I would like to welcome the Minister to the House on this occasion. I am very glad to see him here and I wish him success in the future. I hope he wishes me the same.
An Bille um an Dóú Leasú Déag ar an mBunreacht, 1992: An Dara Céim (Atógáil). Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).
I want to state briefly my reasons for opposing this Bill, referring principally to the Twelfth Amendment, the so-called substantive issue. On Committee Stage I hope to deal with travel and the so-called information. At the outset I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to many Members in both Houses, and in particular Fianna Fáil Members, and many people in the country as a whole who are as opposed to legal abortion as I am and who, like me, welcomed the Government's decision to hold a referendum in the first place. Like me, they assumed that this referendum would offer the people the chance to reject abortion, to reaffirm if they so wished the decision they took so clearly in 1983. Like me, they shared in the confusion that followed the first indications of the Government's wording for the referendum and, like me, they felt reassured by the Taoiseach's clear statement of his intention to rule out direct and intentional abortion.
I believe many of my party colleagues found it difficult to come to terms with the reality as it emerged when the Government's intent became clear. They found it difficult to accept that this Administration was proposing that abortion be formally sanctioned in the Constitution. Ministers themselves were shy about using the word. They referred instead to "medical treatment" of "all necessary medical procedures" when there was really no disguising what they meant. Everyone in the country now knows this is an abortion referendum and nothing else. The final and almost obscene gesture has been to call the measure a "Right to Life" one, the terms to be used, it seems, on the ballot paper. This is simply turning the English language on its head.
There is a proposal to provide for abortion in Irish hospitals. That is the long and short of it. None of the Government's euphemisms can disguise the basic fact that the purpose of the referendum is to seek the formal sanction of the people for a constitutional right in certain circumstances deliberately to take the lives of unborn children. If this amendment becomes part of the Constitution it is absolutely certain that unborn children, who otherwise would have lived, will die in Irish hospitals. Once the principle is conceded in Irish law that we may kill the innocent, we will begin a process leading towards greater and greater acceptability of such killing. Our sensibilities will gradually be dulled towards what we are agreeing to allow. We will find it possible to justify to ourselves the taking of human life for lesser and lesser reasons. The very words of the amendment point clearly in that direction.
How much of a risk is a real and substantial one? All risks are real, no matter how small; but the assessment of what constitutes a "substantial risk" will always be highly subjective. A substantial risk may be well short of a major risk. If the Minister for Justice were told, God forbid, that there was a 5 per cent chance that he would be involved in an accident on the way home to Castlebar this weekend, I think he would rightly regard that as a very substantial risk indeed. What about a 1 per cent risk? The fact that it is low does not prevent a risk from being real and substantial. Yet, this is the basis upon which we are asking doctors to play God, to decide whether the lives of some unborn babies are to be forfeited.
The overwhelming majority of doctors in this country will be repelled by the idea of performing abortions, especially since our high standards of obstetric care make clear that mothers do not suffer in consequence. Yet, what doctors may do, some doctors surely will do, and unborn babies will certainly die who otherwise might have lived.
Let me give an example of the type of thing I am talking about. Figures from the three Dublin maternity hospitals show that since the early seventies there were about 800 patients with heart disease of varying degrees of severity during a period in which there were over 350,000 births. There were six deaths among the pregnant women with heart disease, deaths which were not necessarily related to those heart conditions. In fact, close examination of each of these deaths shows that in none of those patients would induced abortion have saved the mother's life.
Nonetheless, heart condition must be taken very seriously by the doctor. There is no question but that they pose risks for a pregnant woman and that great skill and care is required in the management of such patients. In many countries a serious heart condition would be almost routinely regarded as an indication for abortion. Not so in this country, where standards of obstetric care are very high, at least in part because we do not have abortion and these patients are enabled to complete their pregnancies successfully.
However, under the terms of the proposed amendment it seems highly probable that a doctor, faced with heart disease in an expectant mother, would feel obliged to consider abortion, indeed might feel it his duty — even his legal duty — to offer an abortion. The condition may well, in his opinion, constitute "a real and substantial risk" to the life of the mother. Certainly it might be easier to treat her heart condition if she were not pregnant, and the possibility of litigation would always be in his mind if he did not offer an abortion.
We can easily see from this example how abortion could in these circumstances become a reality in Irish hospitals if the Government's proposal were to be accepted. This is simply one example from several areas of medicine where it can be confidently stated that Irish standards and Irish maternal mortality statistics provide no medical justification whatsoever for legal abortion.
On a point of order, I do not mean to be discourteous, but the Senator referred a moment ago to the case of people who died from heart conditions. Could the Senator give the source for that?
I respectfully suggest to the Senator that that is not a point of order.
I think it is.
On a point of order, is it in order for the Senator to read his speech? Just recently we received a direction from the Chair discouraging the reading of speeches.
As I understand it, Senator Hanafin is speaking from notes. Senator Hanafin without interruption, please.
Senator Hanafin is speaking from a script.
The Chair is not in a position to decide whether Senator Hanafin is speaking from a script or from notes. I am asking Senator Murphy to resume his seat and allow Senator Hanafin to proceed.
