maith an rud é go bhfuilimid ag an staid seo anois agus gur féidir linn toil an phobail, mar a dhéanadh soiléir le linn an reifrinn, a chur i ngníomh. Tá deis againn anois, faoi dheireadh, reachtaíocht a chur ar bun agus cúnamh agus tacaíocht do shláinte agus saolta mhná mar chroílár na reachtaíochta sin. Is dócha nach mbeidh brú nó éigean orthu amach anseo dul go Sasana nó aon rud mar sin a dhéanamh faoi mar atá faoi láthair.
I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It has been a long time coming to the floor of the Dáil and one that the majority of the Irish people wholeheartedly endorsed in May of this year. With that a burden and blemish on the face of the State and of the Constitution has been wiped away. The eighth amendment should never have been in the Constitution. Abortion should never have been dealt with in the Constitution. This is the right way to deal with it. It was an entirely inappropriate way of legislating on the matter. As the Attorney General of the time predicted, it has caused great uncertainty and the text of the eighth amendment was almost a contradiction in terms. That is the uncertainty it created. It caused significant harm to women around Ireland. The former master of Holles Street, Dr. Peter Boylan, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution that it has caused grave harm, including death.
Many Deputies said at the time of the referendum that this need not be a bitter and divisive debate and I hope it will not be. This debate has seen the best and the worst of Irish politics. Some people took this campaign as an opportunity to say intemperate and intolerable things but also many on both sides of the debate exercised great restraint, understanding and compassion, in being able to put themselves in the position of other people and of people who took different views on this proposal. It is quite remarkable that we are here.
We are now in a position to legislate, without having the fetter of a constitutional provision, in a measured, reasonable, compassionate way. That would have seemed impossible even a short few years ago - as recently as during the lifetime of the previous Dáil - with the legislation that was passed following the X case, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which seemed a significant and contentious step forward. It already seems far out of date, archaic, inadequately compassionate and an excessive restriction on the rights of women and pregnant people. A remarkable amount has changed in that regard.
Tá sé suntasach súil siar a chaitheamh ar an gcomhthéacs áirithe inar tháinig an reachtaíocht isteach breis is 30 bliain ó shin. Bhí daoine ag iarraidh buntáiste a bhaint amach i gcomhthéacs an cultúr polaitiúil a bhí ann ag an am. Cuireadh an reifreann os comhair an phobail agus glacadh leis, agus b'shin mar a bhí an Bunreacht ón am sin go dtí an bhliain atá againn anois. Is fiú aitheantas a thabhairt dóibh siúd a chur i gcoinne na forála sin ag an am, rud nach raibh fuirist. Tá moladh agus aitheantas tuillte ag na daoine sin as an gcrógacht a léiríodar nuair a chuaigh siad in aghaidh sruth mheon an phobail ag an am. Tá go leor daoine ann atá tar éis níos mó ná 30 bliain a chaitheamh ag troid i gcoinne an ochtú leasú.
The eighth amendment has a long and unfortunate history. It was conceived in the context of a number of elements. To a large extent, however, it was a cynical attempt to gain political advantage at a time of tight Dáil arithmetic. Credit is particularly due to those who stood in a minority position in very difficult circumstances and when their opinions would have been marginalised. It is important in that context that the minority now is respected and if they hold a contrary view, it is important that they are allowed to express it in a reasonable and respectful way, though I do not share it. Those who were in the minority position at that time were marginalised and suffered intimidation. Some of those people remained steadfast nonetheless and were joined in the recent referendum by those who have only recently got the vote and others who do not yet have the vote. The people who fought against the eighth amendment many years ago have been fighting ever since. While it might have seemed impossible at one stage, it was through their perseverance that we are in this position whereby the constitutional block on the ability of the Oireachtas to legislate in respect of this matter has been removed. Many Members of the Oireachtas deserve credit for the referendum being brought forward and passed. That includes the Opposition, the Government, the various political parties and Independents.
The primary credit for the fact that we had a referendum and that it was passed goes to what became a mass movement. It was a mass movement that started with a small number of committed activists but which developed and took in what ultimately became quite a wide and representative cross-section of Irish society. On reading media reports anticipating the referendum from even a year ago, one would have expected that it would involve a relatively narrow coalition or would not have been fully representative in the way that it was. The margins by which the referendum was passed in areas throughout the country surprised many. It reflected the fact that this was backed by a very broad range of society. Yet again, Irish society has been shown to be well ahead of both this institution and politics.
It was not always my view that legislation of this kind would need to be passed. That is probably true of many people. I was working in Leinster House at the time of the death of Savita Halappanavar. That event had a profound impact on many people. It certainly had a significant impact on me. While it did not, in itself, change my mind overnight, it forced me to examine the basis of my position or beliefs at that time, and to read up and examine more. I did so over several years. At this point, the two pillars of my position on this are, first, that the priority in all instances needs to be the life and health of the woman and, second, that it is a wrong and violent act to coerce women into carrying to term against their wishes. It is on that basis that I was very much in favour of this legislation and of the referendum. I hope that this legislation can progress relatively well and without inordinate haste. Much of the detail will be dealt with by the select committee. I recognise that it is important to take stock of the vote that took place.
Ní dóigh liom go raibh éinne ag súil leis an tromlach a bhí i bhfábhar aisghair a dhéanamh ar an ochtú leasú. Tá sé an-suntasach gur eisigh pobal na hÉireann ráiteas chomh mór sin ar an lá. Is ceart go bhfuil daoine - fiú iad siúd nach raibh i bhfabhar an reifrinn - ag aithint gur chóir gníomh a dhéanamh de réir toil na ndaoine agus go gcaithfidh an tOireachtas glacadh leis an mhéid atá ráite ag na daoine agus an reachtaíocht seo a chur tríd. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil sé sin á ghlacadh fiú acu siúd a chur i gcoinne an mholta i mí na Bealtaine i mbliana.
I acknowledge that people have stated that, despite having voted "No", they will not oppose the passing of this legislation. They are taking some stock of amendments and of the detail involved. That is fair enough and legitimate. It is legitimate to vote against this legislation even after the referendum, which is not to say that it is right. The referendum was on the ability of the Oireachtas to legislate and that is what the people have entrusted us to do. That is what we must do. That can take many different forms. In the coming years, there may be attempts to review this legislation. There may be amending legislation and that could take many forms. In that context, I think it is legitimate for people to oppose this legislation. That siad, it is right to support this legislation because, while the vote had a formal legal effect with a specific question that was asked, it is fairly clear, in the context of the proposals published by the Oireachtas joint committee and the Government, the shape people felt legislation would take. It is important that we give effect to that. I am sure it is quite difficult for people who voted against the referendum who will now not oppose this legislation. It is a brave thing to do. It is not easy but it is important.
Ba mhaith liom focal nó dhó a rá i dtaobh roinnt de shonraí an Bhille. Tá cuid mhaith ráite faoi ghnéithe éagsúla sa reachtaíocht, ina measc an tréimhse feithimh agus cé chomh réasúnta a bheadh sé dá mbeadh cead ag dochtúirí gan déileáil leis an gcóras seo. Tuigim, go pointe áirithe, na tuairimí atá léirithe maidir leis an tréimhse feithimh ach is dóigh liom go gcruthódh a leithéid d'fhoráil níos mó fadhbanna ná mar a réiteodh sé.
In terms of the specifics of the legislation, I echo the concern expressed by my colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, about the structure of the Bill, which has changed the emphasis from the general scheme of the Bill. The Bill now starts by outlining the offences rather than taking a more health-related approach. The offences have been moved from section 19 to section 5. That is not generally the case with other legislation, apart from perhaps criminal law, which is not a particularly good indicator.
There has been a fair bit of discussion about the waiting time of three days. We need to be guided by medical experts. To be fair to the Oireachtas committee, it did great work. I have two committee members next to me and I see others in the Chamber as well. The committee weighed all the evidence that was heard from all perspectives, but members were guided to a great extent by the views of medical professionals and we must also be so guided. I refer to Dr. Peter Boylan, the representatives of the Medical Council and the Irish College of General Practitioners who commented on that as well. Sinn Féin will be guided by such experts. To some extent it is perhaps a political decision and it could be based on optics to some extent but to a degree I understand the logic behind it in that I do not think anyone takes any significant decision lightly. If one is going to take a significant decision of this nature, if one can one should reflect on it as best as one can in the circumstances. We are already operating in a time-limited framework in the sense that abortion services are only to be provided up to 12 weeks. I think that to put in another qualifier creates difficulties, not least for people who are in a crisis. While it may be the case that in an ideal world individuals might take time to make such a decision, I do not think it is something that we should be legally forcing on people because it is most likely to have grave, unintended consequences for certain individuals.
I am also conscious of the conscience issue. I respect the fact that many members of the public and general practitioners will have moral difficulty with the legislation. Section 23(3) is appropriate and will protect conscientious objectors and that is reasonable. Apart from accident and emergency services, the public access the health system through GPs. That is the starting point for them to flow through the system. We cannot expect people who may not know the philosophical or moral position of their local GP to end up in a cul-de-sac. They should expect that any GP they go to will at least be able to direct them through the system. That is a reasonable expectation and it is not an unreasonable ask. A balance is being struck in terms of conscientious objection that is fair and reasonable.
I support the proposal that has been made that the wording should reflect pregnant people, as opposed to simply women. That is reasonable and important as it allows for inclusivity and respect for all pregnant people.
The Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution gave a lot of time to ancillary services. That is vitally important. We need serious investment in counselling and support. Sex education was examined and it is clear that it is outdated, unregulated and of a different era. That issue clearly needs to be addressed.
It was a requirement in this jurisdiction that there would be a referendum but there is no such requirement in the North. I hope it will be possible at some stage in the not-too-distant future that we will be in a position to have similar legislation there to allow for a similar regime in the North. The North has to be next. It is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed, among many outstanding political issues in the North. It is clear that the public appetite in the North is not radically different to what it is here. All parties in the North need to reflect on that, but so too do the British Government and the Government as this is a human rights issue and it must be addressed.
Tá mé sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don reachtaíocht seo. Déanfaidh ionadaithe Shinn Féin scrúdú ar na leasuithe a bheidh á dtabhairt chun cinn ar Chéim an Choiste agus ar an Tuarascáil. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil ciall, réasún agus cothromaíocht ag baint leis an reachtaíocht seo i gcoitinne. Dá bhrí sin, beidh mé ag tacú leis.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill. Along with other Members I happen to be one of the people who sat in committee for the final quarter of last year discussing this particular issue. There was a general recognition that there was an evolution of thinking in the course of the examination of the witnesses and their submissions to the committee hearings. I have the height of respect for everyone. Like most of the committee members I would not be in any way a strong supporter of abortion, as such. The definition of abortion is the deliberate intervention, the object of which is to terminate the life of the baby that is yet to be born. There are other interventions that may not do that at all. That is why some of us went to great pains to ensure that the three-day waiting period was observed. I strongly support that on the basis that two of the delegations that presented in the course of the committee hearings pointed out the fact that in the first instance when a girl or a woman found herself pregnant, possibly with a crisis pregnancy, she needed support, counselling and help and to be able to rely on some person in whom she could confide to give her advice. They also explained to us that in some cases the person changed her mind and that her first decision, whether it was for or against might not necessarily be the course of action she decided to follow. I believe that is correct and that we need to recognise the situation such a woman might find herself in and to provide for such cases.
