It appears that the polling cards have only the English text, which, of course, will not be the authoritative text. Since the Bill is passed in both languages — I see that it will be available for a mere 2½p to the Irish citizen, perhaps that is one of the cheapest things that can be purchased in the country at the moment — nevertheless, it would seem to be appropriate, when we are amending the Constitution in this manner, that both the English and Irish texts should go before the people.
I have another comment to make on the appendix, which is what will be on the polling card. It is on page 3 of the Bill. It quotes what the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution proposes to do. Then it has these questions I referred to on Second Stage. It appears to me that these are questions that cannot in fact be approved, or not approved by the voter because the voter will not have the knowledge and understanding of the text to do that. It says: "If you APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word YES on the ballot paper", or "If you DO NOT APPROVE of the proposal mark X opposite the word NO on the ballot paper". Then under No. 4 it says: "A copy of the Bill can be inspected free of charge and purchased for two-and-a-half pence at any Post Office".
I considered and my colleagues in the Labour group here also considered, very seriously tabling a Committee Stage amendment to add subsection (5) there that we felt should also properly go on the polling card so that the voter could have a full appreciation of the issues. We were prepared, in fact, to consider tabling an amendment inserting an official warning, to the effect that if this proposal is approved it could endanger the life of certain pregnant women. Why give the text of it and just ask for approval or no approval without drawing attention to the very serious reservations?
I made reference to the fact that we have warnings on cigarette packets, that they can endanger the health of citizens. Similarly on the polling card for citizens going to vote in this referendum it would not be either inappropriate or outlandish to suggest that there should be a warning that approval of the proposal may endanger the health of pregnant women. I deliberately use "may endanger" so that, in fact, it would not be dogmatic, it would not be categorical or taking sides. It would be a fair, further subsection because the issue certainly has been raised. It is a view held by the Taoiseach. It is part, at least, of the apprehension of the Minister for Justice even if he does not wish to express it fully as that kind of view. It is a view expressed in this House by the Minister of State with responsibility for women's affairs and by a number of contributors to the debate. There is a real danger, if this amendment is approved, to pregnant women.
One could add a few more specific points as part of the polling card explanation. If approved this constitutional amendment will affect various contraceptive practices which are available at the moment. Women should know, going into the polling station, that it will very likely affect the availability of the IUD, the morning after pill and of the other types of contraceptives, which may have an effect of preventing implanation of the fertilised ovum. That should be spelt out, whether on the polling card or in some sort of explanatory documentation in relation to the constitutional amendment.
That would be a much more practical and realistic approach than to try, in some sort of explanatory memorandum, to define life, to define the concept of the unborn and to define the equality of rights as between the woman or girl who is pregnant and the unborn, wherever life was determined to begin for the purposes of imbuing it with a constitutional right. All of that is abstract. The real and practical point that could be brought to the attention of the voter and could well be on the polling card is the Government danger alert that it could affect the life and endanger the health of pregnant women and, secondly, that if passed this proposal could and probably will affect the access to various kinds of contraceptive devices.
Voters in general and women in particular would know that this proposal is something that can and, I submit, will affect substantially the most intimate aspects of their relationship and will bring the Constitution in a very intrusive way into the most private decisions that husbands and wives and mothers and fathers may make. It is, therefore, not an abstract issue and certainly in a narrow sense is not to be seen as an issue of whether one is pro- or anti-abortion.
That is a very different issue which simply has not surfaced to any degree in this debate. Anybody who has read the debate, particularly in this House, could only be struck by the lack of any substantial focus on the issue of abortion. What was being focused on was the way in which this constitutional proposal would affect the texture of the lifestyle of people in the country, that it was proposing to impose a denominational view of when the life of the unborn begins, it would appear, and also whether it should be protected as a constitutional right and the consequent effect that would have on contraceptive practices and on medical decisions relating to the treatment of women in pregnancy.
These practical consequences could be drawn to the attention of the voter. They could be alerted in a polling card, in a sign outside the polling station or certainly, I hope, in the information made available in the course of the campaign by those opposing this amendment. The concentration should be on those issues, on the practical, real consequences for ordinary women in this country and the way in which this amendment must be rejected.
It is not possible to insert into a polling card the consequences for our external reputation, for this little country and how we are viewed outside by our friends who see us as moving into an age when the Constitution will be seen to reflect the majority religion, where that was accepted and not thought to be something that was in any way surprising because of the religious affiliation in the country. Our friends from outside would view with dismay that kind of development. They would probably like a further addition on the polling card or on the sign outside the polling stations saying: "This is the death knell of any constitutional crusade such as was launched only a few months prior to this particular initiative. You cannot have a pluralist society if you move in the direction of adoptinga Constitution like this."
That may be a little bit too abstract a notion to include on the polling card or in a big sign at the polling station. I hope it will certainly be part of the broader information made available to the voter. I hope that the campaign will, as my colleague Senator Higgins emphasised in his Fifth Stage speech on the previous Bill, deal with the issues that we dealt with in this House over the last few days. Even if we cannot, in the course of the provisions of this Bill, legislate precisely for the additional information of a practical nature which we would like the voter to have in a polling card or at the polling station, that information will in other ways be made available when people come to exercise their vote.
When the Minister returns, I hope that he will indicate to this House if he has a date in mind for the referendum. It would be desirable that that date be put off for as long as possible. I hope that it will be put off even until the autumn if that is within the possible limits of his discretion in the matter. We are learning more as days go by, we are getting more information. As I mentioned already, the medical profession are providing more informed knowledge as to the dangers of this measure. As time goes on, some of the initial certainty that this was a simple human rights issue has gone and we have begun to realise that it is anything but simple, it is very complex and, in order for it to be considered in all its complexity and in all its inappropriatness, it would be better that as much time as possible be allowed for the actual campaign for the referendum. I hope the Minister will indicate to us what the date he intends to set for the referendum will be.