The Minister is welcome. I call him to address the House.
Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995: Second Stage.
Limerick East): The Bill I am bringing before the Seanad today sets out to honour the commitments given to the Irish people in 1992 when they voted in favour of the constitutional amendment on the freedom to give and obtain information about services lawfully available in other states. It reflects the appropriate balance between the constitutional rights and freedoms bearing on the question of abortion information. I would hope that it will, therefore, receive the full support of the House.
Aspects of the Bill have been criticised from several quite different perspectives and one of my main concerns in this afternoon's address will be to show that the arguments made by those opposed to the Bill are incorrect. Some are wrong in fact, some are wrong in law and all are inconsistent with the wishes of the people as expressed very clearly in 1992. It is important to remind ourselves of the background to the Bill. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983 inserted Article 40.3.3º which reads:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as is practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
The Supreme Court decided in 1988 — in the Open Door Counselling and Dublin Well Woman Centre case — and again in 1989 — in the Grogan case — that the dissemination of information on abortion, such as the addresses and telephone numbers of a foreign abortion service and the method of communication with it was unlawful having regard to Article 40.3.3º.
The Supreme Court injunction preventing Open Door Counselling and the Dublin Well Woman Centre from providing information such as names and addresses of abortion services was appealed to the European Commission on Human Rights on the basis that they were in breach of Ireland's obligations under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In October 1992 the European Court of Human Rights held that Ireland was indeed in breach of Article 10 of the convention — this Article relates to freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information.
In the intervening period, as Senators will clearly recall, the abortion issue again came before the Supreme Court in the context of the X case. The court found that Article 40.3.3º would, in fact, permit an abortion where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother which could not be avoided by any other means. I do not propose to retrace the consequences of that decision except in so far as they have a bearing on the present Bill, but the House is, of course, aware that the Government established a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with all the issues arising from it and that the deliberations of that sub-committee led to the three referenda which took place in November 1992. My understanding is that the Cabinet sub-committee was chaired by the then Minister for Justice, Mr. Flynn, and included the then Minister for Health, Dr. John O'Connell and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Desmond O'Malley. The referendum on information sought to add the following wording to Article 40.3.3º:
This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State.
This referendum was passed by a 60:40 majority.
I now want to look in detail at what the electorate had been told by the Government about the purpose, the implications and the intended consequences of this amendment. This will show clearly that the Bill which I am now proposing is precisely in line with the understanding given to the electorate at that time. In advance of the referendum the Government Information Services issued a pamphlet which was distributed to every household in the country. This dealt with the key questions and answers in relation to each of the three referenda. The details given in the pamphlet as regards the information amendment were based largely on the Heads of a Bill approved by the Government, on the recommendation of the Cabinet sub-committee which, as I said, included Ministers Flynn, O'Connell and O'Malley. The introduction to that pamphlet explains the reason for each of the referenda. In relation to the information referendum it says:
Previous court decisions had laid down that disseminating such information about abortion is unlawful. Following the "X" case, it would be lawful in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the expectant mother — but only in those cases. The European Court of Human Rights has recently found the present restrictions to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. This will also be resolved by the amendment.
The pamphlet about the information amendment is relatively short. I am going to quote it in full. It consists of three questions and a supplied answer in each case.
What will this amendment do?
It will enshrine in the Constitution that Article 40.3.3º cannot be used to limit the freedom to receive and impart information, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law.
What will it permit and not permit?
The amendment would permit non-directive counselling but not abortion referral.
What conditions will be laid down by law?
The Government have said that the legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling is also given on all the alternative options open to her. It will not be permitted to promote abortion, or to encourage the woman to select it in preference to the other options, or to provide an abortion referral service.
The legislation will also permit general factual material concerning abortion to be published in the media as long as it does not seek to promote abortion. However, such material will not be permitted on billboards, wallposters or leaflets delivered to homes.
As can be seen from what I have read out, the pamphlet was crystal clear in relation to the purpose of the referendum and the legislation which would follow if the amendment was passed.
In particular, it stated explicitly that the purpose of the amendment was to legalise such information as had been found to be illegal by the Irish courts, and which was now restricted in a manner which the European Court of Human Rights had found to be in breach of the convention. Since the case before the European Court specifically related to information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and methods of communication with abortion services, the electorate could not have been in any doubt that the amendment covered that kind of information.
The pamphlet also stated explicitly that the provision of an abortion referral service would not be permitted.
The Bill is consistent with all these commitments. I will return to some of these points later when I deal with the criticisms which have been made of the Bill. First, however, I would like to place the Bill in context and explain how it will support the Government's overall objective of minimising the circumstances in which women seek to have abortions.
The Government has decided to take a comprehensive approach to the problem of abortion. It should be clearly understood that we have an abortion problem, and a significant one. The latest official figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in the United Kingdom show that 4,399 women who had pregnancy terminations in Britain in 1993 declared themselves to be resident in this jurisdiction. That figure alone is equivalent to almost 9 per cent of our annual live birth rate, but the reality is that we do not know how many Irish women have abortions in Britain. We do not know how many choose to conceal their Irish address and give instead the address of a friend or relative living in Britain. The true rate may well be significantly higher than the official census figures suggest.
Whatever the true figure may be, the fact is that each year a very considerable number of Irish women decide for one reason or another that they cannot go through with their pregnancy and travel to Britain to have it terminated. No matter what one's perspective on abortion may be, it cannot be denied that this represents a serious problem. I am certain that virtually everyone in the House and in the wider population, even those who would describe themselves as "pro-choice" in circumstances where there is an unwanted pregnancy, would agree that it would be preferable to avoid the perceived need for an abortion in the first place.
For the first time, an Irish Government is going to take on this problem in a serious way. The policy agreement between the three parties states that, in tandem with the enactment of the information legislation, the Government will put in place research, education and counselling with the objective of minimising the circumstances in which such high numbers of women seek to have abortions. This objective has two obvious components: first, to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and, second, to reduce the extent to which unwanted pregnancies end in abortion.
The problem of unwanted pregnancy ending in abortion is not particular to any age group, despite the common perception. The UK abortion figures for women with Irish addresses show that less than 1 per cent of the women are under 16 years of age, about 16 per cent are aged from 16 to 19 and about 36 per cent are in the 20 to 24 age group. Taking these three categories together, we see that only slightly more than half the women are under 25. This suggest that a number of different approaches need to be implemented to deal with different aspects of the problem. It also suggests that we need to find out a lot more about the factors which lead to the problem.
The Department of Health will commission a major study to identify the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and those factors which result in the option of abortion. With a better understanding of these factors, we will be in a better position to target preventative policies where they will be most effective.
The research will not be focused solely on women who have abortions but will also cover women who have proceeded with crisis pregnancies. We will be consulting with counsellors, doctors and experts in research before finalising the terms of reference of the study. We will also be talking to a number of research bodies of national standing, such as the Health Research Board, the Economic and Social Research Institute and relevant faculties in the universities to determine which one would be most suited to carrying out the research. The co-operation of the various agencies and organisations who assist women with unwanted pregnancies will be very important and I sincerely hope it will be forthcoming.
The results of the research study will be particularly useful as a basis for the development of an effective and properly targeted education programme to help reduce unwanted pregnancy and the Health Promotion Unit in the Department of Health will give priority to the development of this. It should be recognised as well that the programme of relationships and sexuality education, which is being introduced into schools by my colleague, the Minister for Education, will play an important role in promoting an understanding of sexuality and a knowledge of reproduction in a moral, spiritual and social framework.
In addition to research and education, the Government's programme recognises the importance of counselling for women with crisis pregnancies — counselling which is accessible and professional and which is carried out in a sympathetic way. For most women faced with this situation, their own doctor is ideally placed as the first point of contact. The Department of Health has asked the Irish College of General Practitioners to examine how best to provide pregnancy counselling through family doctors. This does not imply an obligation on any individual doctor to provide information about abortion. Indeed, there is now an explicit conscientious objection clause in the Bill. Nevertheless, I expect that the full range of pregnancy counselling will be available within the family doctor service as a whole.
It is not the intention, however, that only family doctors will provide this service. I appreciate the work which is already being done by voluntary agencies and they will be encouraged to develop their services further. The Department of Health is already providing funding, through the health boards, for a number of voluntary agencies which offer pregnancy counselling, such as Cura, Life and Cherish. The support provided to these agencies amounts at present to about £70,000. I am satisfied, however, that we need to provide considerably more funding to the wide spectrum of voluntary agencies providing services to women with crisis pregnancies, so that women in all parts of the country will have a choice of accessible services.
The Department of Health is now consulting with the health boards to work out the needs in each region. When these requirements have been identified, I will be making significant funding available to ensure that counselling is available wherever it is needed. I am initially setting aside a provision of £200,00 for this purpose.
I should also mention that, as part of the Government's policy agreement, the Department of Health will shortly be issuing guidelines to the health boards for the development of a comprehensive family planning service. Under these guidelines, the boards will be asked to provide comprehensive services to all those who need them on a basis which is equitable, accessible and offers choice between health board and voluntary services. They will provide the services through health board clinics, maternity hospitals or units, general practitioners, voluntary organisations and pharmacies. Particular emphasis will be placed on providing services to disadvantaged or at-risk groups, and to persons with special needs.
Having looked at the background to this Bill, and the context in which I am proposing it, I will now explain its objectives and its content. The Bill has five objectives: to clarify the legal entitlements and obligations of persons or agencies who give abortion information; to ensure that any doctor or advice agency who provides abortion information to pregnant women does so only in the context of full counselling on all the available options without any advocacy or promotion of abortion; to prohibit such a doctor or advice agency from referring women to pregnancy termination services, but without interfering with the ethical obligation on a doctor or counsellor to ensure the safety of the patient; to ensure that abortion information made available to the general public — for example, in newspapers, books or broadcasts — is factual and does not advocate or promote abortion; and to prohibit the provision of abortion information by means of billboards, public notices or distributing unsolicited leaflets so that abortion information will not be imposed on the public in a manner which will be offensive to some.
It is important to bear in mind that the scope of the Bill is confined to a specific type of information and this is defined as information which is likely to be required by women in availing themselves of pregnancy termination services. Thus the Bill does not apply to more general information, such as information about the nature of abortion. Such information was not affected by the various court cases I mentioned and there is no need to regulate it over and above the prohibitions on promoting abortion which are already in the censorship Acts. The Bill uses "Act information" to refer to this type of information which is covered in the Bill. I will do likewise for convenience.
I have already referred to the emphasis which the Government will place upon pregnancy counselling and the Bill is an important element of this. Research has shown that the majority of Irish women travelling to the United Kingdom for abortions have not received any counselling before travelling. Research has also shown that where counselling is received, a considerable number of women decided against abortion. It is clear, therefore, that we need to ensure that women who are worried about their pregnancies do not feel that their only option is to travel to England to seek an abortion without first obtaining sympathetic advice and counselling as well as whatever information they may need. In many cases, this may result in the continuation of a pregnancy to term which might otherwise have been terminated. Where this is not the case, the doctor or counsellor will be in a position to ensure the patient's safety by providing information on safe and reputable services, by providing the woman with any medical records or notes which are relevant to her care, and by having the woman return for any post-abortion treatment or counselling which may prove necessary.
The provisions of the Bill dealing with pregnancy counselling apply to doctors, advice centres or other people or agencies who offer information, advice or counselling to the public in relation to pregnancy. The Bill does not involve any restriction on the giving of information to a pregnant woman by a private individual such as a relative or friend.
Where such a doctor or agency is asked to give information, advice or counselling to a woman in relation to her pregnancy, Act information can only be given in the context of full, truthful and objective counselling on all the options open to her, without any advocacy or promotion of abortion. The Act information must relate to services which are legal where they are provided.
Nothing in the Bill obliges any individual or agency to provide Act information, and it now includes an explicit conscientious objection clause to confirm this. The obligation to give full counselling on all available options applies only where Act information is being given; pregnancy counselling which does not include Act information is not restricted by the Bill.
The Bill does not preclude a doctor or agency, in the context of giving Act information and information on the other available options, from encouraging the woman concerned not to have an abortion. Thus, while the Bill permits "non-directive" counselling, it does not impose an obligation on doctors or agencies to provide this; they are free to provide counselling either in a non-directive manner or in a manner which is directive away from, but not towards, the option of abortion. Some agencies regard non-directive counselling as fundamental to their approach. Equally, there are doctors and counsellors who will be prepared to give Act information but will also seek to encourage the woman to choose other options. The Bill does not preclude either approach.
There are also a number of provisions in the Bill to prohibit doctors or agencies who are involved in giving Act information from having any financial links with abortion services, or from deriving any financial or other benefit arising from the choice of abortion in preference to the other available options. The purpose of these provisions is to protect the bona fides of those providing counselling and to ensure that they are not only objective but are seen to be so.
The Bill prohibits any doctor or agency involved in pregnancy counselling from making an appointment or any other arrangement, for or on behalf of a woman, with a pregnancy termination service outside the State. While this would prohibit the sending of a letter of referral to a specific service provider, the Bill explicitly permits the giving to the woman of a copy of her medical records or other relevant records or notes.
The objective is to prohibit the referral of patients to pregnancy termination services but without interfering with the ethical obligation on a doctor or counsellor to ensure the safety of the patient. Thus, where a patient, following full counselling, decides to proceed with the option of abortion, it will be permitted to give her such information as she will require to avail herself of a reputable and safe service and to provide her with a copy of her medical records or other records or notes which may be relevant to the treatment she will receive. I will return later to the criticism which this provision has received since the publication of the Bill.
The provisions of the Bill dealing with Act information given to the public by such means as newspapers, books, magazines, broadcasts, public meeting, etc., are quite straightforward. The services concerned must be lawful in the jurisdiction in which they are provided and the information must comply with any legal restrictions which apply in the jurisdiction concerned. It must be truthful and objective, it cannot advocate or promote abortion and it cannot be accompanied by any such advocacy or promotion.
Such information cannot be made available by billboards or public notices or by unsolicited distribution of books, newspapers, leaflets and so on. These restrictions are in line with those proposed in 1992 and appear to be generally accepted as appropriate. The Bill also provides that other legislation which could be relevant to abortion information, such as the Censorship Acts, will not apply in any case where the Bill applies so as to avoid confusion as to which legislation is to be enforced in a particular case.
The Bill includes standard enforcement provisions which I will discuss in more detail on Committee Stage. Two matters are worth noting. Prosecutions will be a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions not the Garda Síochána, and the seizure provisions will not apply to any medical records and other records or notes relevant to a patient's care. I am sure Senators will agree the privacy of such records should be protected.
It will be clear from the overview I have just given that the Bill closely reflects the outline given in 1992. It derives from the Heads of the Bill which were approved by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government. It was greatly advanced by my predecessor, now Minister for the Environment, and the draft as it then stood was accepted by Fianna Fáil in the negotiations on the formation of a Government last November.
