It is proposed to group the following amendments for the purpose of debate: amendments Nos. 1 and 2; Nos. 4, 61, 62, 64 and 65; Nos. 5 to 10, inclusive, 57 and 58; Nos. 11 and 12; Nos. 13 and 29 to 34, inclusive; Nos. 14 to 22, inclusive; Nos. 23, 24 and 26; Nos. 25 and 27; Nos. 35 and 36; Nos. 39 and 40; Nos. 41 and 44; Nos. 42 and 43; Nos. 47 to 49, inclusive; and 52 to 55, inclusive. Amendment No. 63 has been ruled out of order.
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report Stage
I wish to make a point of clarification. Deputy Fitzpatrick is on his way. His name was not on a grouping of amendments that some of us put in. Has this been corrected?
What is here now is correct.
On a similar note, the Bills Office was supposed to correct the first amendment. A line number in the printed amendment is incorrect as the lines changed. I was told that the Bills Office has accepted that amendment No. 1 should read "from line 11" and not "line 14". That is how we submitted it but the numbers changed. I believe it was the Bills Office's mistake and they have accepted it. I was told that it would be clarified with the Acting Chairman before we began.
My brief reads as follows: "In page 5, to delete all words from and including “An” in line 5 down to and including “Act 1997” in line 14 and substitute the following" should have read as follows: "In page 5, to delete all words from and including “An” in line 5 down to and including “Act 1997” in line 11 and substitute the following". Is that what the Deputies agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
1. In page 5, to delete all words from and including “An” in line 5 down to and including “Act 1997” in line 11 and substitute the following:
“An Act to ensure that pregnant women may have equitable access to abortion care in a safe and timely manner, and at no cost, and for that purpose to amend the Health Act 1970 and certain other enactments; to make provision for reviews at the instigation of a pregnant woman, or a person on her behalf, of certain medical opinions given in respect of pregnancy”.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 relate to the Title and description of the Bill. These are issues on which we have a great deal of discussion, but we still think it is very important that we do give it the attention it needs even at this late stage. The amendment seeks to tweak the language to reflect better the reality of the legislation in the context of the majority vote and the significant mobilisation six months ago of people across the country and, indeed, across generations to repeal the eighth amendment.
There are parts which we welcome such as the repeal of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which was not fit for purpose, and the provision to make available without charge services for women in relation to the termination of pregnancy. However, there are also parts that are not helpful in the overall sense of trying to establish women's rights which we are trying to amend, which relate to the continued criminality and stigmatisation of abortion by the inclusion of the provision of offences in respect of the intentional ending of the life of the foetus, and also the avoidance of word abortion, which is not mentioned anywhere, and the phrase "access to abortion".
We believe the Minister's Title does not reflect the purpose of the Bill or the intention of the "Yes" vote which was to provide access to abortion within the Irish healthcare system so that women are not forced to travel or buy abortion pills illegally online. The problem with the Bill as drafted is that the only reference to access is in the offences section. Access to health services should mean the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best outcomes for all women, regardless of their geography, economic status or other factors. What we should say in the Title is that people with disabilities, those in direct provision and those in any form of incarceration must be guaranteed access, and this is not mentioned currently. They should get the same care and it requires gaining entry to the healthcare system and finding the information through a number of platforms. They need much more than just a helpline, which we will deal with later. A helpline is not acceptable to everybody, for instance deaf women cannot access a helpline. We need to look at access, which is what the referendum was about. We need healthcare officials to be able to communicate with their patients and so on. The legislation should be about removing barriers to abortion care. Therefore, it is very important that the title reflects the tone of what we are doing here. There was a vote to provide access to abortion.
I know the Minister has said that this is on the advice of the Attorney General who says that it is not in the Constitution so that we cannot use the word, but that is an incredibly weak argument. Legislation does not have to mirror the Constitution: that argument is absolute nonsense. The Constitution refers to the dissolution of marriage yet we have the Family Law (Divorce) Act. Divorce is in our law when it is not in our Constitution, and this is exactly the same thing. The group, Lawyers for Choice, in particular, has been very clear that the term "access to abortion" that we want to include does not create any inconsistency with the Constitution and, if anything, it reflects the reality and is flexible in terms of access. People voted against messing around with ambiguous language that created barriers for women and we think that the Title should reflect that.
The Minister has said that if mention of the foetus is removed, that will remove all protection of the foetus because of the eighth amendment but that is not true. The whole law is framed in the context that the protection of the foetus grows with the foetus, in that we are not providing access to abortion beyond 12 weeks, except in very limited circumstances. There is a whole raft of protections there and they do not need to be specified in the headline as is the case here. It is important, particularly given where Ireland is coming from, that we set the tone correctly up front, and the manner in which it is being done does not reflect what Irish people voted on.
I will call Deputy Louise O'Reilly next. I should have mentioned earlier that initial interventions will have a maximum of seven minutes and subsequent contributions will have two minutes.
I have no intention of using seven minutes. This has been a long time coming and I do not want to intentionally make it any longer.` The vote in May was a vote to end the stigmatisation around access to abortion and, therefore, we should not be afraid to use words such as "abortion" or "access" - that is exactly what this is about. People did not vote for the continuation of stigmatisation or for the continuation of the use of language that is in any way vague. I had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with people on doorsteps, as did many of my colleagues. People were very clear what they were voting for.
I am of the view that what is proposed would make for a more appropriate Title. It endeavours to ensure women will have access to abortion services. We should start as we mean to go on with this legislation. We should do the vote justice. As has been pointed out, there are plenty of things in legislation that do not appear in the Constitution and they do not contradict each other; in fact, they coalesce quite nicely. I ask the Minister and all present to give consideration to supporting amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
I will be brief. Repetition could become a problem as we discuss these matters.
Amendment No. 1 seeks to make clear that the Bill is primarily about access to healthcare, not criminalisation. Earlier today, Alison Spillane of the Irish Family Planning Association stated that parliamentarians must take the criminal law out of medical consulting rooms and replace it with a provision guaranteeing access to abortion care.
Amendment No. 2 is a reworked version of the earlier Committee Stage amendment which sought to remove “Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018” as the Title to the Bill and replace it with “Health (Access to Healthcare by Women Seeking Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018”. The earlier amendment tried to highlight that the Bill is, or at least should be, primarily about facilitating access to abortion services. However, there is still much in it that seems to create barriers to access. I acknowledge the Minister's words on Committee Stage regarding the amendment to which I refer, when he spoke of the need to stick with the phrase "Termination of Pregnancy" in the Title due to the fact this is used in the Constitution, as amended by the referendum. This amendment would retain the phrase "Termination of Pregnancy" while also introducing a reference to abortion, specifically “Access to Abortion”, in the Bill. On Committee Stage, the Minister also referred to the broader scope proposed in the phrase "Access to Healthcare by Women Seeking Termination of Pregnancy" and stated that this might open up the scope of the Bill well beyond its intention. I accept his point. However, this reworked amendment seeks to avoid the possible pitfalls the Minister identified on Committee Stage by limiting that scope in the larger term "Health" to a much more specific phrase “Access to Abortion”.
On a point of order, the Bills Office has made a genuine mistake. I had put my name down for 13 amendments, amendments Nos. 28, 30, 37, 38, 41, 43 to 47, inclusive, 51, 55 and 59. I would like the House to take note of them. I accept that it was a genuine mistake. I hope this does not reflect on me and that my name will be attached to these amendments.
I thank the Deputy. Before he or I arrived in the Chamber, that matter was clarified.
I do not want to repeat what has been said in respect of amendments Nos. 1 and 2. The public cannot be under any illusion as to what this is about. We had the Citizens' Assembly and an all-party Oireachtas committee with very detailed discussions and debate. We followed that with very extensive debates in both Houses, followed by a referendum. People know what this is about and it should be reflected both in the Title of the Bill and in what is intended in the legislation. I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say regarding what the Attorney General has advised. I can think of frequent situations where something is referenced in the Constitution in a very opaque way. For example, political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution yet the phrase "forming associations" is taken to mean political parties. Indeed, the whole scheme of funding of political parties would be inconsistent with the Constitution if it was not read that way. It is just another example.
I will also be brief. On amendment No. 2, to avoid the word "abortion" on the advice of the Attorney General because it is not in the Constitution is a very weak argument. The legislation does not have to mirror the Constitution word for word. An example was given by Deputy Catherine Murphy in regard to forming associations. The Constitution also talks about "dissolution of marriage" yet we have a Family Law (Divorce) Act and we use the word "divorce". It has to be very clear that the Bill contains the wording "Access to Abortion".
Is Deputy Bríd Smith offering?
I do not want to repeat what has already been stated.
I call the Minister.
I will also be brief, particularly as we discussed this matter on Committee Stage. We have a difference of opinion on it so I will restate my view. To be clear, this Bill is enabling legislation that provides for access to abortion and for termination of pregnancy here in our country in a way that has not been the case up to now. It will allow a woman to access termination of pregnancy in a safe manner in her own community, where possible, and free of charge. The key provisions of the Bill are exactly the same as that of the draft general scheme approved by Government and published prior to the referendum and the updated scheme made public in July. In that sense, there are no surprises in terms of what the Title to the Bill is doing, or, indeed, what the Bill is endeavouring to do.