I would expect at least that measure of honesty from Senator Hanafin, to admit that he is reading from a script and is in violation of the conventions of the House.
Senator Hanafin without further interruption.
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. If the amendment were accepted abortions would undoubtedly take place, and not just in the one in a million or the one in ten million cases as has been suggested by the Minister.
Let me summarise a little of the background to this amendment as I see it. In 1983 the people voted to outlaw abortion, the intentional killing of the unborn child. That amendment was drafted by a Fianna Fáil Attorney General and not by the Pro-Life movement, as Members here continue to assert. While outlawing abortion, the amendment continued to allow the full and proper care and treatment of mothers, as had always been the case in this country. The clearest account of what the 1983 amendment meant was given in the Dáil by a member of the then Opposition front bench and now Minister for Justice, Deputy Flynn. On 2 March 1983 Deputy Flynn said, and I quote from the Dáil Official Report, column 1590:
On the question of the equal right to life of the mother, it is guaranteed that you cannot kill the mother to save the child, or kill the child to save the mother in the case of conflict. Both lives must be equally protected. It is very important to have that absolutely clear in everybody's mind. There is no criminality in the termination of a pregnancy which is the incidental and unintended consequences of the removal, say, of a cancerous womb in order to preserve the mother's life, since nothing would have been done with intent to procure a miscarriage. It is very important that we should understand that as well. There is a lot of loose talk about what might or might not be the situation. It should be understood by all and sundry that, under this amendment when it is incorporated in the Constitution, no woman will be denied medical or surgical treatment because she is pregnant. Those are the type of scare stories which are put around to lead astray even those who are favourably disposed to the amendment. That is not intended.
That was from Deputy Flynn's speech on 2 March 1983.
That was not the worst of them. There were worse ones than that.
That was the future Minsiter for Justice in 1983, giving a clear and accurate account of some of the principles underlying the Eighth Amendment. The Minister now tells us that we must allow some direct killing. He tells us that we cannot make that distinction, long made in law in medical practice, between direct killing and a death which follows as an undesired side-effect of the medical treatment of the mother. This is a key distinction which has been made in the law of virtually every country in the world. It is exactly because such a distinction is made, and understood by everyone, that a doctor is not held legally responsible for unsought side-effects of medical treatments of every kind, not just the treatment of women in pregnancy.
Before and after the Eighth Amendment and up to February this year that was understood to be the position in Ireland. No mother could be denied whatever treatment she needed in pregnancy, even treatment which might have damaging consequences for her unborn baby, even its loss. What was always forbidden was any direct attack on the life of the unborn child — in other words, abortion. This was clear to everyone and was always accepted medical practice. Until February of this year no one argued that mothers were not fully and properly treated for every condition arising in pregnancy in Ireland. No one argued that mothers were suffering or dying in Irish hospitals because abortion was not available. Indeed, in almost every one of the past 15 years Irish rates of maternal mortality have been lower than British rates, despite the fact that the most difficult cases, often aborted elsewhere, are successfully managed in this country.
The Supreme Court decision last March changed everything. The State argued, astonishingly, that the Eighth Amendment actually allowed abortion, and the judges found accordingly. We were, in effect, told by the court that what we actually voted for in 1983 was not a ban on abortion, but rather a right to abortion. This was a nonsense, a decision which clearly flew in the face of obvious intent of the people in voting for the 1983 pro-life amendment.
A wise Government, faced with this amazing reversal of the people's decision, would have moved quickly to arrange a genuine referendum, one that would have given us a real and democratic choice: to reaffirm our 1983 decision to reject abortion, or to accept the Supreme Court decision. Instead, the Government have brought forward an unreasonable and undemocratic referendum. It has simply offered us a choice between, on the one hand, the Supreme Court decision and, on the other hand, that decision less the element of a threat to suicide as a justification for abortion. This is a totally arbitrary and, as I have said, undemocratic choice. We are presented with an ultimatum requiring us to choose between two levels of abortion. It represents the bullying of the electorate: agree to some abortion or, if you do not, we will give you a lot of abortion.
The Government say they totally reject the idea of a threat to suicide as a basis for abortion. Yet, they have no difficulty in threatening us with such a regime if we do not agree to this proposal. This is a reprehensible approach to an issue of such seriousness and one which I hope and believe will be rejected by the people. I would add that it gives me no joy once again to have to oppose a measure brought forward by a Fianna Fáil-led Government.
As for the interruptions, I hope I will never be discourteous to either of the two gentlemen when they are speaking.
I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I clarified this with the Cathaoirleach. Senator Hanafin was sharing his time with a speaker on that side of the House and I am the next speaker.
My apologies, Senator Ryan. I was informed that Senator Honan was the next speaker. I call Senator Ryan.
On a point of order, may I point out that I was perfectly in order and not being discourteous in drawing your attention to a breach of the conventions of the House.
I have called Senator Ryan.
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I apologise for snapping at you; I may be getting crankier as I get older. Perhaps it is time I got out of this place altogether. A book was published some time ago containing, among others, my own and Senator Doherty's favourite prayers. Mine was "May God Give Me Patience". Members of this House have good reason to appreciate that it might be a sincerely uttered prayer from time to time.