Since then a review of the legal position by the Attorney General has enabled me to resolve one difficulty in the earlier draft which involved potential conflict with the 1992 commitments. I now present a Bill which has the full support of the three Government parties, which is consistent with what was agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats when in Government and which should therefore command consensus support in the House. I hope that will be the case.
As legislators we have the difficult responsibility of finding the delicate balance between the different rights and freedoms in this area. We do not have the luxury of those outside the House who can emphasise the rights and freedoms which support their viewpoint and ignore those which do not. The Irish people, through their decisions in the different referenda, have delineated the boundaries within which we must legislate and the democratic process demands that we do so.
I will look at the two main criticisms which have been made of the Bill, each from a different perspective, and show that neither can be sustained. The pro-life campaign organisation has based its opposition to the Bill on the argument that the electorate's understanding of "information" in the 1992 referendum did not include specific details such as names and addresses of abortion services. Its spokespeople have argued the information amendment was simply an affirmation of what was already accepted as true — that there was nothing illegal in discussing abortion in broad general terms. They thus claim the amendment, despite the fact that they campaigned against it, was merely declaratory and involved no additionality to what was already legal. If this were so we must ask why they put such time, energy and money into campaigning against it.
What is said now by the pro-life campaign is simply untrue and the evidence for this comes not alone from the literature circulated to the public by the Government at the time but also from that circulated by the pro-life campaign itself. As I stated, the Government's pamphlet said the amendment would resolve the fact that the European Court of Human Rights had found against the decisions of the Irish courts that disseminating information about abortion was in breach of Article 40.3.3º. These cases related to names and addresses, etc. The amendment could hardly have resolved this if it did not permit names, addresses and other factual information.
Let us also turn to the leaflet the pro-life campaign produced which was also distributed throughout the country. This argued for a "No" vote on the information amendment and gave the following reason, which I quote in full:
The word "information" means assistance and advice in obtaining abortions, abortion referral and advertising. At present all factual information on abortion is legal in Ireland. All that is forbidden is aiding someone to have an abortion abroad, making a booking in a foreign clinic or supplying the name and address of one.
This amendment would make it legal in Ireland to assist in the destruction of an unborn child abroad. It would also eventually legalise the advertising of foreign abortion clinics in the Irish media.
In other words, the pro-life campaign told the electorate to vote down the information amendment because it would allow the supplying of the names and addresses of abortion clinics. The people of Ireland weighed up this advice and rejected it by a 60:40 majority. The response of the pro-life campaign was to attempt to rewrite history and to deny that the information amendment meant what they themselves said it did at the time.
Finally, the pro-life campaign has also argued that, since the giving of names and addresses was found to be in breach of Article 40.3.3º by the Supreme Court in the 1980s, it cannot now be permitted even after the information amendment. This is a rather strange argument. As I have shown, the information amendment arose as a result of those Supreme Court judgments and has the express purpose of precluding Article 40.3.3º from limiting the freedom to obtain or provide information. It is therefore quite clearly incorrect to suggest, as the pro-life campaign does, that this Bill could be unconstitutional on the basis of the Supreme Court judgments in question.
The truth of the pro-life campaign's position is very clear. They do not accept, and have never accepted, the democratic decision of the Irish people in 1992 to allow the freedom to give and receive abortion information within the constraints which the Government promised to put in place.
The truth of this Bill is even clearer. It respects the democratic decision which the people made in 1992. It lays down the conditions in law under which information will be provided in accordance with the 1992 amendment. It totally complies with all relevant provisions of the Constitution and all commitments made to the people in 1992. The Government's position is straightforward. The 1992 information amendment was approved by the electorate on the basis of crystal clear assurances from the Government as to what it entailed. This included a commitment that abortion referral would not be permitted. The Bill follows through on this commitment, as it must.
The same arguments apply equally to those who oppose the Bill from an entirely different perspective. I cannot claim to be surprised that those who would prefer a different approach to abortion than that reflected in the Constitution are opposed to the Bill. However, I would draw attention to the balanced comments which have been made in the national media by those who do not have any such agenda.
Eminent legal experts, for example, are quite satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the constitutional imperative. Professor David Gwynn Morgan, analysing the Bill for The Irish Times on 24 February, argues that the distinction drawn between, on the one hand, the provision of information and, on the other, the advocacy of abortion or the making of referral arrangements, seems to be a distinction which fits well with a realistic compromise between the 1983 and 1992 amendments. Dr. Gerard Hogan has a similar view and, of course, the Bill would not be before the House if the Attorney General did not also share that view.
The suggestion, made by some critics, that the Bill interferes in any way with the continuity of care provided by the doctor to his or her patient is quite untrue and has been refuted by doctors. It has been confirmed that, in normal practice, a doctor rarely, if ever, makes an appointment for a patient to see a specialist, be it a physician, a surgeon, a gynaecologist or whatever. The names, addresses and phone numbers of the relevant specialists are provided and the patient proceeds to make the appointment. The position in relation to women who decide to proceed with an abortion will be exactly the same.
Indeed, those with an expertise in the area of counselling in general have also made the point that it is usually beneficial to allow a break between the counselling process and the arrival at a decision. It is important that the person receiving pregnancy counselling be given time to reflect and to weigh up all the information and advice that has been received, before arriving at what will be a decision of immense importance. This important principle would be undermined if a counselling session could conclude with an instant decision and the immediate making of an abortion appointment.
The doctor will, of course, be able to ensure the safety of the woman by providing details of reputable services, by providing the woman with all the medical or other records which will be relevant to her care and by seeking to have the woman return for any post-abortion treatment or counselling that may be necessary.
Over the past week, the constitutionality of the Bill has been questioned on the grounds that it conflicts with the Supreme Court decision in the X case. Following the arguments made to that end in the Dáil, I again had the benefit of the advice of the Attorney General and of senior counsel between Committee Stage and Report Stage and I remain satisfied that the Bill is consistent with the Constitution.
I am quite certain that any objective analysis shows that what I am proposing is correct not only from a legal and constitutional perspective, but also from the viewpoint of good practice as regards both doctors and counsellors. I am asking the House to agree that the Bill, as it stands, provides the necessary balance between the different constitutional rights and freedoms and is fully in keeping with the wishes articulated by the electorate. We should not allow ourselves to be pulled away from this, in either direction, by the lobby groups outside the House.
In conclusion, I have recognised from the start that unanimity on this issue is not achievable. There are those who would wish to see a more restrictive approach and those who would wish to see a more liberal approach. The bottom line, however, is that the issue was decided in 1992. The Irish people were presented with a proposed constitutional amendment, with clear explanations of what it meant and with explicit commitments as to how it would be implemented. The Bill which I am bringing before the House today honours, to the letter, the understanding upon which the electorate voted in 1992 and I commend it to the House.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He seems to have weathered the storm reasonably well to date. I agree with him that the Houses of the Oireachtas are the primary places to implement legislation and that they should do it with an air of independence.
In addressing the Seanad today on the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancy) Bill, 1995, I am conscious of the overall decision of the people in the 1992 referendum which clearly obliges the Houses of the Oireachtas to enact legislation to comply with that decision. On the other hand, I am conscious and clearly concerned that 4,000 Irish women travel annually to Great Britain to have abortions.
The reason that this Bill is before the House at this particular time is a matter of conjecture. Some would say there is a hint of political opportunism and that the Bill was brought forward with unacceptable haste. There is, of course, the question of whether there was adequate consultation with the main Opposition parties, and I do not accept that there was.
With regard to the provisions of the Bill and what it attempts to do and, more importantly, what effect it will have on society, therein lie the questions. I am opposed to some of the provisions of the Bill and I have reservations about others. On Committee Stage I will be tabling amendments on behalf of Fianna Fáil and I will be seeking clarification and assurances from the Minister on other provisions of the Bill at that Stage.
Abortion is unacceptable to the vast majority of Irish people as they clearly demonstrated in referenda in 1983 and 1992. Therefore, this Bill, while not dealing directly with the substantive issue of abortion, must clearly reflect the decision of the Irish people. In order to do this, it must not contain any provision which will assist in law to provide abortion services anywhere, at home or abroad. While I am satisfied that this Bill does not have a provision for referral for abortion services, I am not convinced that it does not assist in some way to obtain abortion services outside of Ireland.
Abortion is big business in certain parts of the world and organisations, groups and individuals have made vast profits at the expense of isolated and sometimes desperate women who, for different reasons, have opted for abortion in crisis pregnancies. I appreciate that the Minister amended his original Bill in the other House to exclude, to some degree, this opportunity. My party is very concerned about this issue. Fianna Fáil is also concerned that doctors, health workers and others should not be obliged under this Bill to take part in any service or provide any information if they have an objection in conscience. I am glad the Minister saw fit to amend the original Bill in the other House to accommodate this point.
However, I am most unhappy with the lack of proper provisions in the Bill for education, research and, most importantly, a comprehensive and adequately funded counselling service. Every day we witness in the courts and the media a litany of cases involving child sexual abuse, incest, statutory rape and abuse and violence against women. We are most conscious of the truly unfortunate decision of over 4,000 Irish women who annually opt for abortion in Britain. The Bill fails under the three headings of education, research and counselling which are not addressed in a meaningful way. I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage on behalf of Fianna Fáil to strengthen the Bill in that vital regard.
The Government mistakenly believes that the right to information, and information itself, should be confined to a list of names and addresses of abortion services outside the State, with a minimal mention of other options. This is putting the cart before the horse. The first information should be the alternatives to the abortion trail and this should be available to Irish women in crisis pregnancies. This information should be comprehensive and fully funded and provision for it should be made in law. The Government has taken a milk and water approach to this vital matter. It could be fairly stated that it is a hands off approach as far as the Bill is concerned.
The sum total of the Government's contribution in this most important area is to issue guidelines to health boards and to dig shallow in the Government coffers and find an extra meagre £130,000 for the voluntary bodies providing counselling services. As a start, the Government should recognise that the truly outstanding organisations — Cherish, Life and Cura — provide a wonderful service and they should receive proper funding from the Government.
In this Bill, the Government has failed to provide a full and necessary counselling service. It has not addressed the information question in the broadest sense. If we are to believe that the Government, collectively, is serious about a reduction in the number of Irish women travelling to Britain for abortions, it will have to go much further than what is on offer in this legislation. Perhaps it is fair to pose the question at this point as to whether there is consensus among the coalition parties on the genuine need for a Government approach to effect a reduction in the number of Irish women opting for abortion abroad. Many issues are not adequately covered in the Bill to meet the requirements of today. On behalf of my party, I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will be accommodating by taking them on board.
The total confusion and bitterness which has existed since the Bill was published unfortunately reminds me of the controversy that raged throughout the country in 1983 before the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. At that time, a very divisive debate took place concerning the best formula of words that could be found to protect the life of the unborn. At that time, I was a newly elected Member to the other House and I supported the wording that now forms the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, namely,
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
I supported this formula of wording because I was assured at that time by the pro-life movement that it would copperfasten the right to life of the unborn in our Constitution. I did so against the advice of the Taoiseach, the Attorney General, the Government and my colleagues of the day, who felt that an alternative wording would be more suitable to protect the life of the unborn and not allow abortion into our country.
I believe that their view was vindicated when a case, commonly known as the X case, came before the Supreme Court in February 1992. The court found that Article 40.3.3º could, in fact, permit an abortion where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother which could not be avoided by any other means. As a result of this decision, the Government, in November 1992, put three referenda before the people. The referendum on information sought to add the following words to Article 40.3.3º:
This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.
The people, by a 6/4 margin, decided in favour of abortion information whereupon the Government promised to regulate that right by law. This is what the Minister for Health is attempting to do in this Bill — setting out the conditions under which abortion information will be sought and given.
I welcome this proposal. If I may refer back to the X case, in the judgment of the late Mr. Justice McCarthy, he chided the Oireachtas for not enacting legislation after the Eighth Amendment had been enacted. He stated, "It is unfortunate that the Oireachtas has not enacted any legislation at all in respect of the constitutional right to life".
On this occasion the mandate for Government action on this measure stems directly from the majority decision of the Irish people and the terms of this Bill are in accordance with the principles outlined at that time, namely, that the amendment would permit non-directive counselling of pregnant mothers but not abortion referral.
Under the measure the Government proposes, doctors are specifically prohibited from making an appointment or any other arrangement for abortion clinics on behalf of their patient. However, doctors may supply names, addresses and telephone numbers of such clinics, but only after full consultation and after the patient has made her own decision to proceed with a termination of pregnancy. The Bill does not refer to names and addresses because the Minister has been advised by the Attorney General that the amendment itself gives effect to this. Indeed, in the case of SPUC v. Open Door Counselling, counsel for the former Attorney General stated that the Fourteenth Amendment was now operative and that the words “subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law” in the Fourteenth Amendment did not postpone the right to information therein.
I want to assure the House that on this occasion, I am accepting the legal advice of the Attorney General. As I have previously stated, under the Bill doctors are precluded from advocating abortion. They are prohibited from making any arrangements to facilitate it and may supply the names and addresses to enable the patient to make her own appointment only after she has made her own choice, otherwise they will break the law. In the circumstances, it is difficult to see how an act of supplying information can be understood to be an act of referral, yet this is the very basis on which the pro-life movement opposed the Bill. I am glad to hear Senator Finneran say today that Fianna Fáil not longer believe this to be referral.
Two years ago, when the public voted to accept the supply of abortion information in the referendum, I have no doubt that they were fully aware of the purpose of the amendment; its implications and intended consequences were clearly stated at the time. As the Minister said, the pro-life movement told the electorate to vote down the information amendment because it would allow names and addresses of abortion clinics to be supplied. I believe the majority of voters acted with an informed conscience in giving consent to the amendment designed to achieve what this Bill proposes. The Government in introducing this Bill has kept faith with the electorate. In view of this, it is of paramount importance for my colleagues and I to support this legislation, otherwise it would make a mockery of democracy.
I read with interest the recent statements by the Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic bishops have the same democratic right as everyone else to be heard. They teach that human life is sacred, especially that of the unborn. I subscribe to that teaching. In my maiden speech in the other House in 1983 on the same subject, I stated that the respect for life at all stages is not only a Christian principle, but a human one. Respect for life is engraved in the heart of man, in his conscience and in his sense of personal responsibility. I have never deviated from that view. I was pleased that the bishops' statement stressed that they do not underestimate the difficulty faced by legislators in attempting to frame the law which takes account of the constitutional amendment on the right to information.