On the reference to ending the life of the foetus, we had this debate on Committee Stage. The committee would have received a letter from the doctors drawing up the clinical guidelines to say that, regardless of the debate in the House, it is a phrase they find clinically useful because that is how they define the issue clinically. This is a Bill about access to abortion, of that there is no doubt. People can lay out all the reasons they want in respect of pejorative terms but the legal advice available to me is that it is better to align the wording in the Bill with that contained in the Constitution. Given that this is an area which has been subject to so much court adjudication and challenge over so many decades, I, for one, do not intend to take any risk or do anything that would heighten the chance of success of any challenge.
These are technical, legal titles and they reflect accurately what this Bill is endeavouring to do. I appreciate Members' intentions in trying to change that wording but to do so would not be in line with the legal requirements and advice. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendments.
We are all conscious of time. Unfortunately, the Minister did not address any of the substantive points made. Clearly, we have not seen the legal advice but we have given him some graphic examples of how the excuse offered does not really stack up in the context of other legislative experience. In view of the fact that the context was very much the backdrop of the damage caused to women's health as a result of an ambiguous clause in the Constitution and poor subsequent legislation, we now have a unique and historic opportunity to get matters right. In order to do that, however, we need to not just do it in a legislative sense but also in the medical-clinical sense. To guide that, the legislation needs to be clear. This is about access to abortion. I have not heard a substantiated argument for a barrier to that.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 19, to delete “Health” and substitute “Access to Abortion”.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, line 14, to delete "female" and substitute "pregnant".
The legislation only provides for services to be provided to women. This amendment is a way to work around the transgender inclusion issue and would redefine women for the purposes of the Act to include all pregnant people without labelling them as female. I acknowledge the Minister has included a definition in the explanatory memorandum, which is helpful and a bit of a compromise, but the transgender community is not entirely happy that it is not included in the Bill. He was trying to compromise and the amendment is also an effort at compromise.
The members of the transgender community came to the fore and more than stepped up to the plate and played their part in the referendum campaign. The intention of the amendment is to make sure that nobody is left behind or excluded unintentionally because the intention is to make this legislation inclusive has been stated. We need to step that up.
I am aware that the Minister met members of the transgender community and I am interested in how that meeting went. We welcome its inclusion in the explanatory memorandum but we want to make sure that we do not tell those who stood with us we that have the result we wanted and then pull the ladder up.
As someone who spent her life reading documents with exclusively male terminology which it was presumed covered male and female, every time I came across that I felt excluded. We have caught up on some of that now but we need to future-proof and understand that we need to be sensitive to the inclusion of other communities in legal terminology. That is why this is important. It concerns inclusion. We will come back and amend this at some point if we do not include it now.
We all want to achieve the same thing here. There is no doubt but that this legislation has to be trans-inclusive and is trans-inclusive. As Deputy O'Reilly said, I had an excellent meeting yesterday with Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, BeLonG To and with LGBT Ireland to outline to them how this legislation is trans-inclusive but also how I wanted to make sure that was beyond doubt. It has always been my Department's policy, that of this Oireachtas and my own, that a biologically female individual identifying as a male should enjoy the same rights and liabilities as a woman for the purpose of the legislation.
Section 18(b) of the Interpretation Act 2005 is of pivotal importance in ensuring that rights contained in legislation of a gendered nature apply seamlessly to trans people. It provides in an Act passed on or after 22 December 1993 and in a statutory instrument made after that date that a word importing the feminine gender shall be read as also importing the masculine gender. As Members and the trans community know, I considered inserting words such as "pregnant person" into the Bill but I have received legal advice, which I have discussed with the trans community, that to do so would create significant risk, as it would have the potential to cast doubt on other gendered provisions in other Bills. It could open up the possibility for people to argue successfully or otherwise but by implication that references to women or other gendered references in the Statute Book did not appropriately include trans people. Visibility and inclusivity are important. Following our Committee Stage engagement and the engagement with the community, I have included in the explanatory memorandum in section 2 definitions the following text: "For the purposes of the Bill a woman is defined in section 2 as meaning a female person of any age, in line with section 18(b) of the Interpretation Act 2005, a word importing the feminine gender shall be read as also importing the masculine gender so a biologically female individual identifying as a male will enjoy the same rights and liabilities as a woman for the purposes of this Bill."
Explanatory memorandums are read and published alongside the legislation. I have also spoken to those drawing up clinical guidelines to make sure they are aware that the legislation is trans-inclusive. They have assured me that they are and that they will also include that in the clinical guidelines. It is a different way of trying to achieve what we are all trying to achieve but let the record of this House show clearly in passing this Bill, which I hope we do shortly, it is trans-inclusive and there should be no doubt about that
Amendments Nos. 4, 61, 62, 64 and 65 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
"(2) No public moneys shall be provided by the Oireachtas to pay for the carrying out of a termination of pregnancy other than a termination of pregnancy in accordance with section 10 or 11 in a case where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman.".
These amendments ensure that taxpayers' money is not used to fund abortions except where there is a risk to the mother's life. They seek to modify sections 26 and 27, which were inserted only after the referendum had taken place and, therefore, would not even have been seen by those who read the Bill before the referendum. They place abortions among special categories of health services not to be charged for. The Minister has said he does not want cost to be a barrier. That is an artful way of telling people that they should have to pay for the State-sponsored elimination of the most vulnerable. We know cost is a barrier to most things, including things that no one would have a moral objection to paying for and, unfortunately, including even forms of necessary medical treatment. Surely it cannot be that when it comes to the taking of an innocent human life, we are all to be forced to pay for it in every case and for any reason.
I ask Members to think about that and what it is we are talking about forcing people to pay for here. This is not health care. Real health care does not have a victim but abortion does. I want to mention a few facts about the victim who is most affected by it, the one for whom it is the end. These facts are from the embryology textbook, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology by Drs. Moore, Persaud and Torchia. I mention this because at times some important points about embryology such as the commencement point of the heartbeat have been denied to suit a particular agenda. She or he has a heartbeat which begins to beat at three weeks after conception. Eight weeks after conception, the baby's fingers and toes are distinct and separated and purposeful limb movements first occur at this time, though it is too early for the mother to feel them. He or she has hands and feet, eyes, ears, arms and legs. What is to happen to that baby? What are we expected to compel citizens to pay for? We are told that after nine weeks the abortions will be surgical abortions. Section 14 allows abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician who performed 1,200 abortions before changing to a pro-life stance, has explained how a surgical abortion is done up to 13 weeks. He says:
The suction is then turned on, with a force ten to twenty times more powerful than your household vacuum cleaner. The baby is rapidly torn apart by the suction, and squeezed through this tubing down into the suction machine.
Later abortions, which are provided for in this Bill on broad grounds, particularly under section 11, are even more shockingly brutal. How can we tell people that they must fund such things? How could that be anything other than an abuse of public power? The position of some in government amounts to this: as a condition of being allowed to live and work in this State, they are to be forced continuously to pay for the infliction of fatal acts upon the most vulnerable who have done no wrong. The despicable injustice of forcing people who cherish human life to pay for babies to be destroyed is simply too plainly obvious for any of us not to see it. People deeply upset by seeing this State become a place where the law provides for the deaths of the innocent and defenceless should not have foisted upon them the added pain of having their taxes fund that killing.
There are many different views on whether and in what circumstances abortion should be lawful but it is surely reprehensible to force people to pay for the infliction of fatal acts upon innocent, helpless, little human beings. We should not talk only of the "No" voters in this regard. No one, whether he or she voted "Yes", "No" or abstained, should be put in such a horrendous position. It should be remembered that the sections on taxpayer funding for abortions were not even in the Bill before the referendum. Even those who knew everything that was in the Bill could not have seen them. A poll conducted since the referendum found that, excluding "Don't knows", 59% of adults, including 44% of "Yes" voters, opposed the taxpayer funding plan. Can the Government not find compassion in its heart for people who just want to live their lives without continuously financing abortions?
Not providing taxpayer funding for abortion will also save lives. In June 2017, the British Government announced that it would fund abortions for women resident in the North of Ireland. The official report outlining abortion statistics for England and Wales in 2017 notes that there has been an increase in the number of women from the North of Ireland having an abortion in England and Wales since the funding announcement. The volume in quarters 3 and 4 of 2017 increased by 42% and 62% respectively compared to the same quarters of 2016. That is no surprise where a state, knowing the deep and enduring hurt it may cause, presents vulnerable women in crisis with a false, easy answer and then adds that it is free.