May I say, that I agreed with my colleague, Senator Murphy, that the practice of reading scripts in this House should be brought under control. Those of us who want to have a serious debate——
All I will say is that it is a matter for the Committee of Procedure and Privileges, not for the Chair.
I am not criticising you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I am simply expressing an opinion.
I appreciate that the tone of a lot of our debate on this issue is a good deal more restrained than it was ten year ago when I and others like me were pilloried as being abortionists at best, and conspirators against all that were good, holy and decent in Irish society at worst, when we simply said that the original amendment would not work, and that it was meaningless, threatening and ambiguous.
I do not propose to devote the entirety of my half hour to arguing with Senator Hanafin. It defies credulity to have people like Senator Hanafin, some of the Members over there, some of the bishops of my own church, and other people who should have more sense, pretending that they were not warned about the ambiguities of Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution. They were warned by the then and still Director of Public Prosecutions that it could mean a number of different things; they were warned by the then Fine Gael Attorney General that it could mean a number of different things. They were free to make up their own minds, of course, they were; they are not bound to accept opinions. But it is disingenuous to start telling us now that nobody suspected. We told them over and over again that it was impossible to put a precise meaning on the form of words; and what the Members over there and this country got this year, was a classic example — I did not anticipate such an extreme example of what many people warned could come out of it. So let us not have the suggestions — it oozes with unctiousness out of the first pages of the Minister's speech — that nobody could have imagined it. The Senator knew then what the Attorney General said and he knows now what he said.
Let us not fool ourselves. That is what has provoked me from being mild mannered about this. I am fed up of this humbug. I cannot put any other word on it. The objective of this exercise is to protect the unborn poor, because the only ones this alleged commitment to the life of the unborn will affect are those who cannot afford the boat fare to travel to England.
I cannot see what decent value in this society is asserted by saying: if you are poor, then by God we will make sure you obey the finest moral standards, but if you are well off, we will make sure to copperfasten your right to travel and we will even make sure that you know where you are going before you travel. I regard it as an exercise in collective national humbug — and I do not except myself from this because I too will circumnavigate the issue of abortion with some political ease, but it would have been simpler to acknowledge that we made a mistake, delete the blessed thing completely and let us get back to the situation where we did not pretend to be doing something, knowing that it could not be done, knowing that we would be able to close our eyes, noses, our mouths and any other orifices in our body that were offended by the stench of abortion, and let people go to have it done somewhere else and pretend we were superior for doing that.
What value is there to us? What I resent deeply is that what we are watching is an exercise by predominantly middle class men — overwhelmingly men in this House and the other House — to tell poor women that we are going to make them behave according to a set of standards, we will never have to practice ourselves, because we are all well off enough to make sure that we will be able to pay for women who are precious to us to have abortions if we believe that is what is best for them. But we are telling them that because they are poor they cannot have an abortion and we are thumping our craws saying to the Irish nation that we are better than everybody else because we only have abortion when we can afford to pay for it. I find that so revolting and so despicable that my resolve simply to debate the issues contained in the amendment has long ago departed. To what do these people object who want, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins said, this hypothetical abortion-free zone here? Is it morality, because if it is, they ought at least to be consistent. If they believe that abortion is as clearly a matter of murder as shooting somebody with a pistol to their head, then they have a moral obligation to prevent it ever happening. They should stop people travelling. The fact that people concede they have the right to travel to have an abortion means by implication that they believe it is somehow different from the reality of killing.
I do not like abortion. There are lots of reasons for disapproving of it — the values that underlie many of those who advocate abortion, the aesthetics of it, the vulnerability of it, the joy that those of us who have children have had out of the conception, the birth and the growth of children. All those things would make one uneasy about it, but to pretend there is some superior moral value involved in us inscribing in the Constitution a right in one clause and then sticking in two other clauses to make a few bob in their pockets, that does not do any good for the unborn or the born, and does not do any good for any sense of collective honesty in Irish public life. It does not do us one whit of good.
I have a suspicion that the objections are not so much moral as aesthetic, that people do not like the feel of it, the touch of it, the smell of it or the hint of it; and if we can send it 150 or 200 miles away, then we can pretend it is not really there because we will not have to confront it. It is time we confronted Irish life in all its realities. It might be impossible to legislate to positively encourage the 5,000 women we have queueing up here to travel to Britain to have abortions done here instead, but it would be a step in the direction of us confronting the realities of Irish life, of acknowledging that there is no point in inscribing principles in our Constitution and then inscribing sub-principles to subvert what is supposed to be a noble intent of that principle.
Let us not deceive ourselves with the humbug that the reasons for putting in a right to travel is the EC regulation. None of the three EC Treaties conveys an unqualified right to travel. The right to travel is subordinate for various reasons, including the public good. It is more humbug to suggest that the only reasons we are allowing the right to travel is because of EC prescriptions. The EC is the excuse for another exercise in humbug. We are allowing people to travel because we do not have the guts to stop them, no matter what we think of what they are doing, and because we have ducked it, run away from it and avoided it. I have no great enthusiasm for Europe or its free market nonsense, is cruelty to human beings and all that the European economic experiment has done and will continue to do, I have more respect for the people who drafted those Treaties than to believe they drafted them to enable Irish Governments and Irish politicians to duck the consequences of their high flown morality. Where they run away from it when it becomes difficult to sustain in hard cases.