I would like the bishops to understand the extreme anguish some Catholic legislators suffer when they are torn between their duty as democratic representatives to implement the people's wishes as expressed in the 1992 referendum and their duty as obedient Catholics to uphold the moral teaching of the Church. I am sure the bishops are as saddened as I am by the number of women who travel abroad each year to have abortions in view of the fact that we profess to have a Christian ethos and that we have a constitutional prohibition on abortion. We must ask ourselves two questions; why is this happening and what can be done to reduce these numbers?
I welcome the Minister's commitment that in tandem with this legislation he will put in place research, education and counselling services with the objective of minimising the circumstances in which such high numbers of women seek to have abortions. The Department of Health will commission a major study to identify the factors which contribute to the influence of unwanted pregnancies and those which result in the option of abortion. I hope when the study is available we will be in a better position to target preventative policies where they will be most effective.
When I spoke to my 15 year old daughter about this matter, she informed me that one of the main causes of unwanted pregnancies among young girls was the lack of proper sex education in schools. I am pleased that, as a result of this legislation, the Minister for Education will play an important role in promoting an understanding of sexuality and the knowledge of reproduction in a moral, spiritual and social framework. I hope those who opposed this type of sex education in the past will not do so again.
I recognise the importance of counselling for women with crisis pregnancies and I pay tribute to the excellent work done by Cura, Life, Cherish and other organisations which offer pregnancy counselling. The Minister stated that he will substantially increase the amount of finance available for counselling and I ask him to be generous in this matter. I believe it is the wish of the people that he should do so.
I was surprised by the fact that, from the little research available to us, the majority of women travelling to the United Kingdom for abortions had not received counselling before travelling and that when they received counselling abroad, a number returned without having an abortion. This shows the important role counselling can have in ensuring that women who are worried about their pregnancies do not feel that the only option is to travel to England to seek an abortion without first obtaining sympathetic advice and counselling.
I was listening to the "Pat Kenny Show" last Friday morning and he informed us of a phone call he got from a lady, it would appear a married woman in her forties, who had an unplanned pregnancy. She was worried about it because of her age and she went to her doctor. He told her she would be all right and not to worry. She was worried, however; so much so she went to England and had a termination. She has felt very sad and depressed since then and she said the real support in her life came from Cura, which provides aftercare. She then said something extraordinary; if she could have discussed with her doctor all the options that are proposed in this Bill, she felt she would have taken a different course.
The Bill provides for information on pregnancy termination services which can be advertised in newspapers or magazines and I request the Minister to provide special funds for the counselling services to allow them to compete with these advertisements so that they can advertise in tandem with them. The purpose would be that if a woman was considering the termination of her pregnancy she could, at the same time, consult with a counselling agency. I was pleased to hear the Minister say in the Dáil that he has been informed by those with an expertise in the area of counselling in general that it is usually beneficial to allow a break between the counselling process and the arrival at a decision. I support that view.
When women are counselled in Ireland and are still intent on travelling to England they would have time to reflect on the decision they have made on the boat or plane journey, and I would like to see them have further counselling when they arrive in England before they make a final decision. It would be helpful if funding was made available for counselling services to Cura, Cherish and Life, so that they could establish centres in different parts of England and participate in this second counselling I mentioned.
If this Bill can succeed in reducing the number of women who terminate their pregnancies it will have been worthwhile. I have been disturbed by the lack of compassion in some of the statements made in recent weeks. These statements will bring pain in particular to women who have had abortions. I would have thought that, in a Christian society, people participating in this debate would be sensitive to that pain.
The majority of people decided to allow women to get information relating to abortion services lawfully available outside the State and it is the Government's duty to pass the necessary legislation. It is not the Bill before the House that has changed the law but the decision of the majority of the Irish people. The Bill before the House only gives effect to that change.
I welcome the Minister. I was reading a book recently on medical ethics by Kenneth Kearon and he said that one problem with debates on abortion in this country is that there is a frequent unwillingness by many to countenance the sincerity and moral integrity of those from whom they differ. I am sure this will not be so in the Seanad as all our views are sincerely held.
The Minister is to be congratulated for bringing this Bill before the House. No matter what its faults, as Dick Walsh wrote in last Saturday's The Irish Times, the idea that we can find a formula that takes care of every case is an illusion. The function of this Bill is to legislate on the availability of information on abortion services outside the country, the people having voted in the 1992 referendum that this should be so. The then Government's explanatory leaflet was clear. It said:
The legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling is also given on all the alternative options open to her [here].
After reading that, how could anyone argue that people did not know for what they were voting? To say so is to grossly underestimate the intelligence of the Irish electorate. The Minister is right in saying that the Bill is about information, not abortion. This information has not just been needed since 1992; it has been needed since abortion was legalised in Great Britain in 1967.
Abortion can never be the preferred end to any pregnancy. Be it legal or illegal, there is always the loss of a potential human person. However, since the dawn of time, women have found some pregnancies so intolerable they have used any means possible to procure an abortion. Traditionally, Irish women went to England for abortions, even when they were illegal. On legalisation it was logical to assume they would avail of the service. If we had really wanted to have any influence on their decisions we would have advised all women contemplating an abortion to contact their doctors or a counselling agency before travelling. We would, indeed, have made it seem a requirement that one could not go to an abortion clinic in England without having had some counselling here.
We did not, of course, really want to influence their decisions. Once these problem pregnancies were dealt with elsewhere we were prepared to turn a blind eye, and that despite the evidence of ever increasing numbers. In the early 1970s approximately 1,500 women went to England to have abortions and gave Irish addresses and there were 70,000 live births. By 1993 the figure was approaching 5,000 and the live birth rate was 50,000. Statements were made publicly by doctors in England that Irish women going there for abortions were the least informed and most terrified of all who went to their clinics and, as one said, by the time they reached England they were emotionally and financially beyond counselling. I was interested in the case Senator Doyle mentioned.
The Minister said the objectives of this Bill are two-fold: first, to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and, second, to reduce the extent to which unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. No one could quarrel with these objectives, but since most abortions occur for socio-economic reasons, there are as many reasons as there are abortions. Therefore, the research and education programme which the Minister envisages will have to be very wide.
We do not know the real figures for Irish women having abortions, only those who give Irish addresses. Also ignored are the increasing number of women who go to Northern Ireland for amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, and who may or may not have terminations. A survey of mothers carried out in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, a few months ago showed that 75 per cent would like to have prenatal testing available in this country. Scans are available and the previous Minister, Deputy Howlin, said that amniocentesis would be available here, but this does not seem to be happening.
I would like to be able to tell patients that if a test is not normal all may not be doom. I would like to tell them about the young friends I have with Downes syndrome, one of whom holds down a good job as an usher in a cinema and another I meet regularly working in one of Senator Quinn's shops. I would like to tell mothers whose children will have cystic fibrosis of the great improvements in treatment there have been recently. It appears that we are happy to have others deal with these sensitive areas; indeed I wonder if I should apologise for mentioning them. Have we decided that we are to have no influence on these decisions either? At an international level we could have quite an influence on this topic. After all, we all may have a gene or two a little askew and we should have the moral courage to become involved in this debate.
Many of those objecting to this Bill also objected to the stay safe programme in primary schools, and we have all had too vivid examples recently of why that is needed. They objected also to education on sexuality and relationships in secondary schools. It is interesting to note that three women Ministers for Education — Gemma Hussey, Deputy O'Rourke and Deputy Bhreathanch — promoted these programmes. While it is foolish to use statistics on a year by year basis, there has been a welcome decline in the number of under 20 year olds who have had abortions in England in the period 1992-93 — 8 per cent. It was the one group in which there was a decrease. Perhaps, sex education is making an impact.
I am never enthusiastic about quoting Mrs. Thatcher — she was no friend to teenage sex or single mothers — but her Government did a survey in England to see if sex education made any difference. It was found that there was a significant reduction in teenage pregnancies in those who had had sex education, and sexual activity was delayed.
Men are also involved in crisis pregnancies and usually give a less than warm response to the news. Lack of support from the man can be an important reason for the woman seeking an abortion. Education of boys regarding the responsibility of fatherhood and how closely this is linked with sexual activity is therefore essential. It is not just a girl's issue. There are older men involved in these issues also, but I will concentrate on those at school and allow the Minister to compile his own education programmes for those who have left school.
Contraception, especially the availability of condoms was very limited until recently. The pill was popular with women who would have been better advised to use other methods, but it was the only method available in the 1960s and 1970s when it was called a cycle regulator. Those who look at our excellent maternal mortality figures must acknowledge that the availability of contraception has had an effect. In 1975 I published a paper on pulmonary embolism and maternal mortality in the Irish Medical Journal where I pointed out that between 1966 and 1973, 50 per cent of 22 patients who had died of pulmonary embolism were over 35 years of age, 36 per cent were over 40 years of age, 57 per cent were on their fifth or subsequent pregnancy and 24 per cent were on their tenth or subsequent pregnancy.
Older age groups and high parity are very high risk factors in all pregnancies, and especially in this area. How could those women who were at high risk possibly avoid a pregnancy given that the pill was totally unsuitable for them? When other methods of contraception became available, Irish women availed of them in very large numbers. There was one death from pulmonary embolism in 1983, one in 1985 and one in 1987. I could go back another few years, but it is always in single figures. Since 1987, thank God, we have not had one such death. Even in the very best of services this is incredibly good, so it is not just the doctors who must be praised but also high risk mothers who decided that if there were a risk factor involved they had their other children at home to consider, and that they were going to do so.
Our maternal mortality figures are very good, but they only go up to 42 days after delivery. In many countries with good maternal mortality rates — for example in the UK and other European countries — they are extended to include a late death section, that is, where deaths take place within one year of delivery. This would give us a much better analysis of how long term conditions affect pregnancies and, hopefully, the Department of Health will give serious consideration to implementing this. It would not be especially difficult and it would be very informative for the medical profession.
In 1966, 8 per cent of children were born to mothers over 40 years of age. By 1981 this had dropped to 3 per cent. In 1966, 2.5 per cent of births were a tenth or subsequent pregnancy; now that is very rare indeed. Those opposing this Bill are the same people who opposed the introduction of contraception and even advised against family planning.
Female sterilisation has always been legal in this country but until 20 years ago it was almost unavailable. While a number of hospitals are now carrying it out, it was reported in last week's Irish Medical Times that almost 2,000 women are on waiting lists for the procedure. In many hospitals, ethics committees are still allowed to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship regarding this legal procedure. How many of these women, who will be older women and will perhaps wish to avoid pregnancy for a medical reason, may become pregnant while waiting for an operating slot or while an ethics committee will graciously acquiesce to their doctor's request for permission to undertake a tubal ligation? How many of these women may decide to go to England for termination? Approximately 13 per cent of those who had abortions in 1993 were over 35 years of age. Their reasons will not have been the same as that of a teenage girl. The Minister must make proper provision for sterilisation and say that ethics committees have no place in this area. Again, those who object to this Bill have also objected to sterilisation.
Social attitudes towards single motherhood have changed in parts of Ireland, but sometimes girls are still shown the door if they confess to being pregnant or they may leave without saying where they are going. On two recent visits to London I met three Irish girls with babies begging at underground stations. Travelling between Westminster and Liverpool Street, I met a girl in Piccadilly and again while changing tube at Holborn. On a previous visit I met a girl at Oxford Circus. All of them were Irish, and I was not aware of one other girl begging — just those three Irish girls with babies all under six months. I begged them to go home. The girl in Oxford Circus, who was only a child, and her baby were both unsuitably dressed for the inclement weather — she wore plastic white shoes — but she told me she could not go home because nobody knew she had a baby.
Cura, Life and I hope the organisation to which I belong, Cherish, will be very grateful for the funds the Minister has promised. We in Cherish have always wished that we had the money to operate outside Dublin, because it is in areas outside Dublin that very many of these tragic cases arise. Counselling is all about allowing women to have a choice, but there is one problem with organisations such as Cura, Life and Cherish in that the women involved are inclined to have made their decision to keep the baby before they come to us. While approximately 80 per cent are pleased with the choice they make, another 20 per cent are not and are badly in need of counselling.
Social pressures are one thing but economic pressures are another. To begin with, it must be made clear that a woman cannot lose her job because she becomes pregnant, married or unmarried, and the law must say so. I thought it did until the case in County Wexford a few years ago where a young teacher lost her job after she became a single mother. She was living with the child's father who was a separated man and they were not in a position to get married in this country. If the ethos of the institution in which a person works is to count, we will have to see how we can deal with cases of this kind should they arise. There has been no change in the legislation since this case so I do not know what would happen if a similar case should arise in the future.
Another step we could take would be to make child care tax deductible. Increases in child benefit, which would also increase as the child got older, would help, and better child care facilities could be made available. Recently some girls from Cherish took part in a co-operation North exchange scheme. They visited the North of Ireland and girls from the North visited the South. The one bit of abuse I got from all of them when they returned was that in the South it would have cost any one of them £70 per week for private child care, whereas in the North the State provided the care for much less. We are always promoting the family and it is at the centre of the Constitution, but it certainly is not at the centre of the Constitution fiscally.
I would be glad if those who are against this Bill would look for tax relief on child care and for improved child care facilities. I have been writing to Ministers for Finance about this for several years, pointing out that it might provide employment. I would be pleased if the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, received the kind of letter which various Members of the Oireachtas have received, requesting him to bring in child care relief — or else. It is worth recalling that several of the groups complaining now complained about the introduction of the children's allowance and the mother and child scheme, because they would take the onus of care off the father. I am doubtful, however, if we are going to get a lot of help on this.
In all abortions, legal or illegal, a potential human being is gone, but it is all too easy for two to be lost. Looking at the maternal mortality figures for parts of the world — Bolivia 600 per 100,000 live births, Nicaragua 300, India 460, Congo 900, while Ghana estimates 500 to 1,500 — it is only possible to guess what contribution illegal abortions make, but local doctors have advised me that they are considerable. Suppose Irish women were not able to avail of legal abortion in England, what contribution would deaths from illegal abortions make to our maternal mortality figures? I do not suggest that they would be anything like these international figures, but some of us must remember more than one death from an illegal abortion in this country. It happened in the past and it could happen again.
Of those women who have terminations in England, approximately 80 per cent are happy with their decision. We must now ensure that counselling is made available and that it is of the highest quality. It should not be rushed and the patient should be encouraged to return for more than one consultation if necessary. I had a very kind — sadly now deceased — doctor friend. She was one of the first people I knew who, a very long time ago, attempted to provide counselling to women who were going to England without any advice. She used to say: "I say to the patients, ‘Go home. You will be very little more pregnant tomorrow than you are today. Come back tomorrow and we will discuss the situation again'." I think quite a number changed their minds. Unless one is involved — and I am not directly involved — one does not understand the incredible hurry people are in to leave the country and go abroad to have abortions. I remember one girl telling me her mother would die. I replied that her mother would not die, that the maternal mortality figures relate to the death of the mother, not the death of the grandmother. She said her father would throw her out. I said that if he did that, we could find her somewhere to live. She thought she would lose her job. I said we would see about that because, as far as I was concerned, the legislation was there. Discussion, information, that is essential in getting people to make what is the best decision for them.