A review of numerous peer-reviewed studies in the USA has shown that the absence of public funding for abortion reduces the number of abortions which take place. The amendment suggested here is similar to the Hyde amendment, a provision in federal US law which prohibits, with very few exceptions, the federal funding of abortions. The Hyde amendment has been enacted repeatedly for many years with bipartisan support since its introduction in 1976. Most states have enacted laws along the same lines as the Hyde amendment. Dr. Michael J. New notes that the Hyde amendment has been passed every year since 1976 as a rider to the annual federal labour, health and human services appropriations Bills and says it has typically enjoyed support and been signed into law by both Democrat and Republican US Presidents.
The very fact that the Minister, Deputy Harris, speaks of cost as a barrier shows that he realises free abortions will mean more abortions. Whether he wants to realise that is another matter. We need to be given fair play. As the Minister knows, hundreds of thousands of women voted "No" and, like me, they are taxpayers with a conscience.
Reluctantly, as one does not want to get into the graphic, intense debate the last contribution from Deputy Nolan invites, I appeal to her to reconsider the amendment and withdraw it. The language she used is the verbal equivalent of the horrible posters we saw displayed outside the Dáil which were designed to induce trauma, fear and shock, which is not the way to conduct a debate on something as sensitive and difficult as the issue we are discussing. It is depressing that the Deputy resorted to that sort of language with all the connotations it has for women who have made a decision to choose termination. The Deputy should reconsider. I find it amazing and shocking also because whatever her feelings on the issue, she is actually asking us to agree that a service that will be legally available to women should in reality only be available to those who can pay for it. She is asking for a two-tier system of healthcare for women. It is awful that she would even suggest that. She can correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure I have heard Deputy Nolan rail time and time again against the two-tier health service in other areas. Nevertheless, she advocates a two-tier health service when it comes to women's healthcare in situations where a woman's health and welfare is at stake. She suggests a financial barrier should be put in the way of a woman making her own choices about how to deal with a situation in which her welfare, health, including mental health, or any other aspect of her wellbeing is at stake. Deputy Nolan says that people who do not have money should not have that service made available to them. It is shocking that Deputy Nolan would suggest that. I urge her to withdraw the amendment and to try to conduct the debate in a somewhat dignified manner which does not use shocking tactics and graphic language to convey her point. Surely, she recognises that whatever she may feel about the issue, a huge majority of people in the country feel differently. They have spoken very clearly on that. The least she could do is show a bit of respect for the fact, notwithstanding her differences of opinion on the matter.
If we were to accept the amendment, it would be to ignore the voice of the Irish people who have already voted otherwise. They voted overwhelmingly that a woman has a right to have an abortion up to 12 weeks without reason and after that for specific reasons. The State will not save lives by refusing to fund healthcare for women in Ireland.
Mention was made there of the old shock tactics and graphic language. Sure, it is all they have left at this stage. It is a little bit sad that we have people coming in here to do the bidding of a certain well-known businessman who I will not name. We all know who he is. Irish women access abortions every day. They travel from every county on the island every single day of the week, including from Offaly, Meath, Louth and Kerry. What we can do is make it safe and affordable because that is what people voted for. One can choose to ignore the vote. That is fine. However, no one should come to the House and try to inject all of these shock tactics, US nonsense and the use of this type of language because all that does is achieve the opposite of what the people involved claim to have come here to do. There is no compassion in what Deputy Nolan said at all.
A Cheann Comhairle-----
It was dripping with judgment and a kind of visceral hatred of those women. It is unhelpful. The Deputy knows the amendment will not pass. As such, she is using it as an excuse, just as people did during the referendum when they held up those vile posters that made any woman - and they spoke to me - coming in and out of here who had a miscarriage or termination, including the women from Terminations for Medical Reasons, upset. It did not change anyone's mind, it just upset people. I urge Deputy Nolan to withdraw the amendment and to reflect on where it came from and whose bidding she is doing here. She is not in here on behalf of Irish women.
The subject matter of the amendment is a matter for all Members. In terms of how people speak or address the House, however, we are 158 very diverse people who bring our own experiences and thoughts to bear.
It is not a highly desirable situation to try to force anyone to try to speak our particular, individual language. Deputies are entitled to express their views and we are entitled to disagree with them if we want to.
That will set the tone for the debate.
The tone is well set.
I too have concerns about where the funding for this will come from because many aspects of our health service are being let down at present due to the lack of funding. For the greater part of this year, University Hospital Kerry has been suffering because we cannot pay nurses properly. Likewise, we cannot pay consultants properly in University Hospital Kerry. People who cannot pay for hip or knee procedures or for all the other things that go wrong as time and the biological calendar move on are also suffering.
It was said on the radio this morning that we are trying to stall the Bill and take up time. I reject that. We are entitled to highlight what we think is wrong with this Bill as much as any Deputy from Mayo, Dublin or anywhere else. We respect the way the people voted but it is amazing to think that the Minister can find so many millions of euro at the click of a finger with no bother at all.
It is a fact that we are taking people up to Belfast by the busload week after week to allow them to get their sight restored. There is no bother about arranging the buses but what is wrong and tough is that people have to leave places on the crest of the Atlantic Ocean, including Dingle, Cahersiveen and Valentia Island, in the dark of night to travel that long journey up through the midlands, through Dublin and into the North of Ireland to ensure that for their remaining days they will be able to see the world and see the countryside around them. We are not providing that service for them in the South of Ireland and I applaud the people who go that distance to try to save whatever bit of life they have left in them. Some of these people are over 90 years of age and they want their sight to be restored to them but we cannot do it for them here.
When the Minister was appointed, we all wished him well. I said that he was a young man and that I trusted in him to do better than what had been done for the people of Ireland and for the people who needed medical attention before, but to tell the truth he has failed abysmally. We have asked him time after time to visit University Hospital Kerry but he will not do so and does not care. Things are in a shocking order there but the Minister does not care and the Government does not care about the health service that it is not providing but it will provide funding for this.
I do not mind if people who cannot pay are assisted in some way but this will ensure that people who have millions of euro can get a free service. Why can that not apply to the people who want their eyesight restored? Why does that not apply to the people who want to be able to walk and have the use of their legs, hips or knees again? There is no hurry about that but this must be in place by 1 January. Come hell or high water, that is what the Minister wants. I have the same time to speak as any other Deputy and I am not hogging the airwaves or the speaking time, so do not let any other Deputies say that I am because they are blackguarding when they go out on the airwaves and say things like that. I am concerned that we are getting people up in the dark of night to travel to get their eyesight restored and we are inviting people to come down here to have abortions in the South of Ireland and we will pay for it. That is the turnaround we have in this country and I am very worried and disappointed that we are going that way. It is not about saving people at all but about getting rid of people.
Deputies are hurt when we talk about babies rather than foetuses but when they are 20 or 22 weeks old, they are babies and they are entitled to live. We asked that if the baby comes out alive, it will get the same attention as a baby over in the maternity ward would get but the Minister rejected that. When we asked if we could ensure that the little baby would not suffer pain, he rejected that as well. It is all about rushing this through come hell or high water. The Government has not even talked to the doctors or the midwives and it has not gotten assurances about anything.
The Government is rushing it through and bullying people into doing this and if they do not do it, they will be fired. Is that what the Government wants? Is it wrong for us to stand here and ask that those people who have conscientious objections be given the right to object to carrying out this atrocious act? They have the right but the Minister does not seem to want to listen and many of his buddies here are helping to rush this through.
There was no pre-legislative scrutiny but the Government does not want to hear about that. It is case where if a fellow is not saying what the other side is saying, then he should not be talking at all. I am very hurt and disappointed that we are going down this route of paying to get rid of little babies when we will not pay to look after our people who want to be relieved of pain in many different ways with our health service letting them down. The Minister is happy to do that but I am not.
I want to take note of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's empathy for those who are forced to travel for healthcare. It is a terrible thing to be forced out of one's county, town or, indeed, country to access healthcare. It is disgraceful that people have to go by the busload to Northern Ireland to get their eyes or hips treated. I am sure the Deputy is full of empathy for women, young girls and trans people who for years have been forced onto boats and planes on a daily basis with the stigma, fear and exclusion that go with it. Very often they have to pay out a hell of a lot of money to do so and very often they have to live with a crisis pregnancy because they do not have the money to do so.
I note the amendments Deputy Nolan is putting down have everything to do with the public purse and very little to do with how an abortion procedure is carried out, but of course most of her speech was dedicated to that and I can see that this is where this debate will go for several Deputies in the House.
The Ceann Comhairle mentioned that we are 158 democrats and we all have a right to speak. I absolutely agree with that but the vast majority of people in this country have already said "Yes" to abortion rights and we need to address the fine-tuning of a Bill that is long over due. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae says that the Minister is rushing it through but I will defend the Minister, which is something I would not do very often for a Fine Gael Minister, but we have been through a long, 12 week committee process that scrutinised the Citizens' Assembly recommendations which had gone through weeks of same beforehand.
This time last year we were not even sure if we would have a referendum and a year later we are in a position where we are here legislating for abortion in this country. That is a major and amazing step forward. All I can say to Deputies who sound as if they want to go on for the next three days about stuff that is not related to the amendments and is irrelevant is that the people in their constituencies have told them by clear majorities that they want legislation for women to have access to abortion in this country.