We also learnt something equally important, namely, the necessity for proper sex education in schools and the need to ensure that it is comprehensively imparted to the new generation so that young people, both men and women, are conscious of the consequences of certain activities but more important, that they are in a position to be able to know in certain circumstances what is in their interests, and in particular in the interests of their health and what to do and what not to do.
Late stage abortions have been mentioned in recent days as something that was not previously discussed. In fact, it was, and socio-economic reasons were put forward as a reason for having an abortion. The committee rejected that at the time.
I believe it did so on good grounds and I believe it was the right thing to do. I stand over that and the Bill reflects that as well.
Much has been said about Down's syndrome and the need to ensure that those with Down's syndrome are not victimised in the course of the enactment of the legislation. In fact, the committee went to great lengths to ensure that the existence of Down's syndrome was not going to be a precondition for having an abortion, and rightly so.
We made several other changes in the course of the hearings. For one thing, we had to recognise the facts. The fact is that young women and not-so-young women in some circumstances have found themselves in a panic situation with nowhere to go and no advice to draw on. It may be only be a matter for themselves and the situation may be fast evolving. They may not have much time to act. What is the right thing to do? The legislation now before the House best reflects the thinking during the course of the submissions we heard in the committee. That is as it should be. I do not believe we should deviate from it at all. We should incorporate within the legislation the sentiments expressed before the committee and we are doing that. These sentiments were subsequently reflected in the heads published before the referendum. My reason for saying this is because we voted on it. The people voted on the heads that were presented before the referendum and I believe we have an obligation to ensure that is the way it stands.
I recognise that people have a right to conscientious objection. That needs to be provided for, but it should not be as a result of any diminution in the rights of women to get the services that are required at any particular time. We spent considerable time in the committee discussing that particular issue. I have dealt with situations - I imagine everyone else in the House has too - and read about situations of a nature that raised serious questions about the extent to which women's rights and entitlements to health and life were not necessarily observed. There are certain conditions that a woman can have ordinarily. During the course of a pregnancy these conditions may accelerate rapidly to the extent that, at a certain point, her health and, rapidly thereafter, her life will be in danger. We have had several illustrations of this in recent years. That is unacceptable and we must legislate for it. There have been situations in which the threat to the health and life of women, who may well have had existing families, might have been ignored and that is not acceptable.
We accept the right to conscientious objection among the medical profession, whether it be pharmacists, doctors, nurses or whatever the case may be, but there must be referral to someone who will deal with the situation insofar as the woman is concerned. She should not be deprived of obtaining the services she requires. There may be a medical requirement at that stage. I am strongly of the opinion that we need to be absolutely certain that her life is not put in jeopardy as a result of that kind of situation. There are plenty of ways and means of dealing with the situation if it should come to pass that the legislation was flawed, if provisions did not work or if someone at some stage later on were to say that if the rule of law applied the woman would have been treated differently.
It is generally recognised and has been said over and over again that this is the safest country in the world for a woman to give birth. There are numerous reasons for accepting or believing that. However, I wish to point out that increasing numbers of court cases arise from situations where women are aggrieved after treatment and sometimes pass away after treatment. In such cases they, or their families, have been concerned about the way they have been treated. We could all say this is because of the litigious society we live in. That may well be but it is not true to say that there is no risk involved. I accept, and everyone else realises, that women have been having babies for millions of years, generally without any problem. However, significant numbers of situations can arise from time to time in which the woman has no control over what is happening. In such situations her health can rapidly deteriorate to such an extent that she has no chance of living. That has arisen in a number of situations in recent years and that is not acceptable.
I mentioned the question of the need for proper sex education in schools and elsewhere in primary and secondary level. However, I did not go into the details of birth control in the first instance. I do not believe that abortion should be a form of birth control but I believe that the way some women were treated raises questions. I do not propose to go into these cases in detail tonight but the way some women were treated during the past 150 years, and especially during our lifetime, was simply appalling. This applied especially to pregnant women who were banished from society and cast out into exterior darkness. The nuns were subsequently blamed for what happened in the Tuam Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home and various other mother and baby homes throughout the country. The nuns were blamed but in actual fact it was society that did not live up to its expectations. Society opted out and did not want to know about it. We now review the situation in the light of hindsight and we say that it should not have happened. That is right: it should not have happened. It was disgraceful carry-on, just as it would be in any country. This did not only happen in this country; it arose in several other jurisdictions as well. It was an old-fashioned way of responding to a crisis pregnancy. I hope that we have sufficiently developed and evolved to ensure that we do not have repetition of that. I hope that when this legislation is passed it will cater for the kind of situations that we have seen previously in which women did not receive the kind of treatment they should have received.
I want to finish by simply saying one thing. This legislation has come after an extraordinary response from the public who voted. They voted clearly in the knowledge that they wanted some things to change. That is as it should be. Society will eventually recognise that what is being done now is the right thing, that it is fair and that it does not go overboard to the extent applicable to our next-door neighbours, where there is abortion on demand. This is not abortion on demand. There are restrictions such that it does not happen. Advice is available to women in the first instance and hence the three-day waiting period. That will be of considerable benefit to the general extent of our health services. It will be of considerable reassurance to the women of the country. It will create a clear impression in the minds of women, young or old, who may be pregnant in a particular situation. They will know that they can rely on the support services available, go forward into the maternity hospital or go for counselling. They will know that they will be protected, that their interests will be borne in mind and that they will be protected throughout.
Thank you, Deputy Durkan. I omitted to say that some of your time is being shared with Deputy Grealish.
I am sorry about that.
That is no problem. I will be brief. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The referendum was passed in May of this year by 66% of the electorate. However, in excess of 700,000 people voted against repeal of the eighth amendment.
Many of those have concerns about the proposed legislation and I wish to highlight some of those concerns. In particular, I note that a recent poll showed that 60% of the population do not want taxpayer funded abortion, which will cost €20 million per year. Many people voted against this legislation and I am very concerned that their money will be used to carry out abortions in Ireland. That needs to be seriously examined.
Repeal the eighth do not want this part of the legislation enacted. I also have a problem with that. People who are receiving treatment for most conditions in this country must pay for that treatment and care. I refer to cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy and other people suffering from serious health conditions. Is it not unreasonable for a person seeking care and treatment from a healthcare professional in a private capacity to pay for their treatment? I ask that this be removed from the legislation. In a time when the healthcare service here is heaving with a record number of people on trolleys on a regular basis, a lack of home care for the elderly and huge hospital waiting lists, allocating €20 million for this service does not seem fair or just.
On the issue of conscientious objection, does the Minister or his officials have any idea of the number of doctors and healthcare professionals who have a conscientious objection to abortion and also have serious concerns about referring the patient to another doctor for treatment? This is a very serious issue with significant moral implications. I understand the provisions of the Bill are in line with the medical ethics guidelines but, in reality, the issue of abortion for many in the medical profession is a far more serious issue than any other medical treatment they may be asked to administrate during their careers.
Also, general practitioner surgeries are already over-stretched and under-resourced. This will add another layer of work and administration to their practice. Has the Government engaged in any research or collaboration with general practitioners on the roll-out of abortion services through their practices?
That leads me to my concerns that the Bill makes no reference to pre-abortion or post-abortion counselling. This is a vital element and one the people were assured would be provided. I have concerns that the only reference to counselling in the Bill is in section 24 regarding the prohibition on receiving special benefits or advantages. Surely counselling should be adequately addressed and funded as part of the abortion services.
I want to specifically discuss section 11 of the Bill, which allows for abortion where there is a risk to life or health in an emergency. With its current wording, this allows for abortion beyond the point of viability, right up to the point of birth. If a baby can survive outside the womb, surely it can be delivered rather than aborted. If a late term abortion is proposed on mental health grounds, I believe an abortion could cause a further deterioration in mental health rather than an improvement.
That brings me back to my earlier point regarding the importance of counselling and the requirement to have this adequately addressed in the Bill. Late term abortions under section 11 will have far-reaching consequences for mother and child. The Bill needs to set a point of viability where the baby should be delivered and not aborted.
The people of Ireland have voted to repeal the eighth amendment. However, the Bill needs to be refined and many issues of concern, even for those who voted for repeal, need to be addressed. I hope my concerns will be addressed and appropriate amendments introduced.
I call Deputy Eamon Scanlon who is sharing time with Deputy Eugene Murphy.
The people voted on 25 May to repeal the eighth amendment. The majority voted in favour of introducing abortion into Ireland. The Dáil and the Seanad must now deal with that decision but many of the people who voted "Yes" and many who voted "No" have concerns about aspects of the Bill, and their voices have a right to be heard in this debate.
The right to freedom of conscience is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. No person should be required by force of law to take innocent life. Irish doctors, nurses and midwives entered their professions to protect life, not to take it. For the first time in Irish history, a Minister for Health is proposing to force doctors to refer women for abortions, forcing doctors to become involved in the abortion process against their conscience in some cases.
Additionally, the legislation does not provide for any positive right for conscientious objection. It merely states that nothing in the Bill shall be interpreted to oblige a doctor, nurse or midwife to participate in carrying out an abortion. This means that employers and professional groups will still be free to impose a duty on doctors, nurses and midwives to participate in abortion. That will put Irish healthcare professionals in a worse position than their colleagues in Britain. The Abortion Act 1967 provides that no person shall be obliged to participate in an abortion. At the very least, Irish law should include the same level of protection for conscientious objection as is outlined in the British law.
The legislation provides no protection for pharmacists or other healthcare workers who may be required to assist or make arrangements for a medical abortion by way of pill or a surgical abortion. The legislation provides no protection for medical or nursing students to ensure they are not required to train or be involved in abortions as part of the professional education and qualification requirements. I believe that needs to be addressed in the Bill.
In recent days, it has been reported that the Minister for Health is considering reducing or eliminating the 72-hour waiting period before an abortion can be carried out under the section dealing with abortion on demand. During the referendum campaign, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, promised the Irish people that any abortion legislation introduced would contain safeguards. The most important safeguard they referenced was the 72-hour waiting period, which the Tánaiste called a cooling off period. Many people cast their vote based on guarantees made by senior members of the Government. They must be held to their words, and removal of the 72-hour waiting period should not be permitted.
Minors who become pregnant are in a particularly vulnerable position. Some may feel that they have no option but to have an abortion. These young women deserve to have the support of their families during a difficult period. The current abortion legislation does not contain any provisions which require that parents or guardians be notified if a minor in their care requests an abortion.