One difficulty I have with this Bill concerns the possible criminalisation of doctors who are trying to help patients. Doctors must work within the law and I am quite sure the Medical Defence Union and the Medical Council have said that this is the situation as far as doctors are concerned. The possibility of entrapment does not help frankness in this delicate area. I am sure the Minister is correct to allow doctors, who have ethical objections to counselling to opt out. However, I will be less than happy unless proper care is taken of the patients.
Another thing that worries me is where some doctors say they would have ethical objections to even referring a patient to a colleague for counselling, although the Medical Council's guidelines stress that when referring patients to a colleague similar circumstances apply where the doctor has a conscientious objection. This is most important. I am sure those who say they would object to even referring a patient to a colleague will remember this because all of us are put in situations where we are not capable of dealing with it or do not want to deal with it. We have an ethical obligation to refer those patients to a colleague who will deal with them. We cannot leave them without any help. It has been asked how patients will know if a doctor will give counselling. It would be quite simple to put a small notice up in the waiting room stating that Dr. So and so does not give pregnancy counselling.
There is a problem which I have not heard addressed yet regarding the general medical service and medical card holders whose doctors do not want to give counselling. They will have to be catered for. If these patients need to attend other doctors or other counselling agencies, remuneration must be available. This may be less of a problem than we think because the Irish College of General Practitioners has not said there appears to be any great difficulty. Most general practitioners, according to a recent survey, do give advice in regard to most forms of contraception. The morning after pill, which prevents nidation of the fertilised ovum, is also prescribed by many doctors, according to a survey recently published in the Irish Medical Times.
Training courses must be made available for doctors and counsellors and the courses should be financed by the Department of Health. The Department should also ensure the quality of services and monitor counselling to be sure it is of good quality. One area I was concerned about with this legislation was that it would affect the Supreme Court judgment which allowed for the termination of a pregnancy in this jurisdiction in cases of real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. This did not mean only the immediate risk. However, having carefully read the Bill, I see that this legislation prohibits a doctor from giving information regarding termination only if that takes place outside the State. Information other than Act information, counselling and advice can be given directly to the woman in relation to all courses of action that are open to her regarding her particular circumstances. The Minister has said that this advice must be truthful and objective and I would hope so.
This protects the woman who may be one of the few who, say, suffers from uncontrollable high blood pressure and for whom a termination in this country is necessary before the child is viable. These cases occur rarely, and usually do so after the child becomes viable. It is important to remember that the medical definition of a miscarriage or abortion is the termination of a pregnancy before the child is viable. That covers the first 24 weeks of the pregnancy, even with the best medical care.
Looking again at the maternal mortality figures, there were deaths from hypertension complicating pregnancy in the period 1980-89. I am sure all these women had the best medical care. As I only have the figures up to 1990, I do not know what has happened since then. I want to thank the Central Statistics Office for all their help. We doctors must be very careful not to promise too much. We are not in control of every situation, even with the great advances in modern obstetrics. Sometimes these situations occur.
Also hysterectomies with the developing child within the womb is still the recommended treatment for cancer of the cervix and, by many obstetricians, for cancer of the ovary. The double-effect principle — the removal of the foetus with the diseased organ — is not a medical term. It can be only applied to cancer of the cervix because nowadays in ectopic pregnancies, where the fallopian tube used to be removed as well as the pregnancies, the development of micro-surgery makes it possible to remove the embryo only. The tube can be repaired with the possibility of a future successful pregnancy.
It is not a coincidence that, over the past weekend and today, medical oncologists — those who treat cancer by chemotherapy — have been demanding in the papers that the Minister improve facilities for patients in this area. The Minister said he will make the treatment of cancer a priority. It is only in recent years that chemotherapy and its advances have shown what can be done in treating cancer that is detected early and in ameliorating and reducing the situation when there has been a spread of the malignancy.
Breast cancer, in particular, is an area I want to look at very carefully. Treatment must not be denied, delayed or adversely modified because the woman is pregnant unless it is her decision. In these cases, under the Minister's legislation the doctor should be able to truthfully tell the woman she is one of those in the small category where abortion is allowed in this country. He should, of course, tell her all the other options but from then on it is her decision. As regards women with chronic leukemia in Ireland children are safely delivered after the treatment of the mothers during pregnancy while these pregnancies would have been terminated elsewhere.
I am not looking for a situation where any medical oncologist would be given carte blanche to advise termination of pregnancies because they think it would simplify the treatment. All options must be explained to the woman without delay, modification or anything denied. She must then make the decision about the pregnancy. Acute leukemia is another difficult area where there may be only days to look at the problem. When Dr. John O'Connell was Minister for Health he introduced his charter for patients and stressed the need for full information for patients and for their religious and philisophical beliefs to be taken into account. The religious and philisophical beliefs of patients should never be presumed — all should be made clear to the patient and this Bill allows for that. I was brought up in a time when we had a great adage: “Sick women get pregnant and pregnant women get sick”. It is not a bad adage to remember. Women who need terminations for a real and substantial risk to their lives do not have to leave the country, according to the Supreme Court judgment. Because of the way things always work out one can be sure that these pregnancies will be the most wanted pregnancies ever.
However restrictive this Bill is it must be welcomed. It would be even better if the legislation on what is called the "substantive issue"— I am never quite sure what that is — were to be brought forward now. Should there be two doctors in agreement that there is a real and substantial risk to the mother? Should the unborn child have an advocate? Should a psychiatrist be involved if there is a threat of suicide? Should terminations take place only in State hospitals unless there is an emergency? This legislation should be brought forward before we have another sad case before the courts. A few years ago I saw, at the Point Theatre, the opera "Jenufa" by Jannacek — it is a very tragic opera. In a little village an unmarried girl becomes pregnant and her mother hides her in a bedroom for the duration of the pregnancy. The old woman takes the child, when it is born in midwinter, and buries it in the snow. When the spring comes the girl is about to be married and it is a very joyful scene. All is well until the snow melts and the dead baby is found.
Last week when this Bill was being debated in the Dáil it would not be too melodramatic to say that the snow melted and exposed tragedy all around. Following the discovery of a dead baby in a cupboard in Donegal, another new-born child was found in a bucket of water in Athy. An 11 year old child, still in primary school, is alleged to have become pregnant by a 51 year old man. Horrific sexual and physical abuse was exposed in families in several parts of the country. However distressing it is to address our social problems, we must remember that it is 100,000 times worse for those who are involved. Early action on all our parts might have ameliorated these tragedies and prevented them from occurring.
This Bill is a belated attempt to address some of these problems with a little more energy. I am supporting the Bill on Second Stage.
This Bill sets out to honour the wishes of the people in the referendum of 1992 when they voted in favour of the constitutional amendment on the freedom to give and obtain information about services lawfully available in another state. In one way it was addressing a situation whereby we are quite happy to export our problems rather than deal with them ourselves. However, the Bill is trying to address that referendum and that is what we must do.
The Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995, reflects the appropriate balance between the constitutional rights and freedoms bearing on the question of abortion information, and I hope it will receive the full support of Members of the Seanad. There have been unbelievable criticisms of aspects of this Bill and, amazingly, many of the criticisms seem to have come from men who are telling women what to do. These men seem to take all the decisions relating to it and many are for all the wrong reasons.
The Bill is designed to carry out the wishes of the people as expressed in the referendum of 1992. At that time they were not voting to listen to what we have listened to over the past number of weeks about what happens during an abortion. I do not think we should continue to outline the gory details of it today either. I come from the constituency of Donegal North East, and both Donegal constituencies defeated the articles in the referendum. However, we are not an island up there and we have to abide by the wishes of the whole country. Some of the telephone calls I received at the weekend from strongly anti-abortion fundamentalists were not just trying to make a case to me; they also decided to work on my wife to see if they might get her to speak to me.
I agree with the Bill and I hope it will be passed quickly. The Government had no choice but to proceed with the abortion information Bill. The referendum on information sought to add the following wording to Article 40.3.3
This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.
This referendum was passed by a 60:40 majority, but some groups who were opposed to information being made available find it extremely hard to accept the results. As legislators we have no choice but to carry out the wishes of the people as outlined in the referendum of 1992. The powers arising from the result of the referendum came from everyone in this country, not just from people within a specific Church. Even the Catholic Church is embarrassed by the attitudes of some of the fundamentalists on the anti-abortion side.
The 1992 referendum was the will of the people and that is what we are trying to carry out. The Minister stated that in 1992 a pamphlet was distributed to every household in the country which dealt extremely well with key questions and answers on each of the three referenda. Details regarding the information amendment were based on the heads of a Bill approved by the Government on the recommendation of the Cabinet subcommittee which included the then Ministers Pádraig Flynn, John O'Connell and Desmond O'Malley.
The pamphlet was clear in relation to the purpose of the referendum and the legislation which would follow if it was passed. It stated explicitly that the purpose of the referendum was to legalise such information that had been found to be illegal by the Irish courts and which was now restricted in a manner which the European Court of Human Rights had found to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case before the European Court related to information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and methods of communication with abortion services.
Where I come from it was never a problem to get information relating to abortion services because the phone books in Northern Ireland, just 15 miles down the road, contained loads of information on how people could contact the proper agencies. The electorate were not left in any doubt that the amendment covered that kind of information but the pamphlet also stated that the provision of an abortion referral service would not be permitted. The Bill is consistent with all that was included in that pamphlet.
We have an abortion problem in this country and the latest figures given for the year 1993 for the numbers of Irish women going to England for abortions was 4,399. This is equivalent to almost 9 per cent of our annual birth rate, and these are the ones that we know about. But what about the ones that we do not know about? I have no doubt that the real figure would be much higher.
Regardless of how one feels about abortion, it cannot be denied that we have a serious problem in this country. I have no doubt that every Member of the House is pro-life even though they may differ on their approach to helping or counselling. Each year a large number of Irish women decide, for one reason or another, that they cannot go through with the pregnancy and so they travel to Britain to have it terminated.
I am certain that the wider population, looking at a situation in which there is an unwanted pregnancy, would agree that it would be preferable to avoid the perceived need for an abortion in the first place. I welcome some of the aspects outlined by the Minister in relation to education. Along with the enactment of the information legislation, we must carry out a programme of education and counselling with the objective of minimising the circumstances in which such high numbers of women seek abortions. We must strive to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies as well as reducing the extent to which such pregnancies end in abortion. It is a major problem which needs to be approached from the area of education.
The Minister has said that a major study will be carried out to identify the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and those factors which result in the option of abortion. With a clearer understanding of the situation we will be in a better position to target policies so that they are prevented.
The lack of compassion that has been visible over the past few weeks, where people who went away for abortions have been made to feel like murderers, has been disgraceful. Some of the things that have been said are extremely sad. One is back again to the fundamentalist situation of the anti-abortion types whom we could do without.
I remember that many years ago, in a hospital I worked in, certain women had to be admitted there just because they were pregnant and had nowhere else to go. One of them had to stay in the hospital to have her baby because she had been put out of her house and nobody wanted her. She stuck it out and had her baby but it does not make it any easier.
I welcome the Minister's statement that research into the matter will not focus solely on women who have abortions but will also cover women who have proceeded with crisis pregnancies. Counsellors, doctors and experts in the field of research should be involved in the terms of reference of this study. I also welcome the fact that the Minister has outlined the co-operation of the various agencies and organisations who assist women with unwanted pregnancies. They should be commended for the work they do at present. I am talking about the Life group and Cura. On a number of occasions over a long number of months I have been lobbying the Minister to give extra funding to groups working in these areas, not just nationally but also to the groups that have lobbied me up in Donegal. I welcome the allocation of money today.
I also welcome the programme of relationships and sexuality education that has been introduced into the schools by the Minister for Education. This will play an important role in teaching people to understand their sexuality and give them a knowledge of reproduction in a moral, spiritual and social framework. The programme is most welcome and these are the areas in which we have to start.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has set aside £200,000 for the purpose of supporting the services which exist at present. Any increase for support groups and the services they provide is most welcome. It is not a massive amount of money, but an increase from £70,000 to £200,000 shows the commitment the Minister has made to the importance of counselling for women in crisis pregnancies. He has recognised the need to provide considerably more funding to the voluntary agencies providing services to women. Women in all parts of the country would have the choice of accessible services and this is welcome.
Research has shown that the majority of Irish women travelling to the UK for abortions had not received any counselling before travelling. It has also been shown that where counselling has been given, a considerable number of women decided against abortion and I have found this to be true in the area in which I worked over many years. We also had to deal with situations whereby women had gone not just for one abortion, but two or three. These people needed a lot of support and help. They were left in an impossible position and life was not easy for them. They found it very hard to go to their organisations, even to go to their local doctor or priest, because help was not always available.
As I said earlier, it has also been shown that where counselling was given a considerable number of women decided against abortion, so it is important that we ensure that women who are worried about their pregnancies do not feel that their only option is to travel to Great Britain to seek an abortion without obtaining counselling or advice, as well as whatever information they may require. In many cases where people have been helped it has resulted in a continuation of the pregnancy which might otherwise have been terminated.
Where a woman has decided to terminate her pregnancy the doctor or counsellor needs to ensure the patient's safety by giving her all the necessary information, including any medical records which are relevant to her care. The patient comes first. It is also important to ensure that the woman returns afterwards for any post abortion treatment or counselling which may prove necessary. In many cases it is extremely necessary.
I read in the paper today that the executive committee of the Irish College of Practitioners has told doctors to make up their own minds about providing information on abortion. I welcome the indication the Minister gave last week in relation to the opt-out clause for doctors. Some doctors may be able to agree to give information, others may not; but it is important that if a doctor does not agree to give information to women, he or she should refer the patient to someone else.
This is an information Bill to which all the three parties in Government agreed. It is in line with what was agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats when they were in Government. It should therefore command support in the House. It is difficult for legislators to find the correct balance between the rights and freedoms in this area. It is our duty as legislators to carry out the wishes of the Irish people which were indicated in the 1992 referendum.
The Minister would probably freely admit that this Bill has caused uproar within the anti-abortion groups and has caused similar uproar on the part of those in the pro-choice brigade. That indicates to me that the Minister must be doing something right: he has struck a balance with this legislation.
As the Minister has already stated, this Government and the previous Fianna Fáil — Labour Government had a responsibility to introduce legislation to give effect to the decision of the people of Ireland in the 1992 referendum when 60 per cent of the Irish people voted for the right to travel and the right to information. This obligation is addressed in this Bill. I accept that a majority of my colleagues do not share that view. They disagree with me fundamentally and argue that the information content of this Bill constitutes referral. I have not been successful at parliamentary party level in swaying my colleagues from that viewpoint, but I respect democracy and I understand that the majority of my parliamentary party did not see the issue in the same terms as I did.