The truth is, notwithstanding the rhetoric, that you have abortion on demand for Irish people. The only qualification is the £100 to get you to where it is available, that is the only threshold. There is no threshold of morality or anything else in this country. We do not tell people they can go to Britain for an abortion if they meet certain conditions about health or anything else, we tell them they can go to Britain for an abortion if they can pay the airfare and, when they get there, can find out where to go. That is all. There are no qualifications about age, consequences or general wellbeing. The only thing we say to them is that they must cough up £100 and then we will let them go but they cannot do that, then we are extremely upright, moral and rigid. However once a person has £100 we are liberal, tolerant, into abortion on demand — whatever phrase you want — provided she has the necessary £100 to pay the fare. I do not like that way of doing our business. I do not like anybody, whether it be those who claim to be my leader in moral and spiritual matters, my own bishops who pretend that they are doing something different, or those like Senator Hanafin, whom I respect in many ways, to duck the hard part of the consequences of their own position. It is time we moved on from that.
The amendment will not save the lives of the unborn. What it will save is our own vain perception of ourselves and our tendency to pretend that we are not like the rest of men. I remind all of us, including myself, what the Lord said about the man who went into the Temple and struck his breast and said "I thank you, Lord, that I am not like the rest of men"— perhaps he should have said "the rest of people". The man at the back who at least confessed to his inadequacies and recognised his failings was seen as a far superior man. In our society we have indulged in a bout of collective Phariseeism on this issue that would do justice to the Pharisee in the scriptures. It is time we acknowledged that we are inadequate and limited. Things happen in Ireland that we do not like; people do things in and outside Ireland that we do not like. It would be more honest and truthful to acknowledge that than to deal with it in this way.
It is not good enough in this spurious and humbug amendment to introduce sub-distinctions between life and health. I do not know how it can be done and quoting verbatim the judgment of one Supreme Court judge, the Chief Justice, is not substitute for rational argument. It is just remotely possible that his lordship did not know what he was talking about; that he did not understand medicine; that he was doing a difficult job under difficult circumstances and ultimately talking nonsense. There is no guarantee of infallibility attached to the pronouncement of the Supreme Court judges.
I have often been told in this House by Members when discussing other issues that judgments' quoted were only opinions. There is something ludicrous about taking the words of a fairly hastily put together judgment by a Chief Justice and conveniently saying that this is the definitive position and then inserting it into the Constitution. The Chief Justice might have been wrong and, judging by the arguments about distinctions between life and health, in my view he was wrong. How he could manage to make a distinction between life and health and then approve of the termination of a pregnancy where suicide was threatened confuses me and suggests to me that he was wrong. The Supreme Court, may I say in very explicit terms, and the Chief Justice are not God. They are ordinary fallible human beings capable of making mistakes.
They are not even bishops.
Bishops are trained in their sphere of pronouncement. In the medical distinctions the Chief Justice was making he has no training. He is a good lawyer but he is not necessarily an authority on how to make distinctions between a woman's life and a woman's health. He is not a woman, he is not a doctor, he is an elderly man with the best intentions in the world but he remains an elderly man with perhaps limited experience of some of life's problems.
The Minister did not satisfy me or many Members of the other House with his attempt to explain the difference between a woman's life and a life threatening illness. He fuzzed and fudged it and said he would leave it to the doctors. Apart from a certain domestic arrangement I am involved in I do not have much sympathy for the medical profession generally. It is humbug to say we will leave it to the doctors.
May I ask a simple question about this amendment? The amendment as it is written says: "it shall be unlawful to terminate the life of an unborn". I do not know what an unborn is. I have never encountered that word as a noun before. It goes on to say:"unless the termination is necessary to save the life of as distinct from the health of the mother where there is illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real and substantial risk to her life". We have heard many arguments. May I raise a new one and somebody may answer it for me? What about a woman in extreme pain from, say, arthritis, who becomes pregnant and who is on a dose of painkillers that could kill an unborn child? There is no threat here to her life because she is only "in pain". If medicines will kill an unborn child what is the position there?
The Minister in his speech said that current medical practice will continue. He might wish it to continue and it may even be his sincere intent that it continue. I would like to know unequivocally how one can reconcile the administration to a woman in extreme pain of powerful painkillers that could kill an unborn child with the wording of that amendment? I do not understand it although I have read it over and over again.
Pain does not kill. It may drive one insane; it may destroy the rest of one's life; it may drive one to suicide but we do not countenance that now, but pain does not kill. If the treatment of the pain kills the unborn child it appears to me that what would be permissible under Roman Catholic teaching would be threatened with illegality under this wording which shows how pointless it is to put something like that into the Constitution.