During the referendum campaign, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, told the people that there would be counselling and support available for women who request an abortion. These were described as part of the safeguards in the proposed legislation yet, despite these promises, there are no provisions in the Government’s legislation to provide free and accessible counselling to women who are considering taking that course.
There has been significant public disquiet in recent years regarding revelations that children’s remains were buried in unmarked graves in Tuam and other places. The dignity of the child’s remains, at any age, must be respected. When an unborn child’s life is ended through abortion, the remains should be treated with dignity. The Government has been critical of the way children’s remains were treated in the past. We must not repeat that in the future. The dignity of the child requires that we adopt an amendment to the abortion legislation that prohibits any sale or any use of remains for scientific research without written parental consent and that ensures that the remains are treated with respect.
During the referendum campaign, the Minister for Health promised the people that children with disabilities would not be targeted for abortion if the law changed, yet his legislation contains no prohibition of abortion based on disability. That needs to be addressed also.
Deputy Scanlon has raised a number of the issues I wanted to raise so I will not make a long contribution. Prior to the referendum, I made my view known on a number of points of concern to me but as has been said, the referendum was comprehensively passed by the people and I accept that. However, that was the referendum and this is the legislation. I have some questions regarding a number of doctors and some nurses who contacted me, some of whom were in favour of some form of legislation but now have concerns about the freedom of conscience provision, which has been adequately discussed by a number of speakers.
It has been brought to my attention by some medical people that in New Zealand there is an opt-in, opt-out clause. Would it not be very reasonable, considering the issue of conscience this is for quite a number of medical people, that we would favour the opt-in, opt-out clause? It should be taken on board by the Minister to give doctors that right. They tell me they are going to have a serious issue in respect of freedom of conscience.
During the debate prior to the referendum, a clear commitment was given about the 72-hour waiting period. There are reports - maybe they are not correct and I am sure the Minister will clarify this point - that the elimination of that 72-hour period will take place. That is regrettable and at the time, the Tánaiste in particular promised people there would be safeguards, one of which was the 72-hour waiting period. I feel very strongly about that.
The area of ultrasound and the provision of ultrasound to women also has been brought to my attention. It has been stated to me that the Government is not prepared at all for what it is introducing in this regard and the availability of proper ultrasound equipment is a very important point to some people; it should be available. They are a number of areas about which I have had concern but that concern also has been expressed strongly to me, particularly by some doctors who did want some form of legislation. In two or three cases, they told me they voted for legislation to be brought forward but that they have serious concerns now with parts of this legislation.
There are cases where some people go for abortions and have a terrible regret. We really must put emphasis on counselling. I do not think we are prepared for that area at all although we were told prior to the referendum that it would be addressed. The Minister should address the issue of what is proposed in respect of counselling for people who will need it after the situation. I request clarification on those issues.
The decision has been made and we must respect the wishes of the majority of the people. I am a democrat and wholeheartedly accept the wishes of the people but Members should be given more time - the whole process should be given more time - as regards debating this legislation.
I have not been in the Dáil for long and have only attended a few committee meetings carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation. That is probably because I am a member of the transport committee and the Minister, Deputy Ross, is not exactly a man who brings too many Bills before this Dáil. I must say that when the Bills have come before the committee in the past few months - one was a Bill that had only a couple of amendments on it - but before they went through Second Stage they got plenty of discussion by the various interested groups, not just in one meeting but over a few meetings.
It is a shame that the Minister did not go through the process of pre-legislative scrutiny. I do not see why there is a rush job on this. The Minister will say the people have waited for decades to change this amendment but I note that while the eighth amendment committee came out with a recommendation, it did not have access to the heads of the Bill before we went to the country with the referendum. I am sure there are some who have different thoughts on the whole legislation. We go by the vote of the people but sometimes we like to play along with exit polls and what comes out of them and what was in people's minds. The Minister acknowledges, for example, that one issue was about the 12 weeks and nearly half the people who voted yes in the exit polls had reservations about the 12-week issue. What if these things had been discussed more in advance? The decision has been made but the heads of the Bill should have been made more available and should have been discussed more.
David Quinn of the Iona Institute acknowledged the day after the vote that we must accept defeat graciously. I am a pro-lifer and we must find ways of ensuring that our views are still kept out there, without breaking the law, and I acknowledge that. I ask the Minister, as we go on to Committee Stage, to have some of the items spoken about by my colleagues in the past few minutes looked at again. There is the issue about the conscience decision by medical administrators, doctors, nurses and midwives. They have concerns and if they have their beliefs, we should not shove instruments down their throat to get this process through.
It is ironic that following the passing of the referendum, we could find €12 million straight away to put in place what is needed to have abortions in this country yet there is still not mention of care needed for people in pregnancy stress cases. It is amazing that if more money had been provided down through the years, we might never have come to this situation as it is. I am not going to hog the debate but I ask the Minister that the issues be considered. I will not be standing in the way but I ask that some of the proposed amendments be given fair consideration.
I am sharing time with Deputy Carol Nolan.
It is only six months since the referendum on the eighth amendment and already we are being asked to vote on legislation to provide for abortion. As a Member of Dáil Éireann and in my role as a legislator I cannot help but think of what is going to be rushed through in this vote. I am disappointed that little or no time is being allowed to debate the content of the proposed legislation thoroughly. Before the referendum last March, the Minister, Deputy Harris, assured us that if the referendum passed, there would be ample time to debate any legislative proposals. Now here we are, the ample time has been cut down to a few hours and it is not enough. The Government wants this legislation rushed through.
The referendum on the eighth amendment was one of the most divisive and contested we have had in Ireland. For some people, their views changed while others deliberated. It has been a decision that people did not take lightly and we need to dedicate more time to this legislation. One big selling point of the repeal the eighth campaign was that the eighth amendment needed to be repealed in order for any change in the legislation to take place. Many people have voted for change and repeal but without knowing the limit or the extent of these changes. I believe that legislating for this is the most contested part and today it is being hurried. In the long run-up to the referendum, many of my constituents got in touch with me and shared their many concerns about different aspects of abortion, some anxious for repeal on a variety of different grounds and others anxious to keep protection for the unborn.
I have been taking a second look at the provisions of the proposed legislation and am very alarmed by some of its content. I am shocked at how extreme the legislation is proposed to be, even though there were reassurances from the Government during the campaign. It is not just about what is in the Bill but also what is missing in terms of any restrictions on abortion, most obviously the fact that abortion is permissible up until birth. Many decided to vote yes last May in the hope that a restrictive regime would be put in place. The question that keeps coming into my mind is what will my constituents say when they realise the abortion law they are being landed with is not the limited provision of abortion they were promised but one of the most unrestrictive abortion regimes anywhere in Europe and the wider world.
The legislation defines abortion as "a medical procedure intended to end the life of a foetus". In one provision it does not need to be necessary to save the mother’s life or safeguard her health; it is to be available on request with no reason needed. The baby’s humanity and value and right to life as a human being are absolutely ignored.
The Government insists that abortion is just healthcare, but this is untrue. This legislation allows abortions even where they are not a necessary treatment for the mother. If they really wanted to show compassion and respect, and to treat the unborn as what he or she really is, a fellow human being, then the legislation would at least require that every reasonable effort should be made to save the life of the baby when treating the mother as our medical ethics has always required. However, this law is about a right to have a baby killed on request with no reason needed. There is no compassion, no respect and no concern for the unborn.
If the Government really wanted to show compassion for the unborn then at the very least it would include a requirement on medical professionals to provide appropriate protection from the pain the baby feels during the abortion procedure particularly when the abortion is in the later stages. However, the legislation as it stands contains no such requirement. Can this one amendment at least be allowed for adequate age-appropriate anaesthetic and pain relief for the baby?
We know from international experience that sometimes babies are born alive after failed abortions. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information there were 766 late-term live birth abortions - babies born alive after failed abortions - in the period from 2013 to 2018. In Britain, 66 babies were born alive after abortion and left to die in one year alone. This information was published by the Department of Health in the CEMACH report of 2007. If we were serious about having respect for life, surely at the very least the legislation could include a provision requiring medical professionals to intervene and provide life-saving care to the baby.
We know that some hospitals in the UK have refused to intervene and simply left the babies to die, which is a disgrace. As it stands, this legislation has no such provisions. I believe that the only right thing to do when this happens is for the doctors to be required by the legislation to intervene at once with life-saving care if a baby survives an abortion.
The Government has repeatedly assured us that the legislation would not legalise abortion solely because of a baby's gender, or because a baby had Down's syndrome or suffered from a disability. We know that all over the world these are grounds on which abortions are widely sought in other jurisdictions. However, at no point does the legislation exclude these grounds for abortion. What we have been landed with is much more unrestrictive than we were promised.
Is abortion a medical healthcare procedure even though in the words of the proposed legislation it is defined as “intended to end life of a foetus”? A doctor with a pregnant woman has two patients, the mother and the baby. Are we expected to pretend it is acceptable for a doctor intentionally to end the life of one patient as healthcare for the other? This Bill would legalise abortion on request up to 12 weeks - 12 weeks of the baby’s life. I will be voting against this legislation. I will, however, support amendments based on what I have said, to try to limit the destructive impact this legislation will have on women and the unborn.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille seo. I begin by clearly stating that, as a pro-life republican Deputy, I am opposed to the Bill in its entirety. After reading the Bill, reflecting on it and listening to the speeches made by party leaders in this Chamber, I have many questions and serious concerns. Is it the intention of the Government and other party leaders to make this country the tourism abortion destination of choice? Is the first principle of Irish unity that Dublin extends abortion services to women and citizens from the North? That seems to be where we are heading with this Bill. Just because a law is passed does not make it a just law. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights that exist.
Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, once referred to it as a plan of wolf in sheep's clothing and of Trojan horse proportions. She grouped abortion alongside infanticide, racism and oppression. A nation that kills its own people has well and truly lost its way. We face a serious violation of the civil rights of the unborn child. How can the values and dreams of the Irish people survive if we kill our yet-to-be-born children? This violation of civil rights is nothing short of an insult to the men and women of 1916 and it greatly undermines the values of the 1916 proclamation which makes reference to cherishing all of the children of the nation equally. Of course, the parties in here have turned their backs on that Proclamation.
Taxpayers did not vote to fund abortion and that includes many who voted to repeal as well as more than 730,000 who voted "No". The results of a recent Amárach opinion poll showed that 60% of people opposed taxpayer funding of abortion. Maybe we need to have a second vote to find out if the people want to fund abortion. As we all know, party leaders are adept at voting twice on the same issue. The Nice and Lisbon treaties come to mind. Why not the issue of taxpayers' funding of abortion?