Those who accuse Fianna Fáil of political opportunism could not be further from the truth. Had we still been in Government the party would have been faced with a serious dilemma. It would have been very difficult for the leadership of the party to have brought the majority of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party backbenchers with the leadership on this issue. To further stitch in the fact that this is not political opportunism, I tell my colleagues that during a walkabout in my constituency on Saturday I met two woman constituents who held completely opposing views. The first said that although she had always voted Labour, she had very high hopes for Fianna Fáil under Deputy Ahern. She was very dissappointed at the direction which Fianna Fáil took on this issue. I accepted her viewpoint. However, I was a bit staggered to find at another door that a much older lady from Senator Maloney's part of the country was very angry with Fianna Fáil because of our position on abortion and divorce. When I questioned her on it and pointed out the fact that Fianna Fáil had opposed this legislation in the other House, she simply said that we may have opposed the legislation but that it was only because we were forced to do so.
Nobody has won this argument. If my colleagues feel that there is any political mileage to be gained from taking a political position on this particular legislation, they are very seriously mistaken. I accept that some people believe that the giving of names and addresses constitutes referral. I accept that, just as I ask them to accept that I do not agree with them for the very reason that I remember that this issue was debated around the time of the X case. It was stated in writing by the Fianna Fáil — PD Government of the day, as the Minister stated in his speech, that
The Government has said that the legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere...
The wording itself stated that information would be in regard to services which are legally available outside the State. I remember the debate at the time. I remember the impassioned pleas, starting in the media and on the doorsteps by people who said it was inhuman that the State could consider stopping a 14 year old from travelling outside the State. I remember the whole argument.
As the Minister has stated, the pro-life people then issued their own information leaflets in which they stated that this is what information would amount to. That is where I find it very difficult to square the circle. I cannot understand at this late stage how either legislators or the pro-life, anti abortion groups outside this House can claim that what they meant was that a doctor should give graphic details to a woman in his surgery or how an abortion is performed and what the result of that is, or that they construe information to mean standing outside the gate of Leinster House with coloured pictures of aborted foetuses. If they are trying to convince the people of Ireland that this is what information is to mean then they are wrong and that is hypocritical. I knew what was intended, the Government of the day knew what was intended and the people who voted knew what was intended.
I accept the reservations which my party expressed about the referral issue in terms of an impending case, but I remember the issue and I remember clearly what it was intended to mean. As Senator Henry said, we are discussing this issue against the background of events such as a baby who was found in a bucket last week and of an 11 year old child who has become pregnant by a 51 year old man. It was stated in the newspapers last week by one of the masters of the main maternity hospitals that while an 11 year old child might physically get through the effects of delivering a baby, the psychological effects of her becoming a mother will leave a much greater scar and will take much longer to heal.
I want to address a few questions not to the Minister but to my colleagues and to the people outside the gate who violently oppose this legislation. What do they propose we, as legislators, should do about the more than 4,000 women who go to England every year for abortions? I am glad the Minister gave the details of where these statistics come from because it is said by anti-abortion groups that these figures are distorted and are provided by abortion clinics in England to suit their needs. They are not, they are from the British Government's census figures.
In my opinion these figures are only the tip of the iceberg. If I were seeking an abortion outside this country, I would not give my address in Ireland and I think the 4,000 people who do are very much the minority, and the vast majority of women and young girls who are seeking abortions in England, are not giving Ireland as their place of domicile for fear of being traced and tracked down.
What do those who are opposed to this legislation propose we can do to help those women and girls? As things stand, they are travelling to Britain. They are getting the fare together — if in dire need they are scraping it together — getting on boats or planes and arriving in Liverpool, London or some other city. It has to be admitted that UK cities can be very hostile places. I do not mean this as an insult to the British. The first time one goes to a city like London, one can feel very lonely and alienated but. If one goes there with an unwanted crisis pregnancy, the situation must be at least doubly difficult. The people arrive in London and may go to the tube station to see if they can see advertisements for the various abortion clinics. I want somebody to tell me how we can improve the situation for them. If somebody can tell me how we can do this, I will talk down this Bill on Committee Stage and undo everything I have said.
I believe that if the crisis can be taken out of crisis pregnancies, we can reverse the situation and talk people into taking it easy and waiting a little while and then they may change their minds. At the moment they have nobody to whom they can talk. I do not think a woman can go to her GP and discuss this because her GP in law would be precluded from advising her or even into entering into discussion with her about a termination. If she cannot do this, she will travel for an abortion. She cannot discuss it with her GP because she cannot come back to him not pregnant three months later without him suspecting what has happened.
The Minister said it is important that the person receiving pregnancy counselling be given time to reflect and to weigh up all the information and advice before arriving at what would be a decision of immense importance. Is the Minister including a provision in the Bill to give effect to this? It is very important that there be a period of reflection. I do not think this is included in the Bill. If it is not, how does the Minister intend to ensure that this will happen?
The Catholic Church has spoken on this issue. It is a matter of morals for the Church and it has an absolute right to reaffirm its position on the issue and to speak out on it. When did the position within the Catholic Church change? One of the first things I took on board when I was appointed to this House was the request — I think it was to the Minister for Equality and Law Reform — that stillbirths be registered. As the Minister knows, up to last year stillbirths were not registered and there was a great feeling of loss by those who had lost children.
I was a good student of catechism at school. To this day I can recite the questions and answers I learned by rote. I would not say I am a practising Catholic; if practising means one is still trying to get it right, I am a practising Catholic. I go to Mass and have great faith.
In the discussion I had with the group who were trying to have stillbirths registered, I remember very clearly older women telling me of the position which pertained within the Church when they delivered stillborn infants. Those infants were not baptised or given Catholic burials because the Church did not recognise their right to them. I also learned in my catechism about children who went to Limbo because they could never see the face of God as they had never been baptised and were not born live.
I have studied both sides of this debate because I did not want to enter it by saying those on one side are all wrong and the other side are right. I tried to inform myself, particularly throughout this week but also since the 1983 amendment, which I supported, and the 1992 one. I have tried to inform my conscience so that I could not be accused of making decisions in a vacuum.
During the week I read that the Church recognises a life from the moment of conception. I want to know when that piece of theology was changed because this certainly did not pertain when I was going to school. Senator Henry referred to the Church's position on sterilisation, contraception and so on and I was going to refer to them. Good Catholics should all the time question their faith and religion and I will continue to do this.
Even bad Catholics.
It is good to question. The part of the Minister's speech which deals with research is overdue. We should have done this ten years ago, even if this Bill was not to be before the House. I hope Senator Finneran will table an amendment on this. We should find out, as Senator Maloney said, why we have this huge problem of abortion. Why do women go outside the State to terminate pregnancies? For me the Minister will be tested on whether he will carry out such research and whether, in later years, we will look at the results.
What we must do, and what we have not done, is look at how society treats women; we have not looked very much at how society treats single parents. We have made some changes. We now pay lone parent's allowances and grant maternity leave.
Sex education has been neglected to the point that we should be ashamed of ourselves. If my mother had not sat me down at the kitchen table and told me the very basis facts of life, I would have learned everything at the backs of houses from friends. Some of the stories one picks up behind sheds and houses are frightening. We have neglected this area because there was a reluctance on the part of the Church to allow sexuality and relationships to be discussed in the schools. I have never understood why the Church has that problem because surely that is the context in which children should learn these things. They should learn it in a holistic way within their schooling. Sexuality and relationships are not outside that context and I do not see how anyone could feel threatened by that.
Senator Henry mentioned the position of working women. The Minister's research will show that there are many married women, whose husbands live with them and who have other children, seeking abortions. It is not because they do not have family support and it may not be because of income; they are having abortions for other reasons. One can examine how women are treated in the workforce. A major document, which is probably relevant to the Minister's Department, was produced recently about the number of women who breast feed their babies.
These Houses give an indication of why women seek abortions. To my knowledge, and I will check it again, this House does not possess a single baby nappy changing facility. There is not one place in the Houses of the Oireachtas where one can pull down a table, similar to that which one finds in McDonald's, and change a baby. I am lucky that my youngest child is 13; but other colleagues, such as Deputy Flaherty from the Minister's side of the House, have young babies.
This House sends out a signal to women that positions of power and positions at particular levels within society are dominated by men and will reflect always the male dominance of society. I started a battle some time ago for a family room and a créche in the Houses of the Oireachtas and I hope Senator Magner will continue that. However, there is a built-in reluctance, even within this House, to reflect the needs of women if they want to participate here.
I could continue and mention how my mother picked up the pieces of my family life to allow me participate in politics. That is the way society is. If a woman wants to have a full time job, there is a sacrifice and, very often, that sacrifice is children. As is becoming obvious from statistics, the sacrifice is often an unborn life because this society, not only in this country but throughout the world, does not reflect the needs of women and the needs of women with children.
Senator Henry mentioned child care, tax allowances, incentives and créches. When the Minister gets his research, all these things will be on the agenda. If we seriously want to address why women want to have abortions and go on to terminate pregnancies when there does not seem to be an obvious need, we will have to start there. We will then be able to say that we have not done anything about this because we have not tackled the reasons women have abortions.
Either Senator Doyle or Senator Maloney spoke about the language we use in this debate — a point with which I could not agree more. The language we use today and the way our colleagues in the Dáil spoke last week sends out a message to the 70,000 women who had abortions in the last ten years. We have all been written to by the group, Women Hurt by Abortion, and there are others who are trying to bury in the backs of their minds what they went through and the termination of pregnancy they underwent. Branding those women as murderers or as participants in a murder says little for Christianity, humanity or respect for people's suffering.
At a discussion forum I met one of the pro life people. He was very articulate and not an off the beam type speaker. I said to him that I would appreciate if in their arguments they would remember those people. He immediately retorted that he would not be censored just because I or anybody else found it — I cannot remember the exact phrase; it was not "distasteful"— uncomfortable that they should say such things or use such posters. He said they refused to be censored. That is rich coming from a group which insists that any legislation coming out of this House, particularly this legislation, should be censored.
They do not want women to have the information to which European courts and the people of Ireland decided they were entitled. Those who ask that censorship take on that guise cannot then defend themselves by saying they refuse to be censored. I did not ask for them to be censored. I do not particularly object to their use of placards. The graphic depiction of the effects of abortion forms part of their legitimate argument and I accept that. However, I reject their right to impose their censorship on anybody else.
I did not have a prepared speech. I came in with my own feelings and a wish to respond to the Minister's speech. The Minister said that where a woman goes on to have an abortion:
...the doctor or counsellor will be in a position to ensure the patient's safety by providing information on safe and reputable services, by providing the woman with any medical records or notes which are relevant to her care, and by having the woman return for any post-abortion treatment or counselling which may prove necessary.
I want to know how the Minister will enshrine that in law. Much of what is most laudable in the explanatory memorandum, the information circular and the Minister's speech is not being backed up by the full force of legislation and I want to know how he intends doing that.
I join with those who have already paid tribute to Cura, Life and Cherish. They have been battling against the odds, as they quite rightly say themselves, with little or no funding. As long as they were doing it, we were quite happy to let them continue. The amount of money being provided by the Minister is probably not enough, but at least he is providing finance for these groups.
In the cut and thrust of debate I will probably end up fighting on this side of the House more than on the other side of the House on Committee Stage. However there is no doubt — I do not make this point as a criticism; I am a realist — that abortion is the English solution to an Irish problem. That has been said in the other House and we are using it as such. This was also the position with contraception in the early 1970s where we took it stage by stage. People have decided that they do not wish to have abortion permitted in Ireland and are using England as a safety valve for that problem.
In the 1930s and earlier, unwanted pregnancies were dealt with by sending people to Dublin, England or to convents from which they never emerged. At that time it was possible to do that and it was our way of coping with unwanted pregnancies. That option is no longer available to us because everybody travels to Dublin and this is a very small island all of a sudden.
I suppose I am the result of an unplanned pregnancy. I have spoken to my birth mother who told me quite honestly that she did not even realise what had happened to her and she did not know she was pregnant. I suppose I can stand here with some authority and say that if abortion had been available in 1953 I might not be here today. But in spite of that, or maybe because of that, I support the giving of information on the range of services available to girls and women with unwanted pregnancies. I absolutely believe that ignorance is not bliss. Unless we do something, we shall be much more guilty for what is happening at the moment than if we actually try to help those girls and women who are heading off uncounselled, not knowing where they are going and with no support.
I will probably be in a very small minority on this side of the House, but I commend the Minister. He has shown courage. Within two months of coming into the House he decided this was the legislation with which he was going to start. I know he has much more work to do in the Department of Health. Nobody should be afraid of what is contained in this Bill. Its effects will probably be positive in terms of saving lives.
I have parted company with colleagues on a number of occasions, including my Fine Gael colleagues when they referred to the corrupt ethos of Fianna Fáil. I said in this House that there were people in all parties who were unfit for office while others embodied integrity. Senator McGennis's courageous speech typifies what I said. She came into the House without a script, but it was one of the best speeches I have heard for a long time because she spoke with feeling, knowledge and, most of all, with her heart. She spoke to the 70,000 women who have been subjected to the scenes outside this House and who have been involved in one way or another. This is a stone in the pool because it is not 70,000, but 100,000 women who have been affected by this. Some people made the point that we should be careful about the emotive language we use. Language is a weapon to hurt and kill in this debate. I join with Senator McGennis in telling these people to rest easy because no one in this country has the right to judge them. There are more than enough Ayatollahs around the world and there are more per capita in Ireland than anywhere else. I applaud the words used by Senator McGennis.
I am reminded of what Senator Quinn said in this House about business being done as such in that one meets, discusses and agrees an issue and then disposes of what cannot be agreed. He makes sense on many issues, particularly on this one. For the past week or ten days there has been a phoney war; it is 1939 all over again. The two armies agree with the objective, but they must find something on which to disagree. This is an easy way to part company in order to keep some of the troops happy.
There is almost a consensus on general economic issues. A Programme For A Partnership Government, which was drafted mainly by the Labour Party — I do not mean that in a partisan way, but we have been part of this process for some time — was acceptable to Fianna Fáil. It was also acceptable to Fine Gael and to Democratic Left. It is unusual to agree on the fundamental economics of our society. Until Fianna Fáil exchanged places with Fine Gael, we were also ad idem on the major social issues.
Some Fianna Fáil speakers said that this Bill would never have seen the light of day had it been in Government. That is untrue; it is gilding the lily. Fianna Fáil, knowing that it had a majority of 30, would have said that if one felt badly about it, one could dive overboard for six months and it would throw the life-belt out again to bring one back. That was Fianna Fáil's out clause. This is a phoney war, although no shots have been fired because everyone pretends to fight and then they want to go home. The sooner this comes to an end the better.