They did not say they only wanted rich women to have access, therefore, it should not be paid for or allowed through the public health service. They did not say they only wanted privileged people to have access. That was not what they were asked. They were asked to repeal the eighth amendment to ensure that, finally, we could have access to termination and abortion in this country. That is what this Bill sets out to do.
I note the empathy for people who have to travel. I note also the distraction with the raising of other issues that have absolutely nothing to do with people’s own amendments – I am referring to Deputy Nolan – but it will be a sorry three days for the people of Ireland if we have to listen to people ignoring the democratic will of the people. The decision was decisive. It was not ambiguous; there was no if, maybe or people not being sure about it. We are setting out to act on that here today.
My last word on the amendment before us and the four later amendments grouped with it, and as was said by other Deputies, is that if we wanted to live in a country that is full of inequalities, we would support these amendments. We would say that if someone is rich, they can pay for it but if they are not, they will have to either do without it or possibly illegally access the abortion pill on the Internet. There are some disputes about the figures but between 90% ad 98% of abortions take place before 12 weeks gestation, which means that the pill is safe to cover them. If the pill is safe to cover them and we do not provide abortion services through the medical service, women, girls and transgender people will access it illegally on the Internet and will, in a lonely space, take that pill and risk their own health. There is nothing logical, fair or equal about these amendments and I, too, ask the Deputy to withdraw them.
I support the Chairman's remarks made earlier. Deputy Nolan and everybody has the right to put down whatever amendment they wish. What they do not have the right to do, however, is put misinformation before the House. Much of what was said is medically and factually 100% incorrect. I do not say that simply as a view but on the basis of participating in weeks of discussions and the top-level exposure we were given to medical information, which utterly contradicts much of what was said. I will not waste time by repeating those points.
This is about access to healthcare, as part of our maternity services. We are very lucky in this country that despite all the cutbacks women who are pregnant get access to free healthcare, which is incredibly important. Are we now to put into that scenario a two-tier system where one goes to one's doctor - one might not have children or have a few children, everything might be going great and then something happens and the woman decides she needs a termination in consultation with her doctor - and he says, "Sorry, you do not have the money, I cannot deal with you so off you go." It does not make sense.
Many of the arguments made by the Deputies simply do not stack up. It is unacceptable that we would expect the British state to provide healthcare services for our citizens. While I appreciate the points made by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, all the problems in health service, which he outlined in terms of eye operations and all the rest, exist now when we do not pay for abortion care. Clearly, they have nothing to do with whether we provide abortion care. There are many ways in which we could get this money. He said that people with millions of euro could get abortions. People with millions of euro get child benefit but we do not argue against that. It is a universal payment. How are we to get the money for the operations? We might tax them on their income and perhaps Deputy Healy-Rae would support me in our call made previously for a millionaire's tax that would generate some much wanted revenue that could assist in providing these services.
This is my first time to speak on the Bill as it has moved from Committee Stage to Report Stage, having contributed to the debate on Second Stage. We amended the Constitution to the effect that: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy". We are now in this Chamber doing that very bidding on behalf of the Irish people. I disapprove in some shape or form to most of the amendments tabled. We should stay central to what was published in the heads of the Bill in advance of the referendum to be consistent in interpreting the view of the people, who I believe were very well informed in view of the fact we have been discussing this for a long time, for several generations at this stage. As to the idea that the public were ill-informed, did not comprehend or were unsure of what they were being asked to vote for, I believe they were very well informed and had been waiting for some time to amend the Constitution to allow us to legislate. In doing that, there is an onus on us all to adjudicate on each other's opinions and views, peruse the amendments and go through a process that does justice to the views of people in how they expressed them in the recent referendum. With that in mind, the debate among the broader public was a very respectful. We would be doing ourselves a disserve if we descended beyond where we are now in terms of having proper robust scrutiny of the legislation.
It is important we consider the amendment before us which, effectively, proposes that no public moneys shall be provided by the Oireachtas for the provision of terminations except in the context of sections 10 and 11. What Deputy Nolan is proposing is that we would insert in law a means testing by fiat, by legislation effectively, ensuring this service would be available only to those who could afford to procure an abortion, which the people now accept needs to be available to women in certain cases, thereby being the preserve of the rich. If we start to debate these particular issues in this tone we are bringing the discourse to a level that I had hoped we would not reach. I do not say that lightly because I respect everybody's view and have consistently tried to take the politics out of it to get to where we are.
At some stage one has to say that if we were to continue the discussion on this amendment and allow it further passage through the parliamentary process, we would be enshrining in law that some women are automatically deemed second class in terms of access to healthcare in this country. We should bear in mind that this is primarily around the provision of abortion services in the first 12 weeks without cause but for a reason, whatever reason that may be. That is entirely a matter for the woman and her medical team; it is not for us to interpret. Beyond that, we have put extra provisions in place providing for it only in the context of a risk to the life or the health of the woman, or in the context of fatal foetal abnormalities. I would find it difficult for anybody to suggest that it would be only rich people, or those who can afford it, who would be able to access a termination in those contexts when they may have many reasons they can no longer continue with the pregnancy. For us to move this debate in a way that respects the views of the people, I suggest these types of amendments be withdrawn to allow us go about passing the Bill as envisaged in the heads of the Bill published in advance of the referendum.
To put it into context, Savita Halappanavar died on 28 October 2012. We had debates in this House and it was amazing how people's views outside this House can be formed by what we say inside it. What I found very uncomfortable at that time was some of the public discourse around the late Savita Halappanavar. What was said about that woman after she died in a Galway hospital was distasteful to the point where I did not believe people could descend so low. I say that because I want to put on the Dáil record that I took several phone calls from people at that time because I was my party's spokesperson on health. What was said to me about Savita Halappanavar was shocking and appalling by people who had a medical background or licences to practice in this State. What they said to me was beyond belief. They were trying to cast aspersions on her character, her good name and all the reasons she sought a termination when the only time she sought a termination was when she was dying.
Unfortunately, she is dead now. When we are talking about the subject, we have to be conscious of the many thousands of women across this country who have had to avail of that for whatever reason. People can judge. I will not.
It is very difficult for me to put a cost on a woman having to get up at 4 a.m. to get a plane to Birmingham or Manchester for a termination of a pregnancy, for whatever reason. Having listened to the people who had to go there because they were carrying a child with a fatal foetal abnormality and felt they could no longer continue with that pregnancy, I think the State should be obligated to support that family in that decision. I believe that because it is a healthcare issue and because women make these choices for many and varied reasons, which will always be within the law if we pass this Bill, the State should be obligated to provide healthcare to any women from whatever financial background or for whatever reason she decides to terminate that pregnancy.
I will oppose this amendment. We have come a long way to this stage. When it started, I was not sure that we would get here but after 35 years of debate, the Citizens' Assembly, the Oireachtas committee, the referendum and people's vote, the Select Committee on Health and contributions in this Chamber, it is fair to say that we are all fairly well-informed and the public is as informed as we are. I think there is a sinister motive behind the suggestion that by not funding abortions, we will somehow save lives. That suggests to me that by not funding abortions, we will deprive women of lower means of access to services, forcing them to remain pregnant against their will, regardless of the situation. That is control of women by financial means, which is the wrong approach. Regardless of Deputy Nolan's personal views, the suggestion that the Deputy would control a woman's access to these services because she cannot afford to pay for them, because the Deputy believes it is right or wants to achieve a restriction on abortion and will use money to do so, is wrong on many levels. I think Deputy Nolan is exploiting impoverished and vulnerable women. Not every woman has financial independence. She may not have a medical card but that does not mean she has access to the funds she needs, for whatever reason. We do not know specific domestic situations but we know people are in those circumstances.
For a Deputy who has advocated that there should not be inequality, that there has been a two-tier access to health services and inequality in many areas of society, to advocate that she would discriminate against women on the basis of a socioeconomic background and how much money they have is wrong. It is a perverse way of imposing a personal view on other women. I respect that Deputy Nolan's views are sincerely held personal views, trying to impose them on other women by using financial means is wrong.
Think about the inequity in that and the impact of such an amendment. What about a young girl who may not be working and does not have money? We do not know why she is in those situations. What about a young girl who may have been impregnated due to incest? Where is she supposed to get the money to pay for the service? What about a woman who may be in a very difficult domestic situation where her partner is the problem and she does not have financial independence? We do not charge for maternity services. They are health services. Why would this be different? It is part of maternity services. If they cannot access a termination due to cost, does Deputy Nolan think that woman, having really thought about this and being in a situation where she needs to access those services will, because we erect a financial barrier, sit back and get on with it? Is she accessing the service because it is a little easier? That does a disservice to women and is quite insulting to the process she has gone through to get to the point of making that decision.