I have heard it asserted over and over again that women have nothing to fear; that neither their lives nor their health is threatened by this amendment. How many members of the major party opposite have voted in their various health boards not to allow female sterilisation operations in health board hospitals? Where was their concern for the lives and health of women when they said that something as simple and as nonlife threatening — nothing as emotional as abortion — as tubal ligation to protect a woman's health, family, or life would not be allowed? Women have to scrabble around as a result looking for one of two or three consultants in the country who will not give them a lecture on morality, or refer them to a predominantly male ethics committee but will say: "I will discuss it with you and perhaps with your partner and we will come to a decision based on what you believe is best when you have all the information". How many hospitals in the country, with all the talk about our concern for the health of women, will accept a woman's decision that she has had enough children and requests the simplest, least life threatening and most reliable method of contraception available to her which is sterilisation? Very few.
Women subjected to that regime on a simple matter like sterilisation have no reason to trust the authors of this amendment. Legislators who would impose a rigid anti-woman morality on them in what are supposed to be public hospitals are not to be trusted with women's health. Sterilisation can and often is good for a woman's health, for her life, for slowing down the process of ageing and indeed for her financial circumstances. Yet, we refuse to allow it even though pregnancy may kill, may destroy health, may put children at risk and place her in appalling financial circumstances. We decide that is not right but when it comes to the understandably much more difficult area of the termination of a pregnancy we tell women, "You can trust us". There is no reason in the world to believe that because underlying all of this is the conventional wisdom of the Church I am still a member of by the skin of my teeth——
And with great profit to the Senator.
That was unfair. What does it profit a man?
The history of the Church of which Senator Murphy and I are members — he cannot get out of it whether he wants to or not; there is no way out even if he wants to pretend otherwise — is riddled with distrust of women and much of the talk on this issue, as on the issue of female sterilisation is tainted with distrust of women. The implication is that one cannot trust women; that if we allow a reasonably free abortion regime irresponsible women will rush to avail of the facility without a second thought; that if female sterilisation were permitted all women would rush off and be sterilised, thus interfering with the propagation of this fine species of humanity called the Irish. The implication is that women cannot be trusted in all of these matters and that implication underlies the wording here and the reference to suicide in this proposal.
I accept that there is a difficulty about suicide but I find it difficult to stomach male politicians telling women they cannot be trusted to be honest nor can doctors be trusted to know. We have shades here of the slightly hysterical female who has to be minded by the patriarchal man to prevent her doing something that her overwrought emotions would otherwise force her to do. The amendment is paternalistic, patriarchal and essentially anti-woman in its implication which is why this exercise will do this country more harm than good.
On the issue of suicide the Minister refers to international literature on the subject. He said that suicide in pregnancy is very complex and needs careful and objective analysis. Some important conclusions can be drawn, he says, one being that suicide in pregnancy is extremely rare. Let me put a point to the Minister. Given that the Minister rarely responds directly to any point he does not want to talk about I am not too optimistic but I ask if all the international literature comes from Britain, Europe and North America? That is where most international literature is generated; it is rarely generated in the Third World, in China or elsewhere. The one thing common to all those countries is a liberal abortion law which means that most women who might become suicidal because of the pressures of pregnancy have an abortion before the psychiatrist can study them. It is only women who choose to continue or who feel compelled for moral reasons to continue their pregnancies who will be the subjects of these studies. Consequentially it is very difficult to rely on data from other countries where women have a choice about continuing with a pregnancy. Women have to be more than sceptical about this exercise.
In conclusion, I very much regret the way we have dealt with this issue for the last ten years. To the extent that I am still a practising Roman Catholic, I would prefer to persuade people that there are better ways to deal with crisis pregnancies than abortion but I would rely on persuasion alone. I would love to live in a country where pregnancy, in any circumstances, was not treated as a crisis; where the support given people in crisis pregnancies was positive, extensive, non-judgmental, practical; where implications of morality were never near the surface and where we actually trusted women where decent choices were available to them not to choose the route many people find morally objectionable. I do not believe that any country has succeeded in preventing women from having abortions by enacting laws or constitutional amendments. This country failed gloriously to do it and when on one ignominious occasion the senior law officers of the land tried to do something about it, the country erupted in outrage.
The way to deal with this issue if people really want to is by persuasion — persuasion, support, concern, care, hard cash, hard facilities, etc. if that is what we want. The easier route is the route of law and constitutional prohibition which gives us a feeling of being different but then guarantees to prevent a row that it will not matter anyway as long as people have £100 to get out of the country. I find that exercise meaningless.
The threat by the Government to introduce legislation to implement the Supreme Court decision if the amendment on abortion is defeated is perhaps the most hollow threat I have ever heard. There is not the remotest chance of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party supporting legislation more liberal in its intent on abortion than this constitutional amendment. They are quite concerned and conservative on this issue and it is their right to take that view. I know enough about members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party to know that if they were presented with legislation subsequent to the defeat of this amendment which allowed for the termination of pregnancy of up to 16 weeks under the conditions outlined in this amendment plus suicide and asked to put it through the Oireachtas, they would tell the Minister and the Government where to go and what to do with their legislation. Therefore, the threat of something awful and worse if this amendment is defeated is nothing more than a hollow and empty threat.
Nobody has any reason to feel that they should support this amendment because of the alternative threatened by the Government. I will, therefore, be opposing the Amendment of the Constitution on the substantive issue. I would prefer to simply propose to this House the deletion of Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution but given that we must go through this exercise in national humbug I will be supporting the amendments on the right to travel and the right to information and I hope to participate in a campaign to persuade the people of Ireland to give women and men the right to information, the right to travel and to accept this meaningless, entirely contradictory and in many cases, threatening amendment that the Government have offered us.