I welcome the Minister for Health to the House and I congratulate him on his navigation skills and on his tenacity in taking this Bill through the House. Most aspects of this issue have been adequately covered in the other House. I want to look at it from the point of view of how this State has conducted its business in the past and the way it must now confront some of the problems it should have always dealt with. In business one must deal with the business on hand; it cannot be put to one side in the hope that it will go away. We are suddenly being forced to deal with issues.
When I was growing up — I do not know if people will remember this — England always solved our problems. The much maligned British nation solved the problems we handed to it. We exported people there in their thousands to build hospitals, schools and roads, although we did not have good roads here. We exported them to do everything in Britain which we should have been doing here. We lacked vision, policies and the type of imaginative approach needed to deal with the problem of unemployment. We fobbed our problems off.
We exported other problems as well. In the 1950s, especially in Cork, if the Garda brought a person into court, with, perhaps, a long record, and he was charged with beating someone up or robbing houses — he would not steal cars because there were few cars at the time — the defending solicitor would say that his client had a ticket for the Inishfallen in his pocket because he was going to London the following day. The ticket would then be produced at the judge's request. He would be allowed to go free, without a suspended sentence in case it would interfere with his job prospects across the water. It would be agreed by all concerned to drop the case. He would be admonished and told to leave for the shores of England. The court sergeant would be told that the person would be on the Inishfallen in Penrose Quay in Cork on Monday night. That was how we solved our problems, but we do not do that anymore; we now deal with our own problems. The Minister for Health, a former Minister for Justice, did not like sending people off in boats to be incarcerated somewhere else. He had to deal with the tough problems.
We also sent to England those who wished to escape from marital problems. There was no comfort here for beaten wives whose own mothers would tell them that because they had made their bed, they must lie on it. Current posters in bus shelters read: "He gave her chocolates, flowers and multiple bruising". This was a fairly common occurrence when I was growing up. Country women could go to Dublin, Cork or Galway, but urban women had nowhere to go. The only escape they had was to take the boat to England where they were accepted and where they could put their lives back together. This State was too cowardly to address these problems. We also sent women to England for abortions and we are still doing that after all these years.
One of the tests or badges of a state is its will and ability to deal with its own problems. Although we always had the ability, we demonstrated in the past that we did not have the will. I am glad to see that hypocrisy coming to an end. England was always our refuge and if that failed, there always was the High Court and the Supreme Court — we always used our bolthole rather than face up to the issue.
In the other House the Minister said there was only one place to do public business — in public, in the Oireachtas. One cannot cede one's problems to someone else, although people sometimes like to do that. I agree that here is where one does one's business; one stands up and gives one's view, whatever it may be. No one here is a reservoir of all wisdom, I do not like elements of this Bill but I accept absolutely that the Bill fulfils its requirements in accordance with the constitutional referendum, the decision of the people and the subsequent promise of the previous Government.
I wish the Bill went further. Sooner or later this country will have to confront the real issues in the X case. People say it is not time yet; so be it. I am happy if we at least ensure the people referred to by Senator McGennis — who wish to or have to leave this island — depart in possession of information that will save their lives. Is it any wonder people, now and in the past, questioned the relevance of the Houses of the Oireachtas? This Bill is the minimum which could be introduced. I have to accept it but other issues will have to be dealt with eventually.
The belief that this country has matured was confirmed in the referendum. That the country is maturing is demonstrated by the size of the crowd outside Leinster House. That is clear evidence that the vast majority of the Irish people understand and accept these things have to be. We all wish they were different and that life was perfect, but it is not.
Some people are waving pictures of Hitler and Auschwitz; that is crude, arrant nonsense. When they are reduced to that they are defeated. I will listen to any argument put forward by a reasonable person. I respect his or her ethos in terms of religion or deep feeling on what he or she considers to be a moral issue. I do not expect such people to support my views but I will not force my views down their throat or use disgraceful, lying propaganda to make my point. The evidence of the maturity of the Irish people is in the lack of numbers protesting outside this House. When someone has to play a tape recording of the Rosary, it shows we are growing up.
The Minister's introduction of this Bill in the Dáil led to the opening shots of a phoney war, which will come to a close in this House. As it ends, those like myself who believe this Bill does not go far enough have to accept this is an honest attempt to address the wishes of the people. I pay tribute to my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator McGennis, for a brave, honest and emotional speech. It will do her credit, irrespective of what her party does in this debate. She has vindicated her position with great courage and clarity, which is worthy of note.
I commend the Bill to the House and congratulate the Minister on his skilful efforts in bringing it thus far. I have no doubt that as with other Bills he brought before us when Minister for Justice, every possible step has been taken to ensure the legislation he proposes is not only in accordance with the wishes of the people but with the Constitution.
I will vote against this Bill for a specific reason; it fails to carry out what should be its main task, which is to regulate properly the availability of information about the termination of pregnancy. I congratulate Senator McGennis on a sincere, honest speech and those who heard it welcome it.
The debate on this Bill is not, or at least should not, be a debate on abortion as such. Neither should it be about whether information should be available because that question has already been decided by the citizens of this land. What it should concern is how the availability of information should be regulated.
The Constitution does not provide for the unregulated availability of information. On the contrary, it specifically provides that it should be regulated: there is an obligation on the Legislature, which we and the Minister are finally addressing, to pass a law regulating the information. We have to legislate; we do not have a choice but that does not mean we have to accept any Bill put before us. This legislation is fatally flawed because it provides for considerably less regulation and control of the advertising of abortion services than the present regulation and control of the advertising of tobacco, which I use as a yardstick.
Quite rightly we have surrounded the promotion of tobacco and cigarettes with a raft of restrictions. Cigarette products cannot be advertised on radio or television and I am pleased this Bill has been amended in the Dáil to provide for similar restrictions. Tobacco and cigarettes can only be advertised in other media with a Government health warning. It is precisely this strong, determined effort on the part of the Government which has ensured no advertisement for cigarettes appears without a reasonably large portion of it devoted to that warning. Various Governments over the last 20 years have insisted on this action, so no one will see an advertisement for cigarettes without being reminded of the consequences of availing of that product and warned of what is likely to happen. Our legislation, and that of most countries, states we should think twice before availing of that product.
These warnings have become stronger and tougher over the years. We have strict rules on the selling of cigarettes. Retailers — as I am — cannot give special offers for cigarettes and we cannot feature them in our advertisements. It is a draconian regime; the tobacco companies do not like it but almost everyone, including many retailers, think it is an acceptable way to regulate and control the production of goods which are dangerous to health.
What I find unacceptable in this Bill is that it proposes to give far more freedom to the advertising of abortion services than we currently give to the advertising of tobacco. There is a constitutional requirement to make information available; we cannot duck that and we should not fudge it either. However, in view of the other constitutional requirements regarding abortion it appears that at the very least we must regulate that information as closely as we regulate the promotion of tobacco products. This Bill suggests that, as a nation, we disapprove of tobacco products more than we disapprove of abortion. Frankly, that does not make sense.
May I raise a point of information with my distinguished colleague? Does Senator Quinn propose to cease trading as a nicotine referral agency or will he continue to sell cigarettes after his fascinating speech?
That does not require an answer. I support the restrictions in the tobacco legislation so I have no problem continuing to refer people to it in the normal way. However, my point is that we appear to treat tobacco as far more dangerous than abortions. Let us think twice about this.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Minister has attended this House on many occasions in the past and he has piloted substantial legislation through the House. I am glad to see him back and I wish him every success in his current office.
The Minister summarised this matter in the concluding paragraphs of his speech. He said:
The bottom line, however, is that the issue was decided in 1992. The Irish people were presented with a proposed constitutional amendment, with clear explanations as to what it meant and explicit commitments as to how it would be implemented. The Bill which I am bringing before the House today honours, to the letter, the understanding upon which the electorate voted in 1992....
That, in a nutshell, is what is involved in the Bill, the reason it is before the House and what is involved in passing this legislation.
I wish to advance my reasons for supporting this Bill. They are simple and straightforward and they reflect the comments in the concluding paragraph of the Minister's statement. On 25 November 1992, the people voted in three referenda. On the specific question of the right to receive and import information on services that are lawfully available in other countries, the Irish people voted by a margin of 60:40 in favour. As far as I am concerned, there is and there has been a constitutional right to receive such information from that moment. To attempt to present the situation otherwise is to misrepresent what is a clear position. The Bill simply regulates how such information is provided. The Bill provides for no new rights. The right already exists by virtue of what the people decided in the referendum on 25 November 1992.
In the first part of his speech, the Minister set out the background to the questions that were put to the people. He spoke about the explanations that were given by the Government of the day and by people on both sides of the argument. What was involved and what would arise from a decision one way or the other on this question was perfectly clear to the electorate. People knew exactly what they were voting for.
As the Minister said, this matter came before the people largely as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case. That was followed by months of public debate. Information was issued by the Government and by both sides of the argument in the weeks prior to the referendum. The information leaflet distributed by the "no" campaign — nobody has any doubt as to which side of the argument I am talking about — made it quite clear that acceptance of that amendment by the people would result in and would require names and addresses being provided.
It is also relevant to recall, particularly in view of certain statements that have been issued in the last few weeks, what was the public attitude of Catholic bishops at that time. Their advice was clear — vote either way, but do so with an informed conscience.
The events that have led to the present situation have been crystal clear. As the Minister has outlined, there has been a series of steps. I wish to put my view of these events on the record. A referendum was held in 1983 on an amendment with flawed wording which certain political parties and other interests insisted should be put before the Irish people. Despite the advice to the contrary that was made available by the Government of Dr. Garret FitzGerald and by the Attorney General at the time, Mr. Peter Sutherland, those interests still insisted on a certain formula of words. The advice was that the wording was flawed. The decision of the Supreme Court in the X case in 1992 verified the accuracy of those warnings. It is extraordinary that the interests which were involved in forcing a flawed wording before the people in that referendum are not now prepared to admit any measure of responsibility or to utter a word of regret for the situation that developed as a direct result of their efforts and insistence.
The next step was the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case which arose as a result of the flawed wording of the 1983 amendment. Months of debate followed and the implications were clear to all. I have already referred to the bishops' advice. The referendum was held and the question on the right to information was carried 60:40. We have now arrived at the final step — the Bill to regulate the right to information, a right which was confirmed by the decision of the people in November 1992. There is no new right in this legislation. In fact, no compulsion of any kind is placed on anybody to do anything about which they, in conscience, are not happy.
I support the Bill for other reasons which were covered in the Minister's speech. The Minister proposes to make substantial funding available for counselling services. I wish to pay tribute to the counselling services, particularly Cura, which is the one with which I am most familiar, which have done very valuable work. I welcome the Minister's assurance that substantial additional funding will be made available to such bodies. In addition, he said that research will be carried out into why so many choose the unfortunate option of abortion. I wish to see that funding and research get underway as quickly as possible to establish which failures in society leave so many girls and women feeling that they have no other option.
I wish to comment briefly on the lobbying with which we have been confronted in the past few weeks and to recall my own experience. The lobbying came under the three headings of letters, visits and telephone calls. I have very little to say about the letters apart from the fact that I recognised only one writer; his letter was a courteous one to which he will receive a courteous reply. In many cases the other letters were obviously a type of chain letter with my name attached. They were signed by people whom I do not know and whom I have no recollection of ever meeting or having any dealings with and many came from outside my county. It might seem extraordinary, but only one of the letters I received was from a person whom I know. It was not the kind of letter to which I would object and, consequently, it will receive a courteous and lengthy reply.
This is a democracy and, as such, there has to be a place within this society for lobbies and representations. They enhance, in a way, the role of the Dáil and Seanad in so far as society sees these Houses as the place where decisions are made. Consequently, democracy requires that we accept and respond to lobbies and representations. However, in my experience as a politician, almost all lobbies and representations have in common that the people involved know what they are talking about and are, by and large, familiar with and involved in the core of the problem. This case was quite different in my experience.
Except for the first person who called to me, I made a point of asking each subsequent person who called or telephoned me if they were involved in pregnancy counselling services and what their experience was in dealing with the trauma and anguish of pregnant girls. I told them that I wanted to know how they dealt with that anguish and torment, as I had that experience — I am sure that many of my colleagues have from time to time been involved in trying to sort out such matters in a family — and wanted to share that experience with them. I think that that was a reasonable point to make, but to my amazement not one of them had experience in counselling services. Their reactions were quite incredible, ranging from surprise at being asked the question to open hostility. Last Saturday night, one lady who called to my house gave me the distinct impression that she was questioning my mental stability for having asked the question and took her leave rather promptly.
I do not know whether my experience of personal and telephone callers was unique. However, I wish to put on record that while I welcome lobbies and representations, I at least expect that the people who participate in these are themselves involved in making a genuine effort to resolve the core of the problem for which they are seeking my assistance. I have not found that to be the case in this particular situation.
I have already referred to the good counselling work which is being done by Cura and other organisations. I have been in touch with them on a number of occasions and they do excellent work. I know most of the people who are involved in the local branch of Cura and not one of them contacted me over the past few weeks. They are the people who deal with the core of the problem.
After that experience I have been left to conclude that those who are objecting are a rather extraordinary collection of people. As those who approached or confronted me, on the road or elsewhere, have not been involved in attempting to resolve or ease the situation, I can only conclude that their only contribution since the 1992 referendum has been to prepare their ambush for this legislation.
If they are genuinely concerned about the tragedy of unwanted pregnancy, at this moment there is a number of pregnant teenage girls in the country who have been betrayed by their boyfriends. Worst of all, in this Christian island of ours, they are often rejected by their families, which makes the situation far worse. These girls are crying out for support, understanding and guidance. The people who protested to me and to others will find ample opportunity to satisfy the deep Christian concern which they claim to possess if they assist these girls and work with organisations such as Cura. They should see this Bill, with its provision for funding for counselling and research, as an opportunity to express in a positive way the Christian concern which they proclaim.
I have gone on at length about this because I feel that it is a point which should be made. I was not faced with the unacceptable attack which was levied on a Member of the Dáil. However, there was a certain resemblance, although it was in much kinder terms, in what was said to me.
I wish to quote from an article in today's Irish Times by Andy Pollak, who is its religious affairs correspondent. He quoted from an address by a Catholic theologian, Fr. Gabriel Daly, to a conference in Dublin on cultural identity and tolerance. Fr. Daly said the teaching of Vatican II allowed the Catholic theologian to argue that it is wrong to seek to impose, through constitutional law, a religious viewpoint that encroaches on the religious freedom of those citizens who do not share this viewpoint. He went on to say that Catholics have a right to be defended by their bishops from the inquisitorial and intimidatory assaults of fundamentalists. I welcome this constructive view and it is appropriate to mention it at this time.