It is very clear that the electorate and the grassroots of the main political parties represented in this House have been duped and betrayed. Instead of raising the standards of political representation and upholding values and Ireland's global national identity, one that sees us recognised as the gold standard for family with respect for life, party leaders have colluded to dismantle the people's constitutional protection for the most vulnerable, the unborn child.
Long-held principles of respect for life which were once enshrined in our Constitution are being maliciously set aside. To make matters worse, many good men and women in this House are being bullied into fear, silence and obedience. The fear of not being reselected by party leaders has forced many to remain silent to the cry of the voiceless and submissive to an agenda that silences all opposing opinion or thought. So much for freedom, equality, choice and compassion.
As a pro-life republican woman, my conscience stands above and beyond any party diktat. My conscience does not allow me to support policies of abortion and lack of freedom of conscience. I am not afraid to stand before the voters in Laois and Offaly and keep or lose my seat, whatever the case may be, at the next election. My constituents know me. They know who I am and the values I uphold. They know that they can trust me and they know that I will not do dirty political deals just for the sake of power or bow to populist rhetoric under pressure.
The common good is being politically and systematically erased from society. Now the Government seeks to brand decent people in every county as abortion funders. If this House has no conscience, if this House does not respect and uphold the vital need to protect the unborn, if this House is deaf to the cries of the vulnerable and the voiceless, then this House needs to be pulled down and rebuilt because it is in decay.
The Government needs to go. It is better for the Government to go than for the whole nation to be lost and brought down. I appeal to Members of this House to think for themselves, outside of leader diktat. The Bill before us is extreme and harsh, and people need to speak up.
Those who celebrated the vote in May and who are cheering on the legislation would do well to take a moment to consider the lives they are comfortable to destroy. It is worrying that the Bill's definition of viability has become even more unclear at the precise moment when the scope of conscientious objection for health professionals contracts alarmingly. For the thousands of pro-life doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists working in our healthcare system, this is deeply worrying. I commend all those who came out today to protest against this injustice, because that is what it is - a grave injustice. I stand with those health professionals who are being unfairly treated.
Amid all the self-congratulatory tweets, selfies and posts, the Minister, Deputy Harris, seems to have forgotten that almost 750,000 of our people are on waiting lists in our health system.
Some of those patients are children waiting for scoliosis treatment or elderly people who have paid their taxes for 40 years and who are now waiting for hip operations. It is a disgrace. The Taoiseach may have forgotten about the health and the housing crises, as well as the difficulties which farm families are experiencing, how post offices in rural Ireland are closing, with communities declining, and how carers are unable to receive the help they so badly need.
Freedom of conscience is not something which was unique to pre-repeal Ireland and it is not something which can be extinguished in post-repeal Ireland either. It is a vital human right which is protected within our Constitution and, indeed, within the European Convention on Human Rights. Throughout the world, many states which allow for abortion recognise the fact that a large number of workers in their healthcare sectors cannot bring themselves to participate in ending the lives of some of their smallest and most vulnerable patients. In spite of the result in May, it is also abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority of the Irish people support freedom of conscience.
Under the Minister's new plans, every pro-life doctor would be forced to refer patients to those GPs who they knew were ready and willing to help end the lives of vulnerable unborn children. Let us take a moment to consider the situation facing pro-life doctors, nurses and pharmacists in dealing with requests for abortion pills. They know they are dealing with not one patient, but two. They know the second patient is in mortal danger and that they can do nothing to protect them. Imagine, too, that the GP involved is being asked to aid in the destruction of that tiny developing life. Imagine he or she is being asked to sign a form to help move their patients on to another step in the journey, a step which destroys one and wounds the other. How could anyone ask that this doctor be forced to violate his or her conscience to such an enormous degree?
In spite of public and professional support for protecting the rights of our healthcare professionals, the legislation the Government has proposed does not provide a positive right for conscientious objection. What the Minister is proposing is not the same as that which exists in the UK. It is, in fact, much worse. Even Britain's infamous Abortion Act 1967, which has led to more than 8 million lives being lost over half a century, states that no person will be obliged to perform an abortion. Under the current proposals here, however, employers and professional groups in Ireland will be able impose a duty on medical professionals to carry out these procedures which are so against their deepest beliefs about the sanctity of life and the importance of protecting it.
I commend the Catholic hospitals on standing firm against this new penal law, which is not being introduced by British colonisers this time but by political leaders in this country who claim to uphold and respect all in society. They do not respect them. Not only could the legislation, as it is currently drafted, open the door to doctors, nurses and midwives being forced to participate in performing abortions, it also does not provide any protection for pharmacists, who may soon discover that they have no choice but to be involved in the dispensing of abortion pills to patients. We owe it to our hard-working doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists not to force them to do things which go against their deepest beliefs. That is why freedom of conscience must be respected within this legislation.
By continuing down this destructive path, the Minister risks doing even more damage to the already creaking health service. Unless conscientious objectors are protected within the law, we are going to lose hundreds, if not thousands, of our best and most hard-working and dedicated GPs, gynaecologists, nurses and midwives. Our pro-life medical professionals, like all our other medical professionals, deserve thanks for all they do to care for those within society. The least we can do is ensure they can continue to do this vital work without violating their deepest beliefs.
It is also vital that there be no reduction in the mandatory 72-hour waiting period. This was a core part of the proposals on which the Government fought its referendum campaign. It is also vital that abortions are prohibited on grounds of disability. Unborn babies with disabilities should be protected. After all, we talk about an inclusive and accepting society with equality for all. I am aware of the fact the group Disability Voices for Life has written to the Minister on this matter, seeking a meeting on a proposed amendment to the Bill. I support its call for such an amendment to be made to this harsh and needlessly extreme Bill.
The allocation of an initial amount of €12 million of taxpayers' money is only the beginning. This is a gross abuse of taxpayers' money. That any Government would allocate taxpayers' money to selectively discriminate and bring about the end of the life of an unborn baby is not only an unethical breach of voter trust, it is abhorrent. Such a Government is not worthy to represent or lead the Irish people. It is time for change: time for a change of Government and also, perhaps, for a change of party leaders. Nelson Mandela once stated, "The time is always right to do right. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same."
Before I address the legislation, I point out that I have listened to most of the contributions. Even those who were opposed to the referendum taking place or opposed to the legislation, have all, bar one, in my opinion, recognised the will of the people on 25 May. It is very unfortunate that there are still some within this Chamber who use terms during the debate on this legislation to suggest that people "did not understand what they were voting for" or were stupid. That is grossly offensive to the electorate and I reject it.
I canvassed my constituency, as I am sure other Deputies canvassed theirs. We met people who were for and against the removal of the eighth amendment. I believe it was a very civil debate at the doors. I met many people who had not made up their minds or who had no clear preference before meeting canvassers, who were open to either voting for or against, and who were engaged with the canvassers on both sides. I believe the vast majority of people who went out and cast their votes on 25 May did so from an informed position. They were informed in a number of ways. They were informed through the Referendum Commission, through the debates that took place on television and radio and through the canvassing teams for and against the proposal. I find it incredible that some Deputies would insult the people by stating they were stupid or that they did not understand what they were voting for. I think they should reflect on that.
I want to mention Deputy Butler's contribution. We all know what was Deputy Butler's position prior to the referendum. She was very firm in that position and it has not changed in terms of her beliefs. However, she came into the Chamber and gave a speech which was very difficult for her - we could see it was very difficult for her. The type of leadership she has shown tonight in this debate is to be welcomed. She has come in and said she accepts the outcome of the referendum. She has difficulties with what is being proposed but she is going to support the legislation. That needs to be recognised. All too often, people who were opposed to this referendum were criticised for, in the opinion of some, opposing it for the wrong reasons or for ill-informed reasons.
If someone who campaigned against the referendum proposition comes to the House, accepts the will of the people and indicates support for the legislation and an intention to work constructively with the Government to pass the best legislation possible, that person should be commended.
I note the call by some Deputies for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. There is a slight contradiction in what they say. On the one hand they say we should have pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill because it is such important legislation and would benefit from examination by the health committee. In my experience as a Member of the Dáil, the purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny is to ensure that what is proposed is good legislation. In that context, one looks at all of the pros and cons. However, this is a slightly different case because the general scheme of the Bill was published as part of the referendum campaign. As such, people knew exactly what the legislation would look like.
While it is not possible to say that it will be enacted word for word, the Government, in fairness to it, published the general scheme and has stuck to it. Of course, in the course of its passage, the legislation may be amended. However, those amendments will not be so fundamental as to change the general scheme of the Bill. Indeed, the general scheme as published differed from what was proposed in the Oireachtas committee's report, in particular regarding the three-day provision. It appears also that those Deputies who are demanding pre-legislative scrutiny are those who have difficulties with the legislation. In the same breath in which they call for scrutiny, these same Deputies have stated that they intend to hold the Government to account to ensure that what was proposed in the general scheme of the Bill will not be changed. One cannot have it both ways. One cannot demand that the general scheme of the Bill be adhered to and at the same time assert that there should have been pre-legislative scrutiny to see if we could have changed the legislation. There is a slight contradiction there.
I sat on the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and have spoken of my personal beliefs growing up and where I got them. People often learn certain principles from their parents and my parents were pro-life and opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Growing up, as I have said previously, I shared those views. As a 46 year old man looking back at the 20 year old person I was, I know now from the information I have gathered as a legislator, from meeting advocacy and support groups and medical professionals, from sitting on the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and from the debates in the House on the protection of life during pregnancy legislation that the beliefs I held strongly then, having been taught them through my parents, were ill informed. I did not have all of the information and my views and beliefs were not based on fact. Many people have said to me that I have been on a bit of a journey. I remember what I said in reply to a woman I met in the course of the campaign when she said that. I met her at her door and she was one of those women who had once had to travel to England to secure a termination. She had followed the proceedings of the Oireachtas committee very closely and had known my personal position going back a number of years and how my views had changed. She said to me, "You have been on a journey and I thank you for that." In reply, I told her that the journey I had been on was as nothing compared with the journeys undertaken by hundreds of thousands of women who were forced to travel by the eighth amendment. I did not state that flippantly and I meant it genuinely. If the journey I have been on ensures that no other woman has to take that journey, I have no regrets in supporting the legislation.
I turn now to the position of my own party. It is well known that there are differing views within the party as there are within every other party. I am very proud of the way in which our party conducted itself in the lead-up to the referendum. We had a very robust internal debate, the old workings of which were there for everyone to see. The debate took place at a public Ard-Fheis which was open to the media. No one was bullied into silence as was suggested here tonight. No one was forced to adopt a position against his or her will. Everyone had an opportunity to attend the Ard-Fheis, speak openly for or against what was proposed and to then abide by the decision taken. That is what happened and it is on the record. I might get into a slight bit of trouble for saying the following, but what the hell. Even if the legislation is enacted in the morning, there will, unfortunately, be some women who still have to travel. We must recognise that. I am not saying we have to deal with that in this Bill. We cannot do so because we gave a commitment to people on the general scheme of the Bill. However, if some women will still be forced to travel, we still have some way to go as a society, as does Sinn Féin, before we recognise that and cater for every woman in every circumstance.
There are a couple of things to say about the legislation itself. I note the three-day provision. It was not something which arose at the joint committee as Deputies Fitzpatrick, O'Reilly and Jan O'Sullivan will testify and it did not form part of the committee's report. I understand the reasons for which it was included. Some people have said it was done for political reasons and some people have cited other reasons. While I understand why it was put in, however, it is important to ensure it does not become a barrier. That is where the debate on Committee Stage must focus. If it has been included for a very good reason, let us be confident in that reason. However, I have learned over the last number of years, in particular as a member of the joint committee, that we must listen to the medical profession. If the profession has concerns around the three-day provision, we need to listen, whether or not it is politically acceptable. If there is a strong groundswell of opposition to the three-day provision, the Government must be open to it. The last thing we want to do is pass legislation which makes things even more difficult for the medical profession in the provision of services. We should be open on the three-day provision and we should obtain some guidance from the profession on it. There is no doubt in my mind that the provision will impact more on certain sectors of society, including, for example, women in direct provision, women with disabilities, women from regions where the only available general practitioner has a conscientious objection and women who are victims of domestic violence.
The three days could prove problematic to these women and, as I said, we need to take the guidance on this.
We should also be open to looking at the whole area of risk during the passage of the legislation. The committee was very clear that risk and harm cannot be categorised. I know the legislation refers to risk to the life of the woman. It does not categorise the risk when it comes to the life of the woman but it does seek to categorise risk to the health of the woman. We need an explanation as to why the Minister has decided to categorise this risk when all the evidence presented to us before the committee indicated that risk cannot be categorised and that this must be a medical judgment at a given moment in time based on all the circumstances. This needs to be looked at, and I hope the Minister is open to doing so.
Another area is the ancillary recommendations made by the eighth amendment committee. I can completely understand why they are not in the primary legislation before us tonight. Many of them will be policy decisions. Some may not need to be in primary legislation and some may. Some may need to be in regulations or secondary legislation. A message needs to go out, however, that the Government is not cherry-picking the report, that there is a commitment, not just from the Government but from all parties in this Chamber, to fully implement the ancillary recommendations. Just because they are not in this legislation does not mean they are any less important than the issue being debated within the Bill; it just means this is not the appropriate place in which to put it. I am sure there is no rowing back on the Government's commitment on the ancillary recommendations and I look forward to working with Dr. Peter Boylan, who has been appointed to oversee the implementation or the preparation of the services, in this regard.
I wish to make a point about viability because a number of Deputies have raised it. Again I go back to what was discussed in the Oireachtas committee and the general scheme of the Bill. I do not believe it is for us to put down a timeframe in primary legislation. I know we have the provision regarding the 12 weeks but I am talking about the viability of the foetus in later stages of pregnancy. Again, we need to be guided by the medical profession in this regard. I am sure this issue will be dealt with in regulations or even Medical Council guidelines. While some people have concerns about this, I think they are unfounded, and as we discuss the legislation and tease out all these issues through Committee and Report Stages, I think this will become more apparent.
The very last thing I will say concerns a number of Deputies who spoke tonight and complained about not having enough time to discuss what is in the Bill. There is no guillotine on this debate, to the best of my knowledge-----
-----and no guillotine will be put on this legislation. While we all, perhaps not all of us but the vast majority of us, want to pass it as quickly as possible, we want to do so responsibly, debate what is contained in the legislation and be able to look at the amendments and have enough time to debate them. However, for some Deputies to try to give an impression that there is not enough time for debate even on Second Stage is disingenuous. Each of these Deputies had the opportunity to take a full 20-minute slot tonight but they got up and complained that they only had five minutes to speak. No one is restricted to five minutes in this debate. Everyone, to the best of my knowledge - someone can correct me if I am wrong - had the opportunity to take a full 20-minute slot, as I have done, and has-----
You are totally wrong. Through the Chair, the Deputy is wrong.
If I am wrong, I would like to know who has prevented any Deputy in this Chamber from taking a full 20-minute slot. The Minister has confirmed there is no guillotine.
I ask Deputy O'Brien to conclude.
If I am wrong, perhaps you need to correct whoever told you that, Deputy Fitzpatrick, because everyone-----
We spent the whole day-----
Excuse me. I have not interrupted anyone.
Is Deputy Fitzpatrick finished?
The Deputy is making a false statement. He said something wrong.
I ask Deputies to address their remarks through the Chair and I ask Deputy O'Brien to conclude.
Through the Chair, he is wrong.
What I have said-----
I ask Deputy O'Brien to conclude.
There is no need for that.
I ask the Deputy to conclude his remarks.
There is no need for the interruptions either.
Then give the proper facts.
Deputy Fitzpatrick, please allow Deputy O'Brien to conclude.
I have no chance to come in again.
You are out of order.
The fact is that there is no guillotine on this legislation.
Excuse me. Peter, you wants facts, so please listen to them-----
Deputy Fitzpatrick, no one interrupted you. Please let Deputy O'Brien conclude. His time is almost up.
There is no guillotine on this legislation, and a 20-minute slot was available to every speaker in this House if he or she wished to take it up. That is a fact.
It is not a fact.
If Deputy Fitzpatrick has been told differently, he should take it up with his Whip - if he has a Whip.
The Deputy's time has concluded. I call Deputy Tóibín, who has been waiting patiently to contribute. He has 20 minutes.
Tragic, difficult, challenging situations face mothers, fathers and unborn children every day which create enormous stresses and strains in their lives. Many people experience a level of darkness and difficulty that I will never experience myself. I believe that our approach to these families - our friends, our neighbours and our relations - should be founded on compassion. While it is impossible to discuss this issue without using some language that some people will find contentious, it is never my desire in any way to be seen to be making judgments on anyone's decisions surrounding this issue. However, I believe passionately that the solution for one person can never be the ending of a life of another human being. I believe that every single individual should have an equal right to life.
This is the first time I have had a chance to speak on this matter in the House since the referendum, so I wish to offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in the right to life campaign in recent years. More than 100,000 people throughout the Twenty-six Counties were involved in one of the largest people-powered campaigns in generations. Ordinary people on the pro-life side marched in their hundreds of thousands, distributed leaflets, knocked on doors, designed and created social media and lit up the streets with their campaigning abilities. They did so without the support of any political party or media. In fact, in many cases the pro-life campaign faced hostility from political parties, individuals and the media. They should realise that they did an amazing thing, and I have no doubt but that these activists will be considered heroes by future generations for standing up for life because life is the most valuable thing we have. They fought for the most vulnerable people within society, that is, unborn children. Many of these campaigners are broken-hearted and many have their heads down and are wondering what to do next, but disappearing is the wrong decision. Disappearing will simply give licence to those who seek to radically deregulate abortion further.
It is important to remember that 723,632 people voted "No" in the abortion referendum. This is higher than the total vote in the most recent general election for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and higher than the total combined vote for Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and the Green Party. That is a massive chunk of individuals. Taken on an all-Ireland basis, the right to life vote pushes to around 1.2 million or 1.3 million people. It is a minority, but a significant minority and a minority that has a right to participate respectfully in this debate in the future. It should not be censored or vilified by any individual or politician or the media.
Last week, I listened to Deputies such as Deputy Thomas Byrne who, almost in a state of panic, demanded that we push this abortion Bill through Leinster House as fast as we could. He stated that the people had spoken, the Bill as laid out was sacrosanct and the voice of the people was sovereign. The Deputy was right on the last point, and it is clear that a large majority of people voted to repeal the eighth amendment and that the democratic will of the Irish people must be respected. Abortion will be made legal in Ireland and we have to accept that, but the Deputy is wrong that the people voted for this particular Bill. I have a different view from my party colleague on this, as it is untrue. The chair of the Referendum Commission, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, stated before the referendum that the vote was simply to repeal the eighth amendment only. She made it clear that, legally speaking, the vote was not on the legislation and that deleting the eighth amendment would leave it to the Oireachtas to legislate on the issue.
Every politician worth his or her salt around here likes to interpret the result of a referendum. Indeed, one's interpretation of a referendum result cannot usually be contradicted. In this case, though, it can be. RTÉ carried out an exit poll on the day of the referendum that was approximately four times the sample size of the normal opinion polls that consume the minds of politicians. Like all decent opinion polls that give a snapshot, there was certainly a margin of error. It was actually on the pro-repeal side, as many right to life voters were shy that day. The exit poll scientifically asked whether, if a majority of voters voted "Yes" to the referendum, the Oireachtas would still be able to implement strict restrictions on abortions in Ireland. Of those polled, 60% agreed with that statement. Crucially, on the question of whether voters favoured abortion without restriction up to a gestational age of 12 weeks, the majority in Munster, Connacht and Ulster did not agree with that aspect of the Bill. Across the State in total, roughly 50% of the people who voted on that day stated they did not agree with abortion on demand. Is that not incredible? With all the talk in the Chamber that the people knew exactly what they were voting for and were voting on every minute element of the Bill, the opinion polls state that that is factually incorrect. It goes further. Of "Yes" voters, 20%, or over 250,000, said that they did not agree with abortion being available on demand. Referendums are simple issues. They are binary questions - people are asked to vote "Yes" or "No", but they definitely cannot be asked to vote on each minute aspect of a Bill.
People say that there should not be opposition to this Bill. If one wants to make bad law, the best way to go about it is to delete democratic opposition within this Chamber. Opposition is a form of test during a Bill's development. It is a rigorous way of ensuring that the legislation will function. No one should be shy to challenge this Bill rigorously.
Deputy Thomas Byrne's desire to get this through the Dáil as fast as possible is more about the civil war within Fianna Fáil on this and other issues than the sovereignty of the people. What he has forgotten is that, even if the Bill passes, this issue will not go away. Once we cross the Rubicon regarding life and take the massive decision, which the Minister has done, to move from a position of every human life being protected in law to one in which we can legally end human life, restrictions become increasingly meaningless.
Deputies have admitted that they are on a journey. There is no doubt in my mind that they will continue on that journey over the next while. There is still a strong pro-abortion lobby looking to push for further deregulation. Mark my words - abortion will be a live political issue for years to come. The pro-life Deputies who believe that, by keeping their heads down now, this will go away are mistaken.
I wish to turn my attention to the position in the Bill. The Bill defines abortion as "a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of a foetus". That is the most important sentence within the Bill. The Minister must agree that it is a sobering line. Did he ever think that he would end up voting for that particular line to be put into legislation or that it would be a part of his legacy? The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, said in the media that it was not a life, but a "potential life". That is not what the Bill says, though. It says that it is an actual life. That is all that any of us has. I always bang on in the Chamber about how every time we vote on a particular issue, we are directly responsible for what happens as a result. If we vote for this legislation, we will be directly responsible for the outcome of that clause each time.