These three amendments of our Constitution contain many complexities. It is hard to put the whole situation into words but we must see this referendum as an attempt to restore the law to its position prior to the X case. We must give some credit to the mothers and to the doctors of this nation as we take this debate. The amendment, as it stands, will allow all necessary treatment to be provided for the expectant mother even if it would result in the loss of the life of her unborn child and in all circumstances where her life is at risk. It is because of the concern of the Government to ensure that the mother is fully protected that the amendment has been drafted in this way.
The Government differ from the pro life group who have said frequently that there are no medical conditions under which they concede that a direct termination is necessary. This is far from being a unanimous view among the medical profession. It is unreasonable to suggest that the Government should not take account of the possibility that termination of pregnancy may be necessary in certain life threatening conditions.
In formulating its proposals, therefore, the Government have rejected the extreme views on both sides of this debate and the proposed amendment is a measured and balanced approach to an extremely complex problem. There is no human right more fundamental or more important than the right to life. A long and proud tradition in this nation regards the right to life as sacred to the unborn as well as to those who have come to birth.
The amendment proposed in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill will leave undisputed the existing affirmation acknowledged in Article 40.3.3º of the right to life of the unborn with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother. The amendment will be an addition to the existing Article 40.3.3º, not a substitute. The intent of the amendment is to afford full protection for the lives of pregnant women. Under the amendment where a pregnant woman is suffering from a physical medical condition so that her life is endangered the pregnancy may be lawfully terminated if necessary.
The amendment, therefore, accepts the test case in the Supreme Court decision in every respect except suicide; it negates the decision in respect of suicide only. A letter in Saturday's newspapers signed by 13 doctors, including distinguished obstetricians in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Galway, Wexford, Letterkenny and Portlaoise stated that continuation of pregnancy can pose a real danger to a small number of women and that whatever else results from the current controversy Irish women must be protected from such dangers.
The Government's proposal is clear and straightforward and will not prevent necessary action being taken to save the lives of mothers as is done at present. To introduce such a distinction into the amendment would introduce confusion and uncertainty for doctors, patients and the courts and this is something the Government cannot condone.
Under the amendment women will continue to receive all necessary medical treatment to protect their health; current medical practice in this regard will not be affected. Under current medical practice the question of termination of pregnancy arises only where there is an absolute threat to the mother's life. Let there be no doubt that the amendment as it stands will allow all necessary treatment to be provided for an expectant mother even if it were to result in the loss of her unborn child. The proposed Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution seeks to maintain a just and proper balance between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child. The Government at this stage are not persuaded of the need for legislation, although they will, of course, listen carefully to views expressed during this debate.
It is the view of the Government that separate referenda offer a greater degree of choice in respect of each issue; therefore there are three ballot papers. Senator Brendan Ryan stated now that he has no trouble with the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments but he has with the Twelfth Amendment and, therefore he is gong to campaign in support of the former and against the latter. This proves that the Minister and Government made the right decision in having three separate ballot papers. The reason I say that, a Chathaoirligh, is because Senator Ryan and I would differ about supporting the three amendments and yet there has been criticism of the Government's decision to offer three ballot papers. He has made case for three ballot papers in this referendum.
I listened with great care to Minister Flynn's contribution in the Dáil and he was quite specific about the legislation that would follow if the Twelfth Amendment is rejected. He is not holding this out as a threat over anybody but he said in his closing address no contribution had convinced him that he should now prepare legislation to be enacted or voted on after 3 December.
The right to travel is a basic right and there is no point in referring to it. Nobody has the right to deny another person the right to travel out of the country or into it.
Everyone is zooming in on the Twelfth Amendment but, as a mother, I think that more information and counselling should be available to expectant mothers. People sometimes travel for abortion in absolute despair and haste when pregnancy is confirmed. Some who have proper counselling and information decide to stay and have their babies. I ask the Minister to improve counselling and information services; Minister O'Dea might note what I have said on this because if there was more counselling some women might never part with their babies.
I have listened for weeks to men talking about this matter in the Houses and outside. We have many experts and certainly men have as much right to talk about this issue as I have. However, there is a difference. To talk of doing away with a baby is a horrible thought when one considers the joy of carrying a baby and seeing it grow up. I remember the joy my two children brought to me. There is a human side to this and women who have talked about it seem to have been put into a bracket as being anti-this or that. If women make their voice heard in this long debate before people vote we might convince some who are confused and some who have already made their minds up to vote "No"; we might bring them around to vote "Yes" on the substantive issue. Only a mother can talk about the wonderful experience of carrying a child.
I have trouble with the way Irish women are being misjudged and underestimated in this debate in their love for children. Many people are being misjudged. It is being said they will not make proper mothers. That is quite wrong. I do not understand why there would be confusion among doctors. They would be given clear guidelines on protecting both the expectant mother and baby. Therefore, it is fundamentally pro life and cannot be regarded as comforting to those who want direct abortion in Ireland.
I want to refer to what the Minister, Deputy O'Connell, said in his contribution:
The complexities of the issues raised in this debate have implications not only for individual Members of the House and for the general public, but also for the medical profession. It is quite clear that medical care and the provision of that care at the margins for women when life is at risk should remain at the forefront of debate
It is the medical profession who are called upon to deal with the issues of life and death, with the complex legal and treatment consideration of patients under their care. It is individual doctors who will be at the forefront of the decision making process implicit in the issues raised by the referendum on the substantive issue. It is not the referendum itself that brings this about, it is a fact of medical life.
...I am aware that there is some concern among individual members of the profession of the implications of the referenda if approved by the people and the implications in relation to the current practice of medicine. It is important, that given the pivotal role of the profession in the treatment and management of cases that any concern of the profession generally in relation to the issues raised be addressed properly and adequately. If those concerns warrant it I am fully available to the representative organisations to tease out the issues in so far as their members are concerned and offer whatever assistance is appropriate in the best interest of the profession and of medical care.
Is that from his speech in the Dáil?
No, his Seanad speech.
The medical profession either as individual doctors or within their representative or professional organisations will assess the implications of the referenda particularly those on information and especially the substantive issue. I have no doubt that the profession will look to the Medical Council to give it guidance in matters of ethical conduct and behaviour. This is as it should be as it has the statutory function to so advise. [This is the important part.] It will be the case that the current code of ethics of the Council will require scrutiny in the light of the outcome of the referenda. Whether this scrutiny will result in change is, of course, a matter for the Council in the full knowledge of the legal situation which will pertain at the time.
This has not been an easy decision for the Government. Some of my colleagues said there is a more commonsense approach to and calmness about this debate than there was in 1983. I do not think any of us want a repetition of 1983.
People say the issues of travel and information should be put to the people and that the substantive issue should be dealt with by way of legislation. I am a firm believer that the people are the best to decide the Twelfth Amendment, awkward as it may be. Senator Ross and I have served for a long time and we have heard over and over again in different debates that we do not have the right to make decisions, even though we are elected, but that the people should make the choice. The people will be given a choice on these three amendments in December. I am happy about that. If they reject the Twelfth Amendment, so be it. I am not threatening anybody but I hope they understand the implications of voting against it. I am not quoting or defending any Minister. I have looked carefully at the alternative if the amendment is not passed and it worries me.
I ask the Minister to think about the few points I have raised. I ask people not to underestimate the women or the medical profession. It appears we do not trust a pregnant woman, perhaps with the father of the child, to make the right decision. This is a delicate human issue. I believe we should have more trust in women and have confidence in the doctors who have high moral standards to save the life of the mother and child. If the unborn child must die to save the life of the mother, so be it. I remember a mother was very distressed because she was leaving seven children; she might have been saved if the proper medical care had been available. We should trust our marvellous doctors and our women to make the correct judgment; we should leave it to the people to make the right decision on 3 December. I will not refer to the alternative because it frightens me. I thank the Minister for being present.
I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by Senator Honan's speech. I suppose it is worthwhile in this debate to reflect on the fact that Senator Honan and I debated this issue in 1983 and that, predictably enough, we were on opposite sides. It is worthwhile reflecting that we are again debating a similar issue in 1992 and that we are again, predictably enough, on opposite sides. I cannot help but comment on what I thought to be the humanity, moderation and the commonsense of what Senator Honan said. I do not think it would be politically embarrassing or patronising for me to say that I believe her attitude has moderated and I hope mine has as well.
Despite the very genuine, sincere but very intense feelings felt by Senators, Deputies and people generally, we are shedding those extreme elements who have put pressure on us. I do not believe the debate in the Dáil or here has been as divisive or as difficult as it was in 1983. I believe all politicians are coming to an understanding of each others point of view. I do not believe we are quite as far apart as we were then and that is a reflection on the political parties and on the politicians. It is to the credit of all politicians that there are groups working outside this House who are attacking from all sides on this issue — groups with whom we may have had strong association in the past.
Despite the awful situation in which we find ourselves, the Irish body politic has moved forward a little and has moved nearer to the centre of political and world opinion on issues like this. Our attitudes are less emotional, more adult and responsible on all sides on this issue now. That does not mean I agree with what Senator Honan and the Government have said. I profoundly disagree with it, as they would disagree undoubtedly with what I have to say. The attitude of the Government shows a great deal more sympathy and understanding of the situation in which Irish women find themselves than in 1983 and that is a marker for Irish politicians and for Ireland. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the way it is perceived in the world.
I have not had the privilege, and I do not know how Members of this House have had, to read comments from newspapers or magazines outside this country on these referenda. I read some of the reaction to the X case earlier this year and there was no doubt the world was again laughing at the sort of contortions we get ourselves into on issues of this sort. This is most unfortunate and was the result of the 1983 amendment of the Constitution. It is a reflection of the fact that we are still an extraordinarily immature nation and people on issues such as abortion, divorce and family planning — what are known as the social issues. For some reason, we simply cannot cope with them.
It is an unfortunate coincidence that today was the fourth anniversary of the Norris case in the European Court of Human Rights — a similar issue with which the Irish people and Government cannot cope. That case is similar because it has similar pluralist overtones and it is one we have failed to tackle. It is one which the Government — I am not making a party political speech, I am just making a statement — due to pressures of which we are all aware, have felt unable to tackle at this time. That is unfortunate but it is a reflection of our attitudes and our cowardice as politicians. We have taken the line of least resistance in the Norris case and we are taking a line of minimum resistance in this case.
It must be remembered this is not a Government initiative, it is an issue which has been forced upon us by circumstances. It is not an initiative which would have been taken by the Government in the normal course of events. It is an event to which the Government reacted and I suspect they have done so in the wrong way.
In some ways the X case presented the Legislature and Government with an opportunity for a certain amount of initiative and imagination. The Government could have taken the bull by the horns and decided they would tackle the issue of abortion and other social issues, root and branch. Instead, they reacted by simply tackling the issues put to them. They did not say: "We are going to clean this one out once and for all". That attitude would have made life far easier for themselves and for posterity.
I refer the House to the statement of my church, the Church of Ireland, where they said quite unequivocally that they believed matters of this sort such as abortion were not suitable for tinkering around with and putting into the Constitution. I believe that the Constitution has been a prison for certain matters of this sort. It incarcerates legislation. I do not believe that this issue or the issue of divorce shold be constitutional matters.
Is there something wrong with our legislators that they are so irresponsible, immature, childish or stupid that they cannot be trusted to deal with thorny, difficult, social issues of this sort? They are entrusted — many would say wrongly — with running the economy and with the social issues of housing, and employment. Many would say they should not be entrusted with all those issues because they have made such an absolute mess of them. However, for some extraordinary reason, while we are entrusted with all these responsibilities towards serious matters like taxation, employment, housing and all the great issues today, apparently we cannot be trusted to deal with abortion. That has to be left to the people to decide on by way of referendum. I find that unacceptable.
It would have been a great opportunity for the Government to say that the Supreme Court has complicated our lives even further and has made it imperative that this issue and several others should be taken out of the Constitution. Abortion, divorce and other such issues would no longer be matters which should be part of the Constitution. The Legislature, I suggest, would be a perfectly adequate guardian of these issues. Instead, we have decided not just to take cognisance of what occurred in the Supreme Court in the X case but to react to it and allow the Supreme Court once again to take the lead and make the laws for this country. That is a bad reflection on the Legislature, it is a Pontius Pilate attitude we should deplore.
The Supreme Court is consistently making law here. It is not just on the issue of abortion. It was the Supreme Court who made the law on another very thorny subject which politicians refused to tackle, that was on the issue of extradition. When we have an issue we find too hot to handle in political terms, we devise a formula of words which we know is conveniently ambiguous. We can interpret it in a way which is politically convenient and then we hand it up to the Supreme Court to interpret. Having done our job very badly we give the Supreme Court an impossible task with material which is ambiguous. One Supreme Court judge will interpret it one way and another one will interpret it a different way, as we can see from the very obvious divisions in the judgments handed down to us by the Supreme Court.
It is a clever device to create a formula of words which give enough material and evidence for politicians to say they have done their job but leave it to somebody to actually decide what it means. This amendment is certainly ambiguous in its meaning, as was the amendment in 1983. What distresses me about the 1983 amendment is that everybody knew in 1983 that we would have constitutional cases of this sort and were quite happy with that.
It must be remembered that the people are not given a real choice in these referenda. They are simply given a choice of voting "Yes" or "No" for a formula of words which is put before them. The people cannot amend these words or make suggestions. In that sense they have far less power than the Legislature has to amend the words in front of them. It is essentially a dishonest exercise which is created as a device for letting politicians off the hook. Not only do we put a formula of words to the people but the words are so ambiguous they can take what meaning they like out of them and then we leave it to the Supreme Court to interpret the words. The result of the disastrous formula of words which was passed in 1983 is that in 1992 three amendments of the Constitution are necessary. This is as a direct result of our stupidity in 1983.
Let nobody say in this House that this amendment will not be challenged in the Supreme Court. I gather we already have a challenge to this referendum in the courts. It is as certain as night follows day that what we are passing today will be challenged in the Supreme Court, that it will lead to more Supreme Court cases as the years go by and I would guess it will be not nine years time before that happens. I dread to think how many challenges and how many cases will come before the Supreme Court.
If the 1983 wording were ambiguous the wording we are being asked to put through today is even more ambiguous, complicated and ambivalent. We are sowing the seeds today of a far worse problem than we sowed in 1983, certainly on the substantive issue, as it is known. The line to be drawn between the health and life of the mother will create impossible problems for doctors and judges. There just is no such line. The Government and Opposition know that and doctors know that. No doctor is superhuman and can say in every case that the mother's life is in no danger but that her health is in danger. Medical science is not so exact as to be able to make such a pronouncement and those who drafted this legislation must have been aware of that.
It is, of course, a highly convenient form of words. It sounds like a serious distinction is being made but doctors have quoted many instances where they will not be able to tell exactly whether the health or the life of the mother is endangered in certain situations. That will inevitably lead to a series of court cases, far more numerous than those we have had already, where the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother will be the matter in dispute. I do not look forward to that.
Cuireadh an díospóireacht ar athló.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.