I support the Bill for the obvious reason that its only purpose is to give effect to a very clear decision of the Irish electorate in the November 1992 referendum on the question of information. It does nothing more than put into a legislative framework the method by which that decision may be implemented. The Minister has introduced a most acceptable Bill and he has tried to take a number of competing viewpoints on board. The Bill is an effective measure which lives up to the obligation imposed on us as legislators by the Constitution and I support it.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the debate on the abortion information issue. In the Bill we are voting on the principle of information. It is not a vote on abortion, nor can the Bill affect the substantive right to life of the unborn child and the equal right to life of the mother. The right to information was given to the people by the people in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1992, when they voted by a margin of 60:40 in favour of such information.
The people expressed their view quite clearly and this Bill regularises the information for which they voted. At last we have a Bill and although the Minister is aware that my party, the Progressive Democrats Party, does not believe it is perfect, we are at least discussing the issue, which I welcome. I also welcome the Minister's commitment to increase counselling services and to fund research into abortion, the incidence of which is now so high in this country.
The Minister is aware that the Progressive Democrats Party is concerned about what it sees as interference in the doctor patient relationship and the criminalisation of people, such as counsellors and doctors, who are involved in helping women. The party also has concerns about the right to information under the Constitution.
I wish to preface my remarks by the following point: it is essential that we move away from the possibility of protracted legal action in this area in the future. For the last ten years far too much time, money and effort has been taken up by legal cases. This is money, time and effort which I believe could have been much more usefully invested in services which might have led to a reduction in the number of Irish women who feel they must go abroad for abortions. We must protect the rights of women and I support the development of comprehensive services appropriate to deal with the serious and increasing level of crisis pregnancy.
When I was considering my contribution to this debate, I thought back to a radio programme on the abortion information issue last Friday week, in which I was one of seven participants and the only woman. The others included a Catholic bishop, a priest, a member of Youth Defence and Life Interest. Thankfully, there was also a Young Fine Gael member, who appeared to see things a little as I saw them. I was the last person to whom the presenter came. As I listened to the other contributors to the debate talking about excommunication, Nazi Germany, extermination and keeping women ignorant, I was fuming by the time the interviewer came to me. I could not help thinking: in what type of world are these people living? What type of message are they sending to young women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation? Their discussion could only have left these women feeling more frightened, more terrified and certainly more isolated.
I have never found myself faced with a crisis pregnancy. I cannot now imagine any circumstances in which I would have an abortion. However, I do not believe that I, or any Member of this House, would know how they would react if they were faced with the same situation with which these women have been faced. It is very difficult for any of us to put our hands on our hearts and say that we would not take the same road they have taken.
As I listened to those people talking about the information issue, I found I was thinking that they were living in a very different Ireland from the one in which I live. If we are honest with ourselves and consider three very sad and different incidents in the last few weeks, we get a picture of what life is really like for some women living in this country. There was the case of the man from the west who, over a period of ten years, abused his children, including his two daughters. He abused them physically, mentally and sexually from the time they were four or five years of age.
There is the case of the 12 year old girl in Cork, who became pregnant when she was only 11 years of age. I have a child who is 11 years old and I could not help thinking, after I heard of this case, what it would be like for an 11 year old child to be pregnant. It is absolutely horrifying, yet I saw in a newspaper over the weekend that since 1977, 11 years old girls in this country have become pregnant. There was also the very sad case last Thursday of the young girl whose baby was found dead in County Kildare. She was a single mother, who was distraught and distressed in hospital. Unfortunately, this is what life is like for some women in Ireland today.
I read an article in yesterday's Sunday Independent by Professor Anthony Clare. In one paragraph he stated:
The problem is that Ireland, for all our dreaming, is no more an ideal society than the Netherlands, Italy or Japan, countries which have in various ways struggled to cope with opposing religious and civil perspectives on abortion. We have to live with the fact that rape, marital violence, alcoholic spouses, severe genetic deformities, chronic disease, severe poverty and unemployment are a feature of life here as well as everywhere else. We have to live with the fact that sex here as elsewhere results in unwanted pregnancies and women have always aborted.
Listening to the debate about abortion information, I cannot help feeling that as a society we do not really trust women — only by keeping them ignorant will the country be safe from abortion; tell them nothing and life will be as we want it to be, or as we pretend it is. I find this attitude to women deeply offensive. Do we honestly believe that if we give names and addresses of abortion clinics in England, all the women in this country will be on the first plane out of here? How insulting to Irish women; how little we value their judgment.
Women in this country have always accepted the major burden of responsibility for children. We carry them for nine months. We feed and educate them and we have always put their interests and welfare first. I trust Irish women, but it is very clear to me that many people do not trust Irish women. If we continue to deny reality in Irish life, nothing will change. Only when subjects such as child abuse, abortion and violence against women become issues will we be prepared to put resources into the areas of counselling, child protection, womens' refuges, implementing the Child Care Act, etc. As long as we believe that all is well, these difficult issues will remain off the political agenda.
Many of the groups campaigning against this abortion information legislation have very little trust in women. They do not accept the right to information. The only family acceptable to them is one which involves a man and woman, with children, who were married in a church. If that marriage fails or breaks down, one is no longer acceptable. One cannot be a woman on one's own, rearing one's child; one should give it up for adoption. According to these groups, young children should not be taught sex education or education for life in our schools; information is dangerous. Education and information have always been an enabling force allowing people to make decisions for themselves and to take responsibility for their actions. It has always been a positive force.
If we look at the education issue, particularly sex education and education for life, the Second Commission on the Status of Women, of which I was a member, made many recommendations on family planning and sex education, all of which I support. There is one important recommendation that should be mentioned here. I know the Minister has mentioned that a sex education programme is being developed by the Department of Education and I welcome the steps that have been taken in that regard but we must give young people, male and female, a sense of personal autonomy and responsibility in relationships. The Second Commission on the Status of Women believed that this should be complemented by targeted health promotion unit advertisements in the media pointing out to young girls the disadvantages of early unplanned pregnancies.
When young women see a baby they think it is glamorous, almost like playing with a doll, but many of our young unmarried women live difficult lives. Some people say that they are only getting pregnant for the money they receive from the Department of Social Welfare. If that is so and if the appalling conditions in which many of them live are an improvement on the lives they led before they were pregnant, then all I can say is that the circumstances from which they came must have been very bad indeed. I do not believe any of these women are in this situation voluntarily. They do not go out to become pregnant. Many of them come from disadvantaged circumstances. They are rejected by their families and the fathers of their children; they are totally isolated and alone. They then find themselves listening to people condemning them at every hands turn instead of devoting their energies to trying to help them.
I now wish to turn to the attitude of the Catholic Church. I find its statements on excommunicating people who have had abortions or who give information or help these women very frightening. I fully accept the right of the Catholic Church to state its view that abortion is contrary to the Catholic religion — I would expect them to do so — but why is it that it only comes out strongly on issues that affect women? As many other people have said in this recent debate, the Catholic Church has never talked about excommunicating the IRA for the atrocities it committed. It never speaks about child sexual abuse.
We must ask ourselves why so much child sex abuse is now coming before the courts. Is it because we have been prepared to turn a blind eye to these cases up to now? Have we thought that if we ignored them, they would go away? Child sexual abuse has not gone away and it will not until the matter is addressed. The question of abortion will not go away unless we fully discuss it and see why women are forced to take that option. Only then will things change and will we really face up to the issue.
While talking on a radio programme last week, I referred to the figures the Minister gave of women who had gone to England for abortions — 12,000 for the years 1991-93. Many of the groups opposed to this Bill do not accept those figures. A woman involved with one of the pro-life groups phoned in to this programme and said she found these figures totally unacceptable. She had travelled to Birmingham and Liverpool to stand outside abortion clinics to try to stop Irish women from having abortions. I admired her commitment — she is obviously sincere in her belief — but I could not help wondering if she would be better off approaching a young single parent in her home town and offering her babysitting services or spending some time with these lonely women. Many single parents live in difficult situations. Encouraging people who keep their children by giving them support, time and showing that we are concerned about them would be a better pro-life move than standing outside English abortion clinics and trying to turn them back.
I recently met an Irish nurse who was training in England when the abortion legislation became law there in 1968. She told me that she noticed the initials "PFI" on a number of patients' charts. When she asked what it stood for, she was told it meant "Pregnant from Ireland". She was amazed that the numbers coming from Ireland, even in 1968, for abortions was so large that British hospitals had derived an initial for the front of their files. It is extraordinary. This is not a recent problem; it has been there through the years when many frightened women, on their own and without telling anybody, went abroad for abortions. We must accept this fact because only then can we deal with it; we will do nothing about it if we continue to deny it. That is why I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue and, like the Minister, to face the realities of Irish life and try to implement policies and strategies that will address serious issues for Irish women.
Other Senators have talked about family planning facilities. It is only recently that we have come to terms with accepting widespread family planning throughout the country. It was farcical that up to two years ago, the contraceptive pill could not be prescribed under the GMS as a contraceptive; it was called a cycle regulator. That showed how farcical and immature we were in dealing with these issues. We need to put a lot more funding into family planning services. People ask why young girls are becoming pregnant. There are no family planning facilities throughout the country. There are family planning clinics in the major cities but there are vast areas where the only person who can offer these services is the local GP. I have noticed from recent reports that the Irish College of General Practitioners is interested in talking to the Minister about counselling and, I hope, family planning and the range of other services that must be put in place if we are to address this issue.
Counselling is most important. Surveys have shown that few women go for non-directive counselling and talk through all the issues with anybody before they leave this country. Many of them might reconsider their position if they were given the impression that we really did care, that we were concerned about their predicament and were willing, as a society, to do something about it. However, only our actions will show this. There is no point coming into these Houses saying fine words about these issues and then forgetting about them. The Second Commission on the Status of Women raised many of these issues in 1992. Now, almost three years later, little has changed. We have to grasp these issues. We are slowly maturing and the debate in these Houses is an example of this.
Last Saturday week I saw a photograph in a newspaper of young women wearing veils protesting against this Bill. This frightened me. I was very conservative when I was 17 years of age but, as I got older, I realised that life is not always black and white or as we would wish it to be. We have all seen things in society that we wished did not happen, but we must face up to and deal with them. Seeing these women wearing black veils reminded me of Islam and how Islamic women there are forced to wear them. Women are totally isolated from the decision making and power structures in that society. Seeing women doing this in this country was very frightening.
I also wish to refer to Irish women going abroad and how frightened they must be. When I was pregnant with my first child I remember how frightened I was when I went into labour. It is difficult, unless one goes through it, to imagine how frightening it must be for these women who go abroad for abortions. When I had my baby, I had the support of my husband and I knew the people in the hospital. The fear these young women feel in going abroad to a strange country, in the hope that when they return nobody will discover their predicament, is unimaginable.
We are discussing this Bill in the context of criminal legislation. I find it difficult to accept that criminalising those we are dealing with — women with crisis pregnancies, doctors, counsellors and those who help them — is the only thing we can do. I do not believe they are criminals and that is what I find distasteful about this issue. The Minister is trying to move away from that and is doing his best in a difficult area. I support the Bill because I accept the principle behind it, although I have a lot of reservations which we will discuss on Committee State. I congratulate the Minister on bringing the Bill this far.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I congratulate him on the way he steered the Bill through the other House, which I hope he will do here also. It is hard to make a speech on this issue without expressing anger because, as Senator McGennis and Senator Honan said, it is an intensely personal issue for women to speak on. It is about individual women making difficult decisions. As Senator Honan said, some of us are lucky enough not to be put in a position where we might have to make this type of decision. It is an intensely personal, difficult and heart-rending decision for women to make and those who make it are in a weak position. To compare those women and what they do to the systematic killing of millions in the Holocaust by powerful men is obscene. That point which was made by others, cannot be made strongly enough.
There are some who genuinely campaign on the pro-life side and who hold sincere views. Senator Howard described genuine people working with organisations like Cura, while Senator Honan referred to a woman outside the clinics in Britain trying to stop women having abortions. These people are genuinely committed and are trying to do something positive about an issue which they feel strongly about. I have no argument with these people. While I do not agree with them on this issue, they are entitled to put forward their point of view.
As legislators we must deal with the facts and I congratulate the Minister in this regard. Recent figures for 1993 indicate that 4,300 women with Irish addresses had abortions in Britain. That is a minimum figure because I am sure there were others who did not give Irish addresses and it is 9 per cent of live births that year.
It is our duty as Members of the Oireachtas to legislate for the real world and not for the idealistic image we have of ourselves. It is nice to have an idealistic image and in some ways it is good that we have an ideal to live up to.
We must deal with problems in the real world where thousands of pregnant Irish women go to Britain to find a solution to their problems. For a long time we did not want to know about the individual problems of the thousands of women. We have retained an absolutist position in relation to abortion and we have pretended that it did not exist. We have allowed women to rush off in a panic to Britain and to make a decision they might not have made if they could have addressed their problem properly in Ireland.
One of the most welcome aspects of this Bill is the fact that we are addressing this issue for the first time in a realistic way. By providing for research, which is in a way the most important aspect of the Bill, we will find out why women make the decision to have an abortion. I hope this research will be comprehensive and will be carried out as efficiently as possible. The Minister said that it will not only deal with women who have had abortions, but with women with crisis pregnancies who may not make that decision. I welcome this aspect of the Bill.
We have begun to address distasteful aspects of Irish life and the Child Care Act is another example of that. Members referred to situations which have come to our attention through the media in the past week; they are not pleasant and it would be nice to pretend they did not exist. I welcome the fact that the Minister referred to education, to the co-operation of the Department of Education in this area and the fact that boys as well as girls will be educated. It is about time men took responsiblility for children because for too long women have carried this burden. Recently I wrote to the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, on the question of paternity leave. As long as it is written into legislation that it is women's responsibility to take care of children, it will continue to be so. Men and women must accept that it is the responsibility of both.
The Minister will be familiar with the emphasis in health policy on social and health gain. When he was a member of the Mid-Western Health Board, it is something we discussed. As Minister for Health, he is now implementing that aim. The intention that the education part of the Department of Health will concentrate on that issue is welcome.
The Bill goes as far as possible in the context of what was decided in the 1992 referendum. The Minister read from a document clarifying what was information and referral and that the referendum was about information, not referral. Addresses and medical records may be given, but a doctor cannot refer. Given what the people decided in 1992 and the information they had, this is as far as the Bill can go. Legal advice suggests that it is legally possible to implement it.
I refer to the Minister's commitment to extend funding for family planning. For a long time family planning was left to those who were willing to stick their necks out — clinics, GP's and others who provided family planning services at a time when it was not generally available. In the 1970s many people stuck their necks out on that issue. The Minister is increasing funding for counselling and family planning, which is welcome. Another issue which must be addressed is the availability of contraceptives for those who cannot afford them, although the pill can be prescribed on a medical card, other methods of family planning are not available.