Deputy Nolan clearly fundamentally disagrees with abortion in pretty much all circumstances but the fact is that the people of this country voted to provide services. The Deputy says they did not vote to pay for abortion services. I would counter that by saying that citizens did not vote to discriminate between women who are poor and women who are wealthy, for inequality and to erect barriers to the most impoverished and vulnerable women in society. Citizens did not vote for the intention of this amendment. Trying to restrict a woman's choice by financial means is imposing one's personal view through a backdoor and is trying to undermine the very real, sincere and well-informed vote that took place last May. Citizens knew what they were voting for and that women needed services. They are well aware that even now, women are still travelling every week and accessing services in another jurisdiction.
While I appreciate that a number of Deputies who are in a minority are unhappy with the result of the referendum, it happened and that vote stands. It is as valid as any other referendum that has taken place. The legislation was put before the people and they knew what was intended to go through this House. To come into this Chamber and seek to materially and substantially amend the legislation because one is not happy with it, and to implement this method of control and restrict access for women without the financial means to access services, is anti-women, anti-choice and seeks to exploit the real inequalities in our society. Many women would not be able to afford these services if they were charged for. That is a fact. It seems to be suggesting that if the Members supporting this can somehow restrict women or force them to remain pregnant, they will get what they want and that it does not matter about the women affected, the vote, the people's will or what is right for the women, since they will get what they want no matter what it takes. It does not matter if they have to use unequal means to get there, money as a way of restricting women or if they have to seek to exploit their very difficult circumstances, whether they are very young, unemployed or in a very difficult domestic situation. If they have to exploit that, that is what they will do. That is what this amendment says to me. It is important that we look at the impact of such an amendment. I appreciate the Deputy's personal views but to seek to exploit the financial inequalities in this country to force her own views and restrict access goes against the spirit of the people's vote last May.
Deputy Nolan's amendment ensures that taxpayers' money will not be used to fund abortions except in situations of risk to the mother's life and I certainly support it. The rationale for this amendment is clear. It is not what Deputies have tried to say, hijacking it and claiming all other kinds of intentions. The amendment simply respects the choice and convictions of people who do not wish to have any involvement with abortions, by ensuring that they are not continuously forced to pay for the taking of innocent human life. Anyone can appreciate that. Whatever differing views people may have about whether abortion should be legal, compelling people, especially those who believe that all human life should be protected, to pay for the killing of the most vulnerable is disgraceful. If this amendment is accepted, as I believe it should be, there will still be nothing in the Bill to prevent those who wish to pay for abortions from doing so. The amendment simply prevents people from being forced to pay for abortions that they do not believe in. For the Oireachtas to exercise such compulsion in respect of people would be a cruel and oppressive disregard of the right of persons to refrain from involvement in abortions.
The prospect is outrageous and is a mark of striking intolerance for the right of a person at the very least to stay out of the taking of human life. To create a situation whereby all who live and work in Ireland cannot avoid paying for such killing is profoundly wrong. It is no answer to say only a small percentage of public expenditure will go to fund abortions. The gross injustice of forcing citizens to pay for abortions remains regardless of the exact amount, and the Bill in its current form provides for taxpayer funding of the full cost of abortions in all cases, even for abortions under 16 weeks that can be performed for any reason.
The Amárach Research polling in the wake of the referendum showed that, excluding those who stated they did not know, 59% of adults in Ireland, including 44% of "Yes" voters, oppose taxpayer funding of abortions. Of course, the referendum vote was for a change to the Constitution. Lest the naysayers here say we do not accept that, of course we accept it. We are democrats, elected by the people for the time being. However, the referendum was not a mandate for everything in the Bill. It was to delete the eighth amendment and we were to legislate here. It is shocking that people are not allowed to table amendments. We are allowed do so and to debate them here without being ridiculed for our views and for representing those views here fairly and squarely.
As I have said, taxpayer funding of abortions was not inserted in the Bill until after the referendum was held. Much has been said about people reading the Bill before the vote. There was nothing about taxpayers funding abortions inserted in the Bill until after the referendum. This is very clear and factual. There was nothing about this prior to the referendum so how would people have known about the intention to fund it? This is why so many people told the Amárach Research pollsters they were opposed to the funding. This is not the only thing they were not told. Many things were said and told and untold but history will have to judge that.
Declining to provide public funding for abortions also saves a great many lives. A range of peer review studies from the US, where the use of public moneys to fund abortions is generally prohibited at federal level and in most US states, shows the absence of public funding for abortions reduces the number of abortions. In June 2017, the British Government announced it would fund abortions for women resident in Northern Ireland. The official report on abortion statistics for England and Wales in 2017 noted an increase in the number of women from Northern Ireland having an abortion in England and Wales since the funding announcement. The volume in the third and fourth quarters of 2017 increased by 46% and 62%, respectively. If this is not evidence, what is? Adopting this amendment, therefore, is also in line with the Government's pre-referendum assurances that abortion would be safe and rare if legalised. That has gone out the window.
I respect what Deputy Clare Daly said about the right to table amendments and others attacking the amendment. I salute Deputy Nolan for being courageous and brave enough to table this amendment. She is a mother and a caring person. Deputy Kelleher mentioned the late Savita Halappanavar. Her name was used and misused. We all got phone calls and we must deal with that. Her name was hugely used in the referendum campaign in spite of the fact that three reports commissioned by the State found she died from medical neglect. The Minister can shake his head all he likes.
I want to mention fatal foetal abnormality. I travelled to Geneva with a number of women who had diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormality. We travelled to the United Nations in an effort to get that horrible terminology disused and we had great success. The Minister's HSE, of which he is so proud, has in the main disbanded the terminology and is using "life-limiting conditions", which is much more humane and respectful of the parents and their little unborn babies and born babies. I have met some of them. Some of them live for weeks. Some live for days, hours or weeks. One is 11 now and living in County Cavan. I have met many who received that cruel diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. They did not get perinatal hospice or support here. We asked in talks on forming a government for Fine Gael to roll-out a perinatal hospice service but it fell on deaf ears, like all of the other questions we have on healthcare for women and their babies. It is not there. All of sudden, the Minister has money and manna from heaven to pay for everything. He will pay the doctors more to carry out abortions than he does to deliver healthy babies.
Earlier in his speech the Minister noted he met people-----
I thank the Deputy.
I am nearly finished. The Minister noted he met people to discuss equality and gender issues but he refused to meet the doctors or nurses. He refused to meet ten Deputies in the House who wanted to debate him before any amendment was tabled.
Other Deputies are offering.
I am just pointing this out on the record and we know it is fact.
Some people have said that some of the language that has been used so far has been shocking. Many people on this side of the debate feel the Bill is shocking. The Bill itself gives a definition of termination of pregnancy as the ending of the life of a foetus. For many people this is a very difficult and sobering issue to have to deal with. We have been told for years we need to have a debate on abortion but any time a person discusses an abortion, they are closed down in the particular debate. If we are to have a debate on these issues, we need to tolerate people from different sides of the Chamber discussing and representing their views fairly. This debate will be held over the next three days and we should not call each other names. I do not second-guess the motivation of anybody on the other side of the Chamber. If anybody has a radically different view on this issue, I take it as read that his or her view is designed and comes from a human rights and compassionate space. Members should not continuously second-guess the motivations on this side of the Chamber either. To be honest, people spent so much time on Committee Stage second-guessing each other's motivations that it added at least another three or four hours to the debate and I imagine the pro-choice side did not have that as an objective.
It is true that a large majority of people voted for repeal. They were asked a binary question and it is pretty much impossible when asked a binary question to give a view on all the detail of a particular Bill. A large minority voted "No". A total of 723,000 people voted "No", which is more than voted for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, People Before Profit, the Socialist Party and the Social Democrats combined in the most recent election. It is a voice that is entitled to be articulated in the Chamber. We have been debating this for more than an hour and 20 minutes and only three pro-life voices have been heard and all of them have been attacked for what they have said on the issue.
We are all pro-life.
We will get through the Bill faster if people fully respect each other's motivations.
It is very important that minorities have a voice in the Chamber because if the Chamber does not reflect in some way the views that exist among the public, it will be a very dangerous place to be. Healthy respectful opposition is important in a functioning democracy. It is not the enemy in this debate. To be honest, many parties here have minority mandates. If they do not agree that a minority should have a voice here, surely the smaller parties should fold up their tents. The idea that we have to abide by the majority view is nonsense. We have to be able to give voice to the people on both sides of the debate outside the Chamber.
I was surprised by this issue being raised during the debate because my focus was on making sure we left no mother or child behind. I was surprised that after the debate was over, people came up to me on the street who were shocked by the fact they would have to pay for these abortions. I thought it was very much a minor issue in comparison to the major issue of abortion itself but that is the way of the world. That is what people's fears are about. Most of the fears relate to the issue of opportunity cost. There is always an opportunity cost. If we take €12 million out of a particular budget to pay for this, it will mean certain operations will not happen. It will mean some people will not get the healthcare to which they are entitled.
We are told that the State should not seek to control people on a socioeconomic basis. This Government controls people every day on a socioeconomic basis. It denies healthcare to hundreds of thousands of people on that basis. Some 2,500 children are waiting more than a year for their first mental health clinic appointment because of the control of the Government for socioeconomic reasons. It is incredible that people are travelling today for healthcare while at the same time money can be prioritised for abortion. Healthcare has different meanings for people. My belief is that healthcare saves lives and does not create preventable deaths. That is the difficulty with this.
If it were my amendment I would not have drafted it in that fashion. I would have sought to give people a conscientious objection or a freedom of conscience with regard to how their tax money is spent. If one pays for an operation like this, one is involved in the delivery of the operation and many constituents will feel that this operation is morally unjust. To force them to pay for something they do not agree with is not right. I have no desire to deny healthcare to anybody. Healthcare should be free at the point of delivery on the basis of need, not on the basis of income. I also believe, however, that people should be able to object in a conscientious fashion to the spending in which they are involved.
As Members know, I was a strong pro-life Deputy prior to the referendum and I remain a strong pro-life Deputy. I have spoken on this at every opportunity but I have always tried to be as dignified and thoughtful as possible. The people spoke clearly and emphatically last May. It took me a while to accept that decision but I have accepted it. I cannot support this amendment. If a young girl or woman is in trouble, perhaps because she is in an abusive relationship or feels she cannot continue the pregnancy, I could not support her not having access to the termination of the pregnancy, if that is what she wants. It is not what I would want but it is what she wants. We have a two-tier health system and we are trying to move away from that with Sláintecare. I am afraid that if we do not support people we would probably end up with more illegal abortions and more people accessing abortion pills online down the road, which is what we are trying to avoid.
However, I have a question for the Minister. It was reported in the media recently that a GP will be paid approximately €450 to provide abortion services for the termination of pregnancy and aftercare. Subsequent reports in the newspapers show that a GP is paid, and I accept this could be wrong, approximately €250 for the care of a pregnant woman for nine months of pregnancy and her aftercare. Can the Minister confirm these figures? If they are correct, why is there such a variance in cost between providing the termination of a pregnancy and providing the care of a mother for nine months and her aftercare?
I wish to refer to something I already pointed to at another briefing today. It is the unfair press release from a colleague stating that Deputies were engaged in delaying tactics in the House. Nothing could be further from the truth. With regard to the amount of time in which every Member spoke on Committee Stage, nobody spoke for a minute longer than the person needed. Everybody had points to make. If we had not done that we would rightly be accused of being neglectful in doing our job where we have something to say, if we have a question, if we wish to query an amendment or if we wish to support, amend or object to an amendment. One person came out today and cast an aspersion on every Member of the House by saying that a Member who is not supporting the legislation wholeheartedly as it goes through the House is to be seen as objecting to it.
When the vote took place I gave a commitment at the outset that I would not do anything to obstruct the legislation passing through the House because that is what the people had voted for. However, to say that one should not be allowed to question, propose amendments, speak on amendments or make one's views known is ridiculous. That is an attempt to stifle democracy. It is saying that anybody who does not agree with me should keep their mouth shut and not do their job. It will take more than one person from a political party to stop me doing my job. I am here to represent people and I will do that to the best of my ability in a workmanlike way at all times. Nobody from a political party will stop me or any of my friends from doing that.
The most striking feature of Committee Stage was the sheer avalanche of amendments put forward by supporters of the Bill and advocates of abortion on demand. For months we have been told that we must get on with it, respect the verdict of the people, that the proposals put to the people before the referendum must be respected and that proposed amendments to the Bill be kept to a minimum. What happened instead? Over 150 amendments were put forward by supporters of the Bill. Each of them had the aim of watering down the already weak or token restrictions contained in the Bill. An amendment was proposed in respect of every section, subsection and almost every line of the Bill. Put simply, those who were calling for the verdict of the people to be respected have systematically set about tearing the Bill to shreds and introducing a regime which would be more liberal than the extremely liberal proposals in the Bill.
They are repeating that on Report Stage with over 70 proposed amendments that seek to gut the Bill and make the legislation even more liberal than what was promised by the Government early in the year. That is what is happening. Do I agree with that? They are perfectly entitled to do so. To return to the point I made earlier, if people wish to do that they are entitled to do so. Other Members have a different opinion, as I do, and are worried that the people get what they voted for and not a watered down version of it. I know many people who voted for the legislation but they are not happy now because they see the Minister and others running away with it and trying to make something of it which is not what they said they wanted. During the campaign the Minister made promises and certain commitments which he appears to have thrown out. When he was asked about this at earlier meetings he completely forgot what he had promised the people when they were going to vote. Again, people can say that is politics. If the Minister changed his mind, and he has changed his mind many times so far on this subject-----
That is not true.
He has if he recalls how he campaigned a number of years ago. Why does he not like me pointing to the fact that he had a completely different viewpoint a couple of years ago?
This is not on the amendment.
I ask the Deputy to speak to the amendment.
I will. I am just reminding the Minister that he had a different viewpoint when he was campaigning for election a number of years ago. He told the people something different in 2011. However, that is his choice. He is entitled to change his mind and he did. That is democracy and I respect that, just as I would like people to take that view when I stand to speak in the House and do not agree wholeheartedly or run with everybody else just because they are all going one way. I will not run that way, and I am entitled not to do so.
There are other comments I wish to make but I will make them at other points in this debate. However, I wish to knock on the head the impression being conveyed by people in political parties that I or other Members are holding up or stifling this debate.
That is wrong, it is untrue and it misrepresents the facts. We are scrutinising the legislation, or trying to, even though the debate is being stifled and rushed and we are not being given a chance. All we are trying to do is our best, and that is to represent. Not everybody is of the same viewpoint on this legislation. Some 100% of the people did not vote for it, so it is not true for some people to give the impression that everybody is in favour of it in its entirety. I ask the Minister to please remember there are people who voted for the legislation and they are not happy with the way it is being changed and with the way it is being ripped asunder.
Before I call Deputy Michael Collins, I remind Deputies that we want to be respectful. Deputies are not speaking to the amendment. Rather than get into confrontation about it, I ask all Deputies in the House to please speak to the amendment.
I am glad to get an opportunity to speak on this amendment, which I fully support. I will try to outline the reasons for this. I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak because it is part of democracy to get to speak in the Parliament. Many have tried to stifle that here tonight, but they certainly will not stifle me.
Having spoken to many people on the issue, I put it to the Minister that the people were not aware their taxes would be funding the procedures that would end the most innocent lives in Irish society. With regard to abortion clinics, or hospitals, in a poll last August up to 60% of respondents claimed they did not want their taxes paying for abortions. That is a huge number of people, and it is people who were not aware of this situation when they went to vote in the referendum. I listened to many Deputies who spoke here tonight. Some of them were very respectful while others were questionable. One Deputy said that we do not know what a woman's financial situation is. I accept that we do not know this. We do not know anybody's financial situation but I certainly know about the thousands of women, men and children and their financial situation when they are looking for an emergency procedure they cannot have because the State cannot afford to give it to them. That is a very serious issue and it is probably why there much frustration among the public. While some people voted for abortion they did not vote to pay for the abortion and now they feel that they will be paying for these procedures.
I met many people along the route throughout this campaign and, being honest, most of them were against it. Obviously they would have known where I came from on the issue, but in my clinic I also met people who were for abortion. I was respectful to them and they were respectful to me. I gave them the opportunity to give their views and I listened to them very carefully, in the same way I respect people who listen to me tonight and who give me the opportunity to speak.
We have to look at other countries that have and pay for abortions because Ireland does not have abortion. One person who had done much research on abortion told me that in the UK, a huge percentage, which I believe is 40% - unfortunately I did not write down the percentage - of women have a second abortion. The state pays for the second abortion also and I assume that will happen here too. In many cases in the UK, a high percentage of women have had up to eight abortions. I do not like this. There are two issues. The first is that I do not believe the state wants to pay for continuous abortions. The other aspect is that I hope information and statistics are being kept on these women because some might be abused and perhaps they are being forced into having the abortions. If a women is having numerous abortions, then something is wrong. I hope this statistic would be there to protect the woman. I do not believe that this information is being recorded in the UK. It could be the case that a partner is forcing a woman to have an abortion. It is a high percentage and it needs to be looked at.
Deputy Healy-Rae is right. Bantry General Hospital cannot afford to have a consultant. People are desperately in need of continuing medical procedures, yet we cannot afford it. We can, however, afford the many millions of euro the Minister has put aside for this measure. There was no consultation with the Dáil but a phenomenal amount of money is being put aside for these procedures. It is we, the taxpayer, who will have to fork out. That would be fine if we saw equality and that other people were not suffering. While it is great that every week busloads of people are taken abroad to get their cataracts, hips and knees done, because it cannot be done in the State, that is done to help them and to make sure they have a quality of life, so that they can have their sight back and so that perhaps they will not suffer later on with mental health issues. It is not the loss of a lovely little child.
Reference was made by a Deputy to a businessman backing us. The Deputy many have meant all of us but I certainly have no businessman or businesswoman behind me. We have put forward these amendments and we have been very respectful throughout this debate, be it in this House or in committee. We put forward the least number of amendments. We were the ones who were supposed to be disruptive and the ones who were going to filibuster. We are not filibustering and we did not put forward the dozens of amendments that were brought forward by those who support abortion. They are entitled to do that, but we put forward a limited number of amendments, of which this is one. I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak on it. The Minister said that he had engaged with transgender groups on the Bill, and there is nothing wrong with that. We would like to have had extra meetings prior to this matter going to the health committee. Deputies asked for that but were refused. I am aware of medical people who also requested meetings with the Minister but they were refused. We now find ourselves in a crisis because many of them do not want to administer this procedure. About a week and a half ago, I went to a meeting to which the Minister invited me and I appreciated the opportunity to go. I raised three questions and not one was answered at that meeting. The Minister, however, did everything in his power to answer every other question posed by those who supported and who wanted to bring in the Bill. I waited for answers but I did not get them. I was not going to bend over backwards. I put the questions forward and the Minister wrote them down but he did not get to them.
I will support this amendment and a number of others. I will certainly not be filibustering but I will take the opportunity to speak. I do not believe the people wanted their taxes to pay for abortions. It is millions of euro that should be spent on the people who are losing their eyesight, suffering severe pain in their hips or who need other procedures, which are not happening.
I enter the debate this evening with something of a heavy heart. I had hoped this was a debate I would never have to be involved in. I was on the side of the debate that was against the referendum. I understand, however, that the people have spoken and they have spoken emphatically.
I will contribute to this amendment, and later I will refer to some of the other amendments in the group. I want to put on record that as a party there is a divergence of views between myself and colleagues. That is not to say we will come to the House and speak on every amendment or that we will prolong the debate unnecessarily. That is not going to happen.
I recognise the result of the referendum and emphasise that it is not a result I would have wished for or supported. I recognise the democratic voice of the people that has resulted in this legislation. I am aware from the arithmetic of the House that the Bill will be passed quite comfortably. The challenge for Deputies such as me is to make sure, insofar as possible, that the Bill addresses the concerns raised with us, that it is scrutinised and that it is as good as it can be. There are some 60 amendments before us on Report Stage. We will be supporting the amendments that offer greater protections to the unborn child and to the mother. We will not be supporting amendments that try to expand the services or try to go beyond what was originally envisaged.
I wish to comment on this amendment specifically in respect of the money and provision of services. I was very taken with the contribution of Deputy Tóibín, where he talked specifically about how people who had voted against the referendum do not want to be complicit or to have their taxes seen as part of the provision of abortion services. He made a very good point. I have been listening to the debate with an open mind and I have considered this point. However, the majority of people did vote for this measure. More importantly, if we do not provide an equal service to all people, what does that mean? Either people will avail of the services in terms of the legislation we pass as funded by the State or, if they cannot afford it, they will find alternative services. My concern is that the welfare of the unborn child and of the mother will not be enhanced or advanced by passing this amendment. I also have a concern that in respect of the legislation we are trying to refine and improve, the 72-hour reflection period, would not be availed of by somebody who might go for a termination in another process rather than through the State system. Having reflected on it and having been taken with Deputy Tóibín's contribution, I will not be supporting the amendment. While I will contribute to debate one or two of the other provisions in respect of enhancing the protection for the unborn child, I will not in any way be delaying or frustrating this Bill despite that fact that I have not been supporting it.
I would like to speak directly to amendment No. 4. It provides that "No public moneys shall be provided by the Oireachtas to pay for the carrying out of a termination of pregnancy other than a termination of pregnancy in accordance with section 10 or 11 in a case where there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman." Let us consider that for a moment. Section 10 is a definitions section and section 11 concerns the risk to the life or serious risk to the health of the mother. The amendment rules out serious risk to health. It provides that public funding cannot be used for a healthcare service except expressly under one section of the Bill, where the woman's life is at risk. The amendment does allow explicitly for public money to be used for termination of pregnancy. What it states it that public money cannot be used where there is a serious risk to health under section 10. It also provides that public money cannot be used under section 12, which covers a risk to the life of the mother or serious threat to the health of the mother in an emergency. It provides that public money can be used if there is a non-urgent risk to the life of the mother but cannot be used if there is an urgent risk to the life of the mother. That is what the amendment states when it provides that public money can only be used in accordance with sections 10 and 11. That is what we are being asked to vote for here.
The amendment also provides that public money cannot be used under section 13, which is in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality. Let us think about that for a second. The amendment does not lay down a principle that public money cannot be used. It says public money can be used but only in the case of a non-urgent risk to the life of the mother. In a case of urgent risk to the life of the mother, it cannot be used. In the case of fatal foetal abnormality it cannot be used, because that is provided for under section 13.
Let us think this through for a second. A pregnant woman and potentially her partner receive devastating news that they are dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality. This amendment proposes that in that case, they must pay for all the medical support themselves. We are talking about repeated trips to a GP, as well as about potentially very expensive medicines, all manner of rehab, hospital visits, visits to consultants and obstetricians, medical procedures in operating theatres and who knows how much aftercare support. We could be talking about tens of thousands of euro. The cost of supporting a woman or parents who are dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality could be tens of thousands of euro. This amendment provides that a woman and possibly her partner who receive this devastating news and who choose to stay in their own country, as opposed to going to the UK, which will provide and pay for the service, will be faced with a bill from the hospital that could be €10,000 or €15,000. What do hospitals do when people do not pay? They refer those debts on to debt collectors. The actual implication of voting for this amendment could be that people who want to be parents and are dealing with the catastrophic news of a fatal foetal abnormality could end up with debt collectors coming after them for bills of in excess of €10,000 or €15,000 if they choose to stay in their own country. That is what this amendment actually proposes to enshrine in the law in Ireland. It is offensive and technically defunct and it should be opposed.
I will make a few comments. I did not intend to speak on this particular amendment but I want to say that each and every Deputy is elected by the people of their constituencies to come in here to represent them. Deputy Nolan, like me or any Member of this House, is entitled to put down an amendment to this Bill and to speak on it.
Like everybody else, Deputy Nolan is quite entitled to speak on her amendment. I do not agree with the amendment but she is well entitled to do that and within her rights. I know she described in graphic detail how abortions are done. I do not think Deputy Nolan misled the House. I think she believes what she said to be correct and sometimes the truth does hurt. That is the situation and like everybody else, I respect everyone else's opinion. While there are some whose opinions are totally different from mine, I respect their right to express their opinions in this House, as I would like to think that I have the right to express my opinion. That is very important in this debate. I will not take my allotted seven minutes because we do not want this to go on any longer than it has to. I just wanted to make that point. I respect everybody else's opinion and I would like them to respect mine.
I will start by giving some facts and figures and then I will explain the reason I am doing so. On 27 October 1967, abortion was passed in the UK. On 27 April 1968, abortion came into effect in the UK. From 1968 to 2014, a total of 8,745,508 abortions were performed. According to the World Health Organization, between 40 million and 50 million abortions are estimated to be taking place every year, which is 125 abortions every day. The reason I am giving these figures is that I am very concerned at what is going to happen in Northern Ireland. In 2017, the UK Government announced that it was going to publicly pay for abortions in Northern Ireland. Since that has been introduced, there has been between 40% and 60% of an increase in abortions in Northern Ireland.
I am concerned that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is trying to find a way to pay for residents in Northern Ireland to have abortions in Ireland. I fear what is going to happen in this country.
As one of my colleagues said earlier, in the wake of the referendum it has been shown that 59% of the people of Ireland are opposed to the taxpayer funding this. The Bill as it stands provides for the full cost to be carried by the taxpayers. We are forcing our taxpayers to pay for the abortions. I fear for this country. Ireland used to be one of the safest countries in the world to have a child. Now all of a sudden my big fear is that what happened in Northern Ireland will happen in the Republic of Ireland. We are opening a floodgate to have abortion on demand in Ireland.
While I do not agree with the amendment, I understand the meaning behind it. Certain people in this Chamber and outside are so fundamentally opposed to abortion in any circumstance that they do not want to be complicit in it in any way at all, and that includes contributing their taxes to it.
Deputy Donnelly has pointed out the flaw in the amendment. If there is an immediate risk to the life or health of the woman, she would fall outside the scope of this amendment. However, outside that it is rubbish to suggest that if we pass this amendment and everyone has to pay for abortions we will have extra money in the morning for our health service to fund extra hip replacements, extra cataract operations, etc. The World Health Organization - not me or some doctor - has stated that 7 million women worldwide are admitted to hospitals as a result of unsafe abortions every year. The World Health Organization states that cost is a barrier to safe abortions. If we start to charge women, the World Health Organization states that it will lead to an increase in unsafe abortions.
The World Health Organization put a cost on the 7 million women admitted to hospital as a result of unsafe abortions. It costs $600 million a year to treat women who have had unsafe abortions. The best way for us to have safe legal abortions is to make them free. All the evidence supports that. Charging for it results in increasing the number of unsafe abortions, which has an impact on the health system.
My view on the taking of human life is well known. Whether that is a human life in the first nine months of its existence or afterwards, I have always been consistent on the protection of human life and I intend to go on that way. As I pointed out on Second Stage, people will find that statistically the most dangerous place for a human being will be in the womb. That is a certainty if the Bill is passed, which it will be.
We are discussing amendment No. 4. I have heard two arguments, one for it and one against it. The one against it is why should those who have a fundamental objection to the taking of life of the unborn have to fund it through their taxes. The counterargument runs that if the amendment is passed, abortions would still take place, but there will effectively be a means test on it between those who are well off and those who are less well of. We are being put in a totally invidious position which is why I voted as I did on Second Stage. Once we get this far, we are getting into impossible conundrums. I never like that those who can pay can get access while those who cannot pay cannot get access. Even if the amendment were passed, would it actually change anything in terms of abortion? The reality is that it would not and furthermore it would put a financial strain on those who could least afford it to avail of what will inevitably be a service that is legal.
I raised this previously when we were talking about public money. I find it surprising that for years our maternity services, which were focused on two patients all along, were crying out for money to provide a safer, better service. They were told all the time that we could not afford it because of hard times, but suddenly we can find a large pot of money for abortion. In his reply I ask the Minister to outline the requests that have been made over the past three or four years by the health service for extra money to be allocated to maternity services to ensure that scans and other services would be available uniformly across the country. What money was sought for 2019 and what money has been given? There is something strange in not focusing on the protection of the mother and the child by having comprehensive good-quality maternity services in non-crowded maternity facilities throughout the country.
On the cost issue Deputy Donnelly mentioned, can the Minister confirm to me that no matter how long people spend in a hospital, it cannot cost them more than €800 in the public system in any one year? Certainly the rules I have read indicate that. It is important that we confirm that point. It frightens people. In my office I see many people who have lost their medical card or their GP-visit card. They have a fear of getting bills of thousands of euro if they end up in hospital. These are cases where an appeal will not work. I often have to print out the rules showing that that particular American scenario does not happen in our health service. A patient can get a heart transplant, cancer treatment and anything else in one year in a public hospital, as long as he or she can get in past the trolleys, and it costs €800 in total. I ask the Minister to confirm that on the record because it is a point that needs affirming.
I will support many other amendments to the Bill.
I will not support this particular one because it divides those with resources and those without resources. It does not deal with the fundamental issue I have with the Bill. However, I will be supporting other amendments.
On the argument about faulty wording of amendments, most amendments put down by Opposition parties are technically faulty. The position normally is that if a Minister accepts one's amendment in principle, he or she will say they cannot accept the amendment because the wording is faulty but will come back on Report Stage with an amendment that does the job. In terms of the fine combing of these amendments, what is actually happening is that, in principle, the majority of the Dáil will push these two amendments, not because of a minor wording difficulty, and good luck to them. I am the first to recognise democratically that the overwhelming majority of the Dáil would support this Bill. However, it is important that people who have a differing view would accept the principle of some amendments tabled here that we believe should have been taken on board.
I want to express my opposition in particular to amendment No. 4, which is really an attempt to turn back the clock. It is a device to attempt to frustrate and deny the democratic will of the people as expressed in the recent referendum. There is no doubt that would be the effect of this amendment if it were accepted. There is no doubt also that its practical effect would be that terminations would be allowed for the wealthy but denied to those who are less well off. The amendment is undemocratic and wrong, and I hope it will be defeated.
I had not intended to speak but having listened to some of the debate, I believe we have no choice. We have a duty to speak out when the same narrative is given over and over again. The last speaker captured it. This is a serious attempt to undermine and go backwards.
While I have the greatest respect for the very hard-working Deputy who tabled this amendment, I cannot agree with it. It is an ill-thought out amendment. It seeks to conquer and divide. It divides rich from poor and, most of all, it misses what this Bill is about, which is to provide care in respect of mothers. I disagree with the statement from my colleague from the west, with whom I agree on many issues, that the most unsafe place to be is in the womb. That is a shocking statement. As a female politician and a mother of two, I find it unacceptable that such a statement would be made.
Having read all the literature and all the cases that ended up in every court in the land and abroad for the past two and a half years, it was quite clear that the life of the woman was in danger, something this country ignored. We continue to ignore it on a daily basis as we allow our women to end up in situations that are unsafe and dangerous to their health and their life. I have no hesitation in saying I will not be supporting this amendment. It is ill-thought out and goes to the kernel of the amendments undermining the will of the people and seeking, once again, to punish women, failing to recognise that women are independent and need to be empowered.
If anything, the changes I want to see is that the amendments seeking to frame the provision in a caring manner are passed. They seek to protect women but, most of all, to empower them. That is how we will have a much healthier society.
I thank the Deputies for contributing to the debate. Let us be very clear so that there is no mystery here. What we are trying to do with this Bill is make abortion care in Ireland free, safe and legal. There is a direct correlation between the words "free" and "safe". If we want people to be able to access termination of pregnancy with medical support, we need to make it a universal service as many Deputies, including Deputy Butler and others who came at this debate during the referendum from a very different perspective to mine, honestly admitted. Otherwise, we will divide women in this country. We will provide certain women with access to medically-supervised termination and have a situation where women who cannot afford that continue to access unsafe and illegal abortion without any medical support. That is what we are trying to do here.
Deputy Chambers rightly said that pregnant women in this country do get free healthcare. Are we really suggesting that different women should get different types of free healthcare depending on the choice they make? Will we not respect the fact that pregnant women get to make that choice? We do not just provide free GP care if someone makes a choice that certain people in this House approve of but that we provide that free healthcare for all pregnant women.
I find it frustrating when I hear the argument that only when we live in some sort of perfect world and have addressed all the other ills and challenges that we face societally can we look after women in crisis. In other words, come back to us when nobody in Ireland is waiting for a cataract operation or a replacement hip operation. Why do women in crisis have to come last? They have come last in this country for far too long. The women of Ireland and those who love the women of Ireland spoke out very clearly in wanting that to no longer be the case. That is what this Bill is trying to do.
Like Deputy Bríd Smith, the irony is not lost on me, the women of Ireland or the partners of the women of Ireland that those who agitate about the reason people have to travel to Northern Ireland, and nobody wants anyone to have to travel to Northern Ireland, are still happy for every woman in a crisis pregnancy to leave our shores and go abroad for abortion care. Nine women did that today, and three women took the abortion pill today.
Deputy Ó Cuív is right. Inpatient charges are capped at €800 a year. I wanted to clarify that point as well.
Even though we have debated it for a very long period of time, I do not believe this amendment achieves what it is endeavouring to achieve. I pointed that out on Committee Stage in advance of Report Stage because the Deputy is trying to amend section 4, which is just a standard provision in the legislation. If she wanted to achieve what she wants to achieve, she should be amending a different part of the Bill because this provision does not relate to funding for the expanded service for the termination of pregnancy. As such, the amendment is inappropriate and would not achieve the aim Deputy Nolan is trying to achieve.
Last July, the Government approved the provision of termination of pregnancy services in this country on the basis of universal access for persons who are ordinarily resident in the State. That is the basis on which we are planning to introduce the services in 2019. That is the basis on which this legislation is before the Oireachtas, and I see no reason whatsoever to change it.
I find it sad and frustrating that one Deputy in particular came into this Chamber, made wild accusations and damaged my reputation by saying this was coming from a businessman. I can assure everybody in this House that it absolutely did not. I have a conscientious objection to this Bill, as does my colleague beside me. We were forced out of the party that Deputy represents. How dare that Deputy come in here and try to destroy me and my character and make accusations like that.
Nobody forced the Deputy to do anything.
I will continue because I believe that respect should be shown here.
The Deputy should have respect for me too because nobody forced the Deputy to do anything.
I uphold fully the principles of equality.
So do I.
There are those of us who are taxpayers who have stated that we are very strongly opposed to abortion. Hundreds of thousands of those are women. We all know that 723,000 people voted "No" in the referendum. There are people with objections to this legislation who voted "Yes". As a representative, I am merely trying to convey people's concerns and I am being obstructed in this Chamber from doing my work as a representative. That is a disgrace.
Regarding this amendment, it is clear that there was confusion. That was due to a technical error that I wanted to have corrected. I want to be clear that the amendment refers to sections 11 or 12, not sections 10 or 11. I take on board Deputy Donnelly's point and thank him.
I want to make some brief points in a respectful manner. We are told that the cost of abortions will be a very small percentage of public spending.
I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but her time has elapsed.
I will finish now. If the victims were anyone other than unborn children, no such point would ever be raised. It is not much of a point when 100% of the cost of abortions will be paid by taxpayers. Two of us have left our party because of serious conscientious objection, while a Deputy formerly of Fine Gael did the same, which shows the lack of respect and regard for us pro-life Deputies in this Chamber.