It is interesting that the Minister, Deputy Harris, continually couches this in terms of being a step forward for women's healthcare. It is staggering that he is making sometimes giddy videos regarding such steps forward while there are 350,000 women languishing on waiting lists in the healthcare system. It jars with many people that millions of euro of taxpayers' money will be spent providing abortions that they conscientiously oppose while it seems that no money can be found for emergency scoliosis operations for children or-----
-----to house the 4,000 children who are homeless. According to a recent poll by Amárach Research, voters are opposed to taxpayer-funded abortions, including 44% of "Yes" voters. It is no wonder.
The Minister campaigned for this. He stated that it was about choice. Now he is looking to take choice away from doctors and apply a penalty - I am not sure whether it will be a criminal penalty - if they do not fulfil their requirements under this legislation. The Bill compels doctors who do not want to perform abortions to participate in a process to make arrangements for abortions to happen. Where is the choice for doctors not to participate? Doctors are not trained or equipped to carry out this. Most get into the profession to save lives, not end them. Interestingly, the Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment heard evidence that the vast majority of abortions were for socioeconomic reasons and that only a small minority were for medical reasons. Despite this, the Minister is forcing doctors and other healthcare workers to participate. Anyone who is listening to this debate should think about it. Imagine if the Minister said that someone's office would be forcibly turned into an abortion clinic or be used to facilitate arrangements for abortions. Most people listening to this debate would be horrified, but that is exactly what is happening in the medical profession. It is a serious flaw in the legislation. God knows that the GP system is already stuffed and at breaking point. The Minister is telling those who oppose this legislation to leave the profession or to do what they are told. It will bring hundreds of law-abiding doctors into conflict with the State. According to the Amárach Research poll, the majority of adults were opposed to this. This element of the Bill will come a cropper in the Supreme Court as well, so I advise the Minister to do the right thing.
I will be proposing a number of amendments on Committee Stage in an effort to remove some of the most damaging elements of the Bill. The Minister made a number of statements during the campaign that should be translated into definitive legislative safeguards. One of my main difficulties with abortion is that it impacts minorities far more than others. If someone is female, has a disability, is from an ethnic background or is poor, that person is far more likely to be aborted.
When the Minister was campaigning for this Bill, he said that nobody would be allowed to have an abortion in this country on the basis of disability. On that basis, I ask him to support a definitive amendment to prevent abortion in the case of disability. I suggest we should translate the Minister's pre-referendum promise into an amendment.
It is estimated that there are 100 million missing women in the world at the moment due to gender-related abortion or infanticide. The Labour Party in Britain is currently seeking to outlaw gender-selective abortion. I ask the Minister to support an amendment that would definitively outlaw gender-selective abortion in this country.
It is generally agreed that the minimal necessary neural pathways for pain are in place at approximately 24 weeks' gestation. Many experts now understand that those pathways may be in place prior to 24 weeks' gestation, which would mean that pain can be experienced at that stage. I ask the Minister to make it unlawful for an abortion or any harm to be carried out on an unborn child who can potentially feel pain. We need to deal with this important question.
I would like to refer to one of the most heartbreaking elements of abortion. It happens in most abortion regimes that an abortion is unsuccessfully carried out and the child who survives is seriously injured. In some cases, he or she passes away. It would be humane for the Minister to require the healthcare professionals who are gathered around to attempt to save the life of such a child and make sure he or she is protected into the future. I had the pleasure of meeting an abortion survivor from the US when she came to Ireland. She went through the experience I have described. If a nurse had not removed her from the cold silver dish and helped her at the time, she would not be alive today. I think it would be worthwhile for the Minister to include an amendment to cover such cases. According to a poll carried out by Amárach Research recently, the vast majority of Irish people are in favour of medical intervention in the circumstances I have described.
Information is the key to this issue. In fairness to the British authorities, they are very good at collecting information from their abortion services. Many people on the pro-choice side have been using those statistics for years. I am concerned that we might purposely fail to collect enough information at the required level in this country, perhaps to hide this issue. I suggest that for the sake of the women and children, and for the sake of policymakers, politicians and the general public, it would be wise to ensure all the information that is generated on foot of the Government's plan is collected on an annual basis. We should be able to review that on a regular basis as well.
We often hear people talking about choice and information. I believe really good information is important for informed choices. I suggest that a woman who is considering having an abortion should be offered the possibility of seeing an ultrasound before she proceeds. I am not saying she should be forced in any way to look at an ultrasound, but the option of doing so should be available to her. This should be provided for in the legislation before the House. Approximately 80% of those who participated in the Amárach Research poll said they would support such a provision.
I have to ask the Minister a couple of questions about the Bill. Will the parents of a child who seeks to have an abortion be responsible for deciding whether the abortion is proceeded with? If not, will the child's parents be notified of the decision whether to have an abortion? I know this is a grey area in other elements of medical practice. I want to see where the Minister stands in this regard.
Our previous conversation about whether people voted exactly on the basis of this Bill reminds me that when I spoke to a number of Deputies about this legislation recently, I was interested to find out that two of them did not know it allows for abortion to be available up to 24 weeks. It is worth bearing in mind that there is a lack of knowledge in this Chamber about what is at stake here.
I would like to ask the Minister about the provisions of the Bill with regard to cases of children with life-limiting conditions. The legislation refers to a condition that is "likely" to result in the death of the child within 28 days of birth. What does the word "likely" mean in this context? If we are talking about a chance of 51% or more that the child will not live beyond days, it is a very low bar because it will have a failure rate of approximately 49%. I know of children who confounded the doctors when they were brought to full term. They were fully healthy children even though the doctors had told their parents that they should consider abortion on the basis that the children had life-limiting conditions.
Even though this Bill is coming to pass, it is really important for this country to offer the necessary supports to women who find themselves in really difficult circumstances. The Minister needs to double down on investment in maternity services, perinatal hospice care, rape crisis supports, health services, housing, childcare and equal pay. I remind the House that when a woman and her children were forced to stay overnight in a Garda station earlier this year, Twitter lit up with angry people asking how the woman in question dared to have children she could not afford. Is this how things are going to be? Is this the new Ireland - free abortions but no chance of a roof over one's head?
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Second Stage debate. We are not here to rerun the referendum or to reargue the points that have been made time and again. The debate has already been decided, not by this House but by the citizens of this country in a democratic vote on our Constitution. An overwhelming majority of those who voted in the referendum earlier this year decided to repeal the eighth amendment. That vote must be respected. Our job is not to second-guess or question the result of the referendum. Our job is not to question the decision that has been made by the people. Our job is not to question the validity of the vote just because we may not agree with it. Our job is to respect that vote and to give effect to it. The eighth amendment is already gone - it went the day the vote happened. As legislators, we must fill the vacuum that now exists with legislation. That is the job we were elected to do. We need to be reminded at times that our job is not about imposing our personal views to try to supersede the will of the people. While we may hold very dear personal views on this divisive issue, the will of the people was very clear in this case. The referendum was not decided by a small margin. The "Yes" vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment was a substantial one.
As a country, we have had a long and difficult debate about this issue, not just in the past two years but over many years. It can be argued that we have had a long and difficult debate on this matter since 1983. It has been a very painful debate for many people, particularly those women who have been affected by this issue. Throughout the meetings of the Citizens' Assembly, the Oireachtas committee hearings, the debates in this House and the referendum campaign, the women who have travelled over the years had to sit silently while they looked at the posters and listened to the differing views expressed during the debates. All of us in here and out there were discussing those women and their families and what they had been through. We will never understand their experiences because we have not had to live them, whereas they are still living their experiences. I do not mean to gloat or be triumphalist when I acknowledge genuinely that people on the other side of this debate felt as passionately about a "No" vote as I felt about a "Yes" vote. I can imagine how difficult polling day and, in particular, the day of the count must have been for them. Obviously, the exit poll was released on the night before the count. I saw at first hand how upset people who had campaigned for a "No" vote were in the count centre in my constituency. The views and beliefs that they hold genuinely for various reasons have to be respected.
I acknowledge that some people are very upset about the outcome of the vote in the referendum but that does not change the outcome, which was that our citizens, by a two-thirds to one-third majority, voted to repeal the eighth amendment and to provide for abortion services in this country. They did that for numerous reasons. All Members in this House have engaged with people not only in our own constituencies but across the country on all sides of the debate. I refer to women who have been personally affected and have taken different views on this issue. However, it is very important that we progress this legislation. It has to come into effect.
The purpose of the legislation is not to upset people. It is to provide proper healthcare, maternity care and reproductive healthcare for the women of this country to stop the daily and weekly necessity of Irish women having to get on a boat or a plane and travel to another country to avail of its healthcare system. Something that people were slow to admit and accept was that we already had abortion in this country. We have abortion in this country. Women have abortions in this country every day, every week. If they cannot afford it or find they are unable to travel, they procure the abortion pill online. Maintaining the eighth amendment or the status quo, therefore, was not going to stop or change that. What it meant was that we were happy for people to travel to avail of a healthcare system in another country, that we did not want to deal with it here and that we were happy to avail of the ease with which people could travel to the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions to avail of a service that should be available to our women in their own country.
That journey has a lasting impact not only on the woman in question but on her partner and on the family. That impact does not go away. I can imagine the pain that must have been felt when this campaign was ongoing for people to have all of that brought up again, to have to deal with that and face it every day, perhaps sitting on a bus as they commuted to work, looking at those posters and reading that commentary. It was unpalatable, unsavoury and cruel at times. Some of it was so debased and it was so unnecessary. One would have to question the motives of those people and what their intention was. I would have to question how the people who designed those posters really felt about women.
In terms of the situation that still currently prevails, in the absence of this legislation and if we take our time getting it through the House, we are continuing to force women to travel, women who are given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, that devastating news, and finding that there is no place to go, no advice or help available in their own country. The medical team and doctors who have been with the woman all the way through suddenly find that they cannot talk to her. They cannot even refer her. They cannot help her. That is happening today, it will happen tomorrow, and the day after. While there is no guillotine on this debate, I urge Deputies to be respectful, to have their say but not to try to filibuster the debate.
I disagree with Deputy Tóibín that the referendum was just about repealing the eighth amendment and that the Bill before us had nothing to do with that vote. Clearly, there was a reason the Bill was published. We discussed at the Oireachtas committee that there was a need to publish the proposed legislation in order that people would know for what they were voting. The heads of the Bill were published for that reason. There was good engagement. There was a very high degree of understanding and knowledge of what was being proposed in terms of what would happen in the event of a repeal vote and the eighth amendment being removed. People understood the 12-week proposal. They understood what was allowed up to 12 weeks and what was permitted after that. That was because the heads of the Bill were published and that discussion took place. It is disingenuous and incorrect to say that the Bill did not inform the way they voted or that it was not part of the context. Of course, it was. As a result of that, it would be incorrect to try to substantially change the Bill in this House today or on any other occasion because it would go against the will of the people and for what they voted.
It appears from some of the debate in the House this evening and some of the commentary outside these four walls that some people are now seeking to restrict the remit of the Bill, of what it is capable of enacting and, in turn, trying to restrict women's access to proper reproductive healthcare and women's choice. Ultimately, that is what it comes down to, a woman's right to choose what happens to her, to her body and to her future.
A constituent told me recently that he strongly believed there should be a psychiatric test for any woman seeking to avail of an abortion because, clearly, she could not be of right mind, she must not know what she is doing and she must not have thought about it. It is that kind of insulting, derogatory opinion that has led hundreds of thousands of women to take the stand they have taken, to say it is their right to choose and they will have the only say over their future.
This comes down to trusting women. The suggestion has been made that because it is a little handier to procure a termination in that the woman will not now have to order the pill or make that trip to the UK, it will be a more flippant decision to go ahead and have an abortion because it is a little easier to get one than it used to be in the past. That kind of commentary is degrading and insulting to women. No woman takes that decision lightly. Every woman who gets to the point where she wants to procure a termination or have an abortion for whatever reason has thought long and hard about that decision. She has her own reasons and they are hers alone. They are not mine or those of other Deputies. It is not for me, or anybody else, to judge in that regard.
The suggestion was made in the House earlier that the mother and the unborn have an equal right to life. It is simply not possible because the two are interconnected. When we face a difficult decision where a woman's health is severely at risk or where she has been raped and is pregnant as a result of that rape, or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality and for whatever reason the woman believes she cannot continue with that pregnancy, how can the rights be equal? They cannot. There has to be a judgment call and the best person to make that call is the woman herself.
Is the solution in those situations where a woman has been raped to force her to remain pregnant against her will? Is that the suggestion of Deputies in this House? Do they believe that is humane and is respecting her rights, her bodily integrity and her right to decide her future and to have control over her body when that control had been taken away from her to lead her into that situation? Is that really the solution, a forced pregnancy? Clearly, the majority of our citizens said "No" to that, that it was not a solution and should never be one. Our citizens trust the women of this country to do the right thing.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the many medical practitioners who advocated so strongly and eloquently in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, not on a populist basis or a personal view but on a medical basis. They clearly told us in committee time and again that they felt hamstrung in their ability to do their job, which is to provide proper healthcare for women in this country. It is well documented and well evidenced that women in this country have lost their lives because of our abortion laws. Without question, that has happened.
That brings me to my next point around trust. We have to trust our doctors. I trust our doctors. I found their evidence to our committee and the advocacy with which they engaged to be extremely persuasive. I trusted that they were coming from a position where their ultimate goal was to care for their patient and ensure that every woman in this country has access to the best of medical treatment whenever she needs it.
I refer to the terminology being used by some speakers, such as that if one voted "Yes", one is somehow pro-abortion. It is not about being pro-abortion or wanting to advocate for that choice. It is about trusting women, trusting our doctors and allowing the woman in question who finds herself in that position, for whatever reason, to make that choice for herself. We do not need to go down a road where we want to further control women and doctors as they navigate that most complex situation.
As I said, this is not a flippant decision that anybody makes and no one should stand in judgment of any woman because we do not and will never know her situation. However, the choice should be respected both ways. If a woman chooses to continue with her pregnancy in very difficult circumstances, if she is given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality and wants to continue with that pregnancy, she and her family should be given every support to do that. There should be proper services, including counselling, in place and every support that woman should ever need. Equally, if the woman chooses not to continue with the pregnancy for whatever reason, the proper supports should be available in this country and that includes proper aftercare, something which has been lacking.
Today, for any woman who has travelled to the UK for an abortion or who has procured an abortion pill online, there is no aftercare, no support and nowhere to go. That only compounds the hurt, pain and trauma even further, leaving women feeling like they are criminals in their own country for making a choice that they genuinely believe is the right one for them.
Those advocating for more restrictive legislation and those still advocating for a "No" vote in a referendum that has since passed still cannot answer the questions around rape or fatal foetal abnormality. Their advice is just to put the head down and get on with it. That is the best option - to force a woman to continue with a pregnancy regardless of her circumstances. I am very glad that our citizens took a different approach.
Some of the concerns being raised by those seeking to restrict this legislation further include the idea that disability is a ground for a termination but it is not. We had a debate on that at committee and voted against it. It is not part of the legislation and it is very unfair to citizens to try to suggest that somehow it has crept in through the back door because it simply has not. There was also a suggestion from some contributors that doctors will be forced to carry out terminations against their will. Again, that is an utter lie. It is not true and we should not be peddling such nonsense in this Chamber. We should give due respect to the debate that we are having and tell the truth.
There was commentary earlier about babies being left to die on cold, silver plates in some clinic but that is just utter nonsense. It is not true and it will not happen. That kind of commentary does not help anybody. It does not help to progress the legislation or help us to have a proper debate and discussion on it. All it does is serve to instil fear and doubt among people but I do not know for what purpose. I really do not understand why anybody would suggest that such horrific things will happen because they will not.
It is worth noting that this significant - even using that word is not significant enough - vote and referendum campaign has had a monumental impact on the women of this country and on the younger generation coming forward. In the same year that we celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage and the progress that women in this country have made in that period, the debate on abortion has forced us to look back over a long and dark history when women suffered terribly. If we look at the atrocities of the Magdalene laundries, the Tuam mother and baby home and other homes, we realise that it was not so long ago. That was the very recent past. I think that we have actually reached a critical mass in terms of political life and women finding their voice in the last number of years. These issues force us to look as a country at how we treat women, how we look after them and how we facilitate their voices being heard and listened to, more importantly. In that context, this debate has done us good. We are now in a different space and are looking forward to a brighter future for women in this country and a brighter future for our country because of that.
I genuinely hope that the service is put in place as soon as possible and is done properly, with proper consultation and that the medical profession is with us all the way. We want this service to be in place, to work and be accessible to all women regardless of background, financial position and so on. Any woman who needs this service should be able to avail of it. We need to look at providing proper counselling for women who find themselves in that situation. As a society, we also have to look at how we treat women and single mothers and young mothers in particular. We also need to do an awful lot more around proper healthcare generally for women in this country. The ancillary recommendations of the Oireachtas committee report were referred to earlier and it is really important that they are acted upon with a sense of urgency and are given priority. We must provide better access to contraception, for example, which is still expensive, particularly for young women who are not working and are still at school or in college. There are practical steps that we can take to try to limit the number of unplanned crisis pregnancies in this country and it is incumbent upon us as a State to try to do so. It is also really important that we remove the stigma attached to being a single parent and to getting pregnant when young, as well as the stigma attached to having a termination for whatever reason one has one. It should come down to personal choice. We must respect other people's right and entitlement to make decisions about their own person and their own future.
We must stop trying to control women and to guilt them. Those days are over. That is in the past and we will not take it any more. We are in a new era where women are equal. We have an equal seat at the table and an equal voice. We will ensure that our views on women's issues and on wider societal issues impacting on our position and our participation in this society will be heard and listened to. This debate proved that. There was cross-party co-operation and we all worked together. We put our political differences to one side and our objective was to secure a "Yes" vote in the referendum and then to see the safe passage of this really important legislation through this Oireachtas so that we can give effect to what was a democratic vote by the citizens of this country. A two thirds to one third majority was in favour of repealing the eighth amendment. It was an historic vote and I feel honoured and proud of the small part that I played in the process. It is incumbent upon us now to ensure we see the process through to its finish.
It makes me proud to listen to Deputy Chambers because what she has just said, as a young woman, represents where we have come to in Ireland. It has been a long and hard struggle to get here but we are now at a point where women's choices have to be respected, where women are equal and can no longer be told in a paternalistic way what we can and cannot do.
Deputy Tóibín spoke earlier about people on the "pro-life" - in inverted commas - side being vilified. I consider myself as pro-life as anyone else. However, he actually vilified the two Ministers who were in the Chamber at the time. He made some very direct accusations about what, in his view, this legislation is about. We all need to respect each other in this debate. I certainly respect the fact that people have different views from mine but they cannot be allowed to diminish in any way the humanity and the values of people who have a different view, including the Ministers concerned.
I spoke about the fact that I am proud that we have got to this day today. We had more or less a year of public debate on sexual and reproductive rights for women in this country. Earlier today I co-chaired the launch of The Power of Choice - Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition, an annual report on the state of the world's population. During the discussions today we heard statistics on African countries and on Tanzania in particular where women are still dying because they do not have access to contraception or maternal care in childbirth. This is the world in which we live. This document is all about ensuring that we give women throughout the world rights and choice, which is something in which I fundamentally believe.
When Deputy Tóibín spoke earlier about abortion he said that it is about killing. I remember fighting for the right to access contraception in Ireland and having the same arguments put to me in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, we were vilified for seeking access to contraception.
There is nobody on that side of the argument who is stating that contraception is terrible and that we should not have it. This is because they and the country have moved on. We held a referendum. We had been campaigning since 1983. I campaigned then against the inclusion of the amendment because it was never appropriate to deal with this issue via the Constitution. In the referendum, the people decided to remove it from the Constitution. Technically, Deputy Tóibín is right when he says that what we voted on in the referendum did not specifically include the legislation we are debating. The very reason for publishing the legislation was that the public would know the intentions of the Government and the Oireachtas following the decision of the people, who voted "Yes". That is democracy. The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment did not recommend that disability be a ground for abortion. That is reflected in the legislation. We need to nail that piece of misinformation which has been uttered in the House tonight. It is not a ground in this Bill.
I congratulate everybody involved in the Together For Yes campaign, which was extremely invigorating and very participative. It was dominated by people from all sections of the community who, in many cases, do not belong to political parties. However, there were also those of us who are in political parties. I am very proud of my party. It has held a consistent position on this issue to the effect that the eighth amendment needed to be taken out of the Constitution. I am very proud to have played my part in ensuring that we got a "Yes" vote. This was for the people. They were given the facts. We held debates, first at the Citizens' Assembly, then at the Oireachtas committee and then in the context of the referendum campaign. People had the opportunity to know exactly for what they were voting. That is why we have the legislation before us.
As a democrat, I believe everybody has the right to table amendments and express his or her views. I agree, however, that people should not filibuster. It is not the way to deal effectively with legislation. Whether a person agrees or disagrees with legislation, he or she can put forward amendments if he or she wants to change it. However, he or she should not unnecessarily delay the debate by using repetitive phrases and so on. I urge those who may wish to table amendments to speak to those amendments but not to delay the business of the House.
The Minister for Health stated that he is negotiating with GPs in respect of their contract and that would include ensuring that they will be in a position to play their part appropriately in the context of the legislation. When he is replying, I hope the Minister will provide some information regarding progress on that matter. My information, from the GPs to whom I have spoken, is that the majority of them are quite willing and able to participate. They need the necessary supports. The Bill states that GPs can conscientiously object. In other words, they will not have to provide the service but, if that is the case, they will be obliged to refer patients to other GPs. That is appropriate. It is the right of the woman who comes to the GP to have a service that is legally available in her country. She should be entitled to that. While the conscientious objection clause is included in the Bill, it is appropriate that there must be a referral to somebody else.
The Minister also stated that clinical guidelines are being drawn up for medical practices, particularly where the referral moves on to the hospital setting where it is not appropriate for the GP to be involved because of the number of weeks of gestation, etc. Will the Minister give us information on those clinical guidelines and progress? I know the general intention is that this should be ready to go by 1 January. Both of those measures will need to be well in place and properly organised by then.
The Minister also spoke about communicating with the general public and having a communications strategy. We need to ensure that is available and that it is clear because the general public needs to know exactly what is available and what can be done in this situation.
Various people have said that while the woman is never to be criminalised, as I understand the legislation, there are certain offences. They are very upfront in the Bill, I think they are in section 5 and others have suggested that they may be further on in the Bill. It is somewhat off-putting when reading the Bill to see that straight after the Title, the definitions, regulations and expenses, the next section is offences. It might be appropriate to have the more positive elements of the Bill further up in the Bill.
There is nothing positive about it.
The ancillary recommendations are vital. Hand in hand with the terminations being available, there has to be also the appropriate education and access to contraceptives without barriers of affordability. I assume that aftercare will be dealt with in the clinical guidelines and the arrangements with the medical profession. The ancillary recommendations are very important to ensure that there are appropriate options available to women that do not have to include termination, that they can access contraception. The committee was informed that for terminations where there is aftercare very often there is a reduction in abortions, particularly repeat abortions. The statistics in Britain show that there are more repeat abortions among Irish women than their British counterparts because they do not have the aftercare and advice on contraception that comes following a termination. It is very important that access to aftercare be available to Irish women.
I have contributed to the debates following the referendum and I have had the opportunity to raise various issues at committee meetings. There is a great deal more that could be said. Deputy Lisa Chambers has gone through the various issues that arise regarding fatal foetal abnormalities, women who have been raped and serious risks to the woman's health or life. The definitions section does not define "serious". I am not sure how that is to be interpreted. The committee mentioned only health but did not say "serious". There is a definition later in the definitions section that health includes mental health, which is welcome because we need to ensure it is taken seriously and that there is not some kind of distinction between physical and mental health.
I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. My political life pretty much started in the early 1980s when we were fighting for access to contraception and trying to keep Article 40.3.3° out of the Constitution. This is very much the coming of age of Irish society, where we, as women, are accepted as equals, where our reproductive health and rights are treated as genuine rights and not as things that can be paternalistically given to or taken away from us. It is our decision about our bodies and there will now be legislation to provide for the exercise of that right by all Irish women within the terms of that legislation.
That is very welcome and a sign that we have come to maturity and recognised the reality that Irish women have been having abortions, whether going to Britain or taking pills they have got over the Internet. We need to ensure we pass this legislation. We should give it the appropriate scrutiny but we should provide this service for Irish women as equals in our own country.
Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil deis agam labhairt ar an mBille seo, ach go háirithe tar éis do Theachta ó mo pháirtí labhairt romham, agus an chuma ar an mhéid a bhí le rá aige go bhfuil sé i gcoinne na reachtaíochta seo. I can state wholeheartedly that Sinn Féin endorses this Bill despite the comments from Teachta Tóibín. We will do our damnedest to ensure this Bill will come into effect at the earliest possible opportunity. I know the committee is already willing and able to receive this Bill to deal with Committee Stage on 7 November and I wish it well. Much of the debate that has been had here tonight needs to be had in that forum. We had alternative views on, for example, what Deputy Jan O'Sullivan just mentioned, with section 5 to be moved to the more appropriate part of the Bill as is the norm in legislation. We can have that debate and not unduly delay it.
What is the people's voice? The people have spoken. Some 64.1% of the people voted in favour of a proposal which had the endorsement of the vast majority of Teachtaí in this House. In my own constituency, although it was a low turnout compared with elsewhere, it was a high turnout for a referendum and much higher than I expected at the outset. Dublin South-Central was one of the top ten constituencies which endorsed the proposal which was proposed by all parties in the constituency. Some 74.91% voted for it. I am happy with that and that I played a small part. It was perhaps not as much as I should have but I played my part. I found that very rewarding.
I, like many other Deputies, was not involved in the preparatory committees, which received the Citizens' Assembly's report and teased out properly, in full public view, the very complex issues. Medical issues can be very complex. They teased it out and I congratulate them, as I have in recent months, for their diligence in that work. They put it before the people and the Minister had the courage to produce legislation and explain to the public that this is where we are going and the idea that we have but that we first wanted the public, before we could publish and be specific with legislation, to remove a clause inserted in the Constitution.
I believe it was inserted at a time when Irish people could not speak out. It was a different era. While I was waiting, I was thinking back to when the eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution. It is sometimes very hard for people to remember that far back. One has to remember the society that we had before and after that. We have learned some of it since. We have had quite a number of clerical sex abuse reports which emerged after that. The huge scandals which we now in some ways take for granted were hidden in that era. In the background, people were afraid to speak out against the institutions of the State or those who they felt the State was protecting, whether in Cloyne, Tuam or a range of other places. Remember Ann Lovett in Granard or Eileen Flynn in Wexford, a woman who was sacked from her job because she had the audacity to live with the father of her child, who was separated. She subsequently married him and had four other children. She was sacked because she had the audacity to infringe upon the morals of society. The Kerry babies case was another. Divorce was another issue. What the hell were we doing? People were not allowed to divorce. The whole world was going to collapse if we voted in divorce. That is the way it was presented by some of the very same people who will now say that if we introduce this legislation, our society will collapse around us. Homosexuality is another example.
In recent years, we have been lucky with the public because they are willing to talk and we have given them the opportunity to talk in referendums. We have had civil partnerships, marriage equality and the repeal of the eighth amendment. The numbers turning out for referendums in the recent past is way beyond what I remember in the 1980s and 1990s. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan was correct when she was talking about people looking for condoms to be sold. The whole world was going to collapse because the poor sperm could not get anywhere. They are alive and well, going by the number of kids I see day in and day out. The world has not collapsed because we have the maturity to debate these issues and reflect them in our laws. There is a whole range of issues and that is part of the context.
During the debate on the referendum, I found myself having preconceived ideas. One would knock on a door and an elderly woman would answer. Maybe this is due to my prejudices. I would presume that this woman might have a go at me, being a churchgoer or whatever. I found that the vast majority of women in my constituencies were delighted to talk to me on this issue, which was not the case in the past, and delighted that they were given an opportunity to vote yes. I was pleasantly surprised and my prejudices were therefore shattered. I was happy that that was so. My colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, will represent Sinn Féin on the committee. She alone will put forward amendments on behalf of our party. All parliamentarians are entitled to take part in committee procedures and can indicate-----
It is control.
-----amendments but because they are not members of the committee, they cannot put those amendments on Committee Stage. No amendments will be put on behalf-----
They can of course.
-----of the party unless Deputy O'Reilly indicates it. Whatever Deputy Tóibín said earlier is not a representation of our party which has, over the years, had quite a strong stance on repealing the eighth amendment, though maybe not as strong as some people would like. We have had a debate virtually every single year on the issue of repealing the eighth amendment and we have been happy to be proven wrong in many ways. We changed our position when the nuances of law were teased out by the Citizens' Assembly and then by the committee. We do not decide in the parliamentary party. Our members vote. Coming back to the position that Deputy Mattie McGrath is hinting at, that this is not a democracy, for the last three years, our Ard-Fheis has taken a view that Sinn Féin Deputies will vote in unison on this issue because that is what the membership agreed.
They agreed by a bigger vote each year, despite the motions which were put to try to change it, so we will be in unison on this issue. It is not undemocratic control. It is quite democratic. It is probably more democratic than many others who have spoken in this House on the opposite side.
That is nonsense. Could I make a point of order?
There will be no interruption.
I will not take a point of order. Deputy Mattie McGrath has had his chance.
Why did Sinn Féin not allow Deputy Tóibín to speak?
That is information. Deputy Ó Snodaigh is in possession.
He is not being truthful.
Gabh mo leithscéal a Theachta. Tá cúpla nóiméad fágtha agam chun críoch a chur leis an mhéid atá le rá agam. As I mentioned earlier, tá an reachtaíocht seo á gníomhú de réir na méide a dúirt 1,429,981 duine. Tá sé sin beagnach dúbail ar an mhéid a bhí i gcoinne an mholta a cuireadh os comhair an phobail. Ní raibh móramh chomh mór leis sin riamh go bhfios dom, seachas b'fhéidir an reifreann faoi Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta. Dar ndóigh bhí móramh níos mó ann don reifreann sin. Luaigh mé cheana go bhfuil athruithe ag teastáil chun an reachtaíocht seo a dhéanamh níos fearr.
All legislation needs to be tinkered with to tighten it up and perfect it, which is the reason we have Committee Stage. That is also the reason we went through the equivalent of a pre-legislative stage in the debates we have had.
The people have spoken. We will work with everyone in this House and in the Upper House to ensure the legislation and what it provides for is available as early as possible so that we no longer export our problem to England or elsewhere and that we are not importing another problem which astounded many of us, namely, the importation of abortion pills. It is time that we address the issue once and for all in the open way society has demanded for many years.
Tá mise sásta go bhfuilimid ag bogadh sa treo ceart agus go bhfuil an reachtaíocht seo ann. Tá i bhfad níos mó ag teastáil le bheith déanta maidir le sláinte ban ach go háirithe ins an tír seo mar níl go leor déanta agus cuireann an reachtaíocht seo níos mó brú ar an gcóras sláinte. Tá mé ag impí ar na hAirí agus ar an Rialtas a dhéanamh cinnte de nach mbeidh aon mhoill air seo toisc na fadhbanna sa chóras sláinte ach ag an am céanna chun déanamh cinnte de go bhfuilimid chun déileáil leis na scuainí feithimh atá sna hospidéil agus na scuainí feithimh atá ag fanacht ar obráidí chomh maith céanna.
I appeal to the Minister to ensure the legislation does not add a burden on the healthcare system and that sufficient finances and resources are provided to ensure that the legislation can take full effect immediately and that the other healthcare issues are also addressed so that nobody can accuse us or the Government of diverting funds away from the health service, which is creaking at the seams. This issue can be addressed within the current health framework if the proper resources are provided. That is a conundrum we have all tried to address.
Tá mo chuid ráite agam agus tá mé sásta críochnú ag an stad seo.
Tá 45 nóiméad fágtha má tá am breise de dhíth ar an Teachta amárach. Iarraim ar an Teachta an díospóireacht a chur ar athló.