As Senator Henry said, by the time many women get to England they are emotionally and financially beyond counselling. However, because of the provisions in this legislation for counselling and other services, these women will now have the opportunity to consider what they are doing before they reach that stage, that is, to consider their decision in this country with the proper support of their doctor or counsellor, with an understanding in this country that the problem exists, that these women exist and they need to be treated with care and concern in this country. For many of them by the time they get to Britain it is not possible for them to turn back on their decision. They have made it in an inexorable way and no amount of counselling will make them turn back at that stage. By having counselling available in this country many women will be able to consider their predicament calmly, rather then in a panic, and this will reduce the numbers of Irish women having abortions.
The other issues referred to by Senator Henry are not and cannot be catered for in this Bill, such as the issue of the equal right to life of the woman, as stated in the 1983 amendment to the Constitution and the Supreme Court judgement which followed the X case. We will have to address these issues and be honest with ourselves with regard to matters such as ectopic pregnancies, women with cancer of the cervix, women with hypertension for whom pregnancy is a risk, or sterilisation. We will have to face up to all of these issues and acknowledge that the issue of right to life of the foetus and the equal right to life of the woman will not go away. Sooner or later we will have to deal with this problem in Ireland. There have been many cases of rape in the news recently; there has also been the case of the 12 year old girl who is alleged to be pregnant. We will have to face up to such issues. I am not sure what the solution will be but we cannot forever have, as Senator McGennis said, English solutions to Irish problems.
This Bill brings some understanding to the problems of women who feel themselves forced to go to Britain for abortions. It is a humane step forward to acknowledge that we have an abortion problem in this country and to make some care and information available to women who are making those decisions. In that sense I welcome the Bill and I believe it will reduce the number of Irish women who have abortions.
I wish to share my time with Senator Ormonde.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister and I commend him for staying throughout the debate. It is not always possible for Ministers to do so and it is good if a Minister takes the time to listen to the full debate.
It must be clear to anyone who gives any thought to the subject matter of this Bill that the issues are deeply disturbing, divisive and highly emotional. The more thought one gives to it, the more troubling it becomes. We are confronted, in essence, by matters of life and death. We are also dealing with and trying to legislate for human experiences which are tied to misery, anxiety, depression, despair and perhaps even suicide.
When I say the issues are divisive I have in mind specifically the language of hate and antipathy sometimes spewed out by those holding the more extreme views, whether such people are on the pro-life, anti-abortion side or on the side of those who oppose them. A consequence is that we have tens of thousands of decent people caught in a rip-tide, torn between conscience, compassion and polarisation.
Abortion is an ugly fact of everyday life. Like all ugly facts it can give rise to strong feelings of revulsion. However, abortion, or call it termination of pregnancy, also causes some people, abroad and in Ireland, to act and speak as if they consider themselves to be exclusively wise, moral and compassionate. That is not alone ideological, it is insulting, especially when one thinks of those in other countries whose lives have been wilfully and brutally ended by those professing to be pro-life.
It has been instructive to follow the views expressed in Dáil Éireann by the women who spoke on this Bill. I am conscious of the body of opinion which holds that it is only women who should speak and vote on matters relating to abortion. It is not by any means only militant feminists who hold this view; Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) is on record as saying that he wished that so many men would not speak about the matter. I so disagree.
The views expressed by women Deputies were characterised by insights and feelings derived directly from the difference in the biological make up between women and men. As Deputy O'Rourke said, "There is no woman who would lightly seek an abortion as it is an invasion of her body and mind". That statement — an invasion of her body and mind — continues to stop me in my tracks and shocked me over the weekend in thinking about this Bill.
As a man I will never experience that particular invasion of body and mind. The knowledge that this is so is one more troubling aspect of the mental tussle I face, along with others in this House, in focusing on this Bill. We are duty bound to exercise such wisdom as we possess. As somebody said long ago, wisdom is an affair of values and of value judgements. Therein lies the problem for us all; what are the criteria of values and of value judgements we will employ?
There is a clutch of dilemmas confronting all of us and each in his and her own way has to try to solve them. If I think of the 11 year old in the south of the country allegedly pregnant from sexual encounters with a middle aged man — a child about to have a child — can I, like others, remain unmoved? Can I be expected not to be appalled? Can I be legitimately blamed for just wondering whether it is right for that child to go through what is bound to be a growing ordeal of full term pregnancy and birth, and the stigma she and her family may well feel will remain with her throughout her life? What will the relevance be to her of that "invasion of her body and mind" statement when she has already experienced her own invasion of body and mind?
What does conscience, the inner voice, say to us in this case — a case I discussed with people over the weekend — or in cases of forcible rape or incest? All of these are questions which arise out of the contemplation of this Bill which may soon become law. In the 1st century BC Publilius Syrus made the observation that even when there is no law, there is conscience. I have no intention of getting into theological arguments or discussions and, anyway, the members of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy have already pronounced on this Bill and made their unambiguous views publicly known. For me the personal dilemma still remains, and I find it exceedingly difficult to know how the criteria of values and value judgments which suggest themselves in the cases I have referred to, should be or could be applied in cases where abortion is contemplated for other perhaps, just perhaps, less dramatic, traumatic reasons.
We are, however, expected to judge. I would say in passing that absenting oneself from the process, as one Deputy did last week, seems to be no honest answer; it smacks of an abnegation of duty, a walking away or conscious withdrawal from responsibility. Perhaps it is true that conscience does make cowards of us all, although I hope not. Maybe analysis leads to paralysis, and it is often said that if one does not judge one will never be mistaken.
On what are we expected to pass judgement in this particular instance? This Bill is only marginally about abortion. It is related to abortion, but it is, as its title makes clear, about information. It is appropriate that this debate takes place, given that legislation on freedom of information will be presented to the Dáil before Christmas. We should not be afraid of information and we should push back any encroaching paranoia. However, in the context of a democracy, where we are entitled and obliged to ask questions, I, in common with many others, wonder about the Minister's timing with regard to this Bill. Was it purely by coincidence, and with no previous indication, that the Government intended to bring forward such legislation in this session? It was suddenly rushed through on the day the Framework Document was published. Pure or planned coincidence? Was there, as Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn suggested, a Government plan that the Bill would be swallowed up in the events of that day and would receive no critical examination? I do not know if cynical considerations were part of the Government's or of the Minister's thinking.
On the Order of Business it was agreed that we would have a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
I require three more minutes.
Is the House agreed to allowing the Senator continue and adding this time to the end of the sos? Agreed.
I raise these questions, not out of any sense of mischief but because I am still not aware of definite answers. The circumstances leave me with suspicions. Nevertheless, I commend the Minister for focusing on the urgency and importance of counselling for women in crisis pregnancies. I have certain reservations regarding the optimism which the Minister may entertain in respect of any dramatic increase in the level of effective pregnancy counselling likely to be immediately forthcoming from family doctors. It is well know that counselling takes time and calls for specific training. It is equally well known that family doctors have neither the time nor the training, notwithstanding the approach of the Irish College of General Practitioners.
The increase in funding to voluntary agencies offering pregnancy counselling, from £70,000 to £200,000, is to welcomed, but it is not nearly enough. If the reported number of 4,300 women who go to England every year for abortions is to be dramatically reduced through the provision of counselling and care, it would take a lot more than £200,000 to achieve it. However, in his speech the Minister states: "...I will be making significant funding available to ensure that counselling is available wherever needed". I welcome this.
Senator Doyle referred to the idea of counselling in the UK and I have spoken on this matter with my colleague, Deputy McDaid, last week. The Minister should consider this idea, because, given the totality of our relationship with the UK, the Minister could establish, with funding, a joint venture on research and counselling, with his counterpart in London, to ensure that we reduce the numbers travelling abroad. Such a venture would also ensure that when the individual has made the traumatic decision to travel by plane or boat, there would be somebody at the other end available to provide counselling. Hopefully, the Minister might give consideration to some kind of joint venture between the health boards here and the equivalent bodies in the UK.
If there is a genuine seriousness about tackling the circumstances which cause so many thousands of women to make these sad and lonely journeys, more time, consideration and knowledge is required. One positive thing which has materialised from this debate is the issue of bringing together research, counselling and information. Hopefully, therefore, the commitment made by the Minister in his speech in this respect will be forthcoming.
Rushing things through, which appears to be a danger regarding the Bill, will itself be abortive and this would be a crying shame. We must protect fragile, vulnerable, sad and isolated women in their moment of crisis. We must proceed slowly and the courts will have to make known their decisions on the central issue regarding the Bill. It is only when they are in full possession of that knowledge that we can have matters clarified.
In welcoming some of the points made by the Minister, I hope that necessary resources will be made available in respect of the commitments made in his speech with regard to helping those attempting to ensure that the right research and counselling takes place.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the House and understand the dilemma he faced in the past number of weeks in preparing to bring forward this legislation. The issue in question is not an easy one to talk of. We are dealing with a social issue which is extremely sensitive and on which all of us have views which we are entitled to put forward. The legislation sets out to provide for certain information being made available to pregnant women who seek such information from doctors or pregnancy counsellors. We are endeavouring to ensure that all the options are put forward but that abortion is not advocated. That is the kernel of this problem — information is the key issue — but the question we must answer is whether we can put forward a fair piece of legislation that will reflect the opinion of the majority? It is very difficult to legislate for private morality as the final decision has to come eventually from one's own heart and soul. Looking at the two sides of the debate, it is very difficult to stand back from it and try to view it objectively. Yet, if you come down on one side or the other, you are categorised as being either pro-abortion or anti-abortion.
Let me start by saying that I would not regard abortion as an option. It is not a solution to the problem. We are today discussing whether the provision of names, addresses and telephone numbers facilitates abortion but there is great difficulty with that question. For instance, is it synonymous with referral? I have to say that it is. The question is one that has been put to me in the past few days. Section 2 refers to Act information so perhaps the Minister would clarify what is meant by that term. After thinking about it for a while I am still unsure as to what it means. I take it that it means acting out on the information you get; that you are given the names, addresses and telephone numbers and then you act on that information.
(Limerick East): No. It is just information in accordance with the Act when it is passed.
All right, but you can understand that there is an ambiguity there when you say "Act information".
Section 5 talks about the information made available by doctors or advice agencies who offer counselling services to the public, but does a doctor have time to counsel? First, the client comes for a physical check up and, following that, you have at least a half an hour of counselling. Is the Minister aware that non-directive counselling is a long process, yet time is of the essence in pregnancy counselling as there is usually a sense of urgency from the client's point of view?
From my understanding of non-directive counselling, the patient is allowed to explore her inner feelings and, therefore, this is a time consuming process. Is the Minister also aware that quite a number of sessions will be necessary before reaching a decision? How non-directive can one be with a 14 year old? It is a serious problem because the factor of parent consultation arises, so will there be a breach of confidentiality?
When do you know when you have exhausted your options? At what point do you say, "Here are the names and addresses"? This puts a huge onus of responsibility on the doctor or agency which chooses to give counselling, including names and addresses. This will leave a dilemma in the minds of many counsellors as to whether or not giving out names and addresses is promoting abortion, but these counsellors will have great compassion for the circumstances of their patients. I would hope that the doctors and counsellors will do everything possible to persuade the client towards the other options of having their baby and keeping it, or having it adopted.
We must try to improve upon a bad situation and the responsibility is on the State to find the best possible solution. From listening to my colleagues at their party meeting, our policy is a preventive one. The circumstances leading to crisis pregnancy and abortion should be examined so that the numbers of women who find themselves in this situation can be reduced.
There is an immediate need for a caring, compassionate and properly funded counselling service for women with crisis pregnancies. Provision must be made for resources to improve counselling skills, because if such a service was available fewer would opt for abortion. The counselling service must be convenient so that those in rural areas can also be facilitated, and it must be ongoing to deal with the urgency of a situation which cannot countenance such a thing as waiting lists.
Doctors will not have the time to do counselling, so it will be necessary to have a pregnancy counsellor on the spot — quite close to a doctor's surgery — to deal with non-directive counselling. Speaking from my professional experience in dealing with pregnancy counselling, follow-up counselling will be needed as many women who have abortions have great difficulty in overcoming their guilt. I have regard for those who find themselves in this situation and I will be looking for prevention rather than cure.
The Minister has not made any specific provisions for education and counselling in the Bill, although I see that he has now brought forward some measures. We need an integrated approach, involving the Department of Education, to sex education, personal development and parent involvement. We should also extend this to the community, because we cannot introduce sex education and other special programmes without involving the community. Unless that is done, we are putting too much responsibility on our teachers and counsellors to provide social education and development. I recognise that the Minister has come forward with a plan for health education; but it is important that we do not work in isolation and so an integrated approach is required involving the Departments of Health, Education and Justice.
I welcome the clause which gives doctors and counsellors the opportunity of opting out if necessary. However, we may be creating a two-tier system, with young people who are caught up in this situation finding themselves being directed towards pro-abortion counsellors. I am worried that we will, thus, further polarise an already sensitive situation.
The Minister is doing his best and I realise that there has been a great need to look at the issues involved. But while I have to accept the democratic decision on this information amendment, I am sure the Minister appreciates that there is grave concern as to whether or not under this legislation professional counsellors will be able to introduce names and addresses. A straw poll I carried out among my professional colleagues showed that they would have great difficulty in releasing the names and addresses. We all realise that it is important to give out information, because you cannot make a proper decision unless you are well informed; but the question is: if you give out a name and address are you now saying, "All the options have been exhausted. Here are the names and addresses for you. Now this is the route if you want to take it."? It is putting a huge responsibility on the professionals, many of whom, according to my straw poll, will opt out of that situation. I welcome the Minister's amendment, but is it the answer?
At the same time, it is a very sensitive issue. We have to be compassionate and must empathise with parents and children. I am speaking more of adolescents — young secondary schoolgirls — with unwanted pregnancies. There is a dilemma and we must do everything we can to try to look at the other options, to prevent abortion and to make sure that health education is integrated into the system. We must have skilled counsellors on the spot so that we will not have to make the choice of having an abortion.
We must do everything we can to reduce the numbers and, hopefully, in time we will overcome this problem. I thank the Minister, who has done everything in his power to try to bring this legislation through. It is a difficult issue, even though we talk about the 60:40 majority. Many people who have spoken to me tell me that they voted for this in 1992 but now realise that if they were to vote on the question again they would not vote for it. They felt the debate was dominated by the X case and the X case was working in their minds. They realised afterwards that had they thought about it again, they would have had a different view; so there is a problem in relation to the 60:40 majority. I accept the decision as it is, but I just wonder whether if the same question was put to a vote today we would get that result.
I join in the welcome to the Minister to the House and commend him for the way that he has brought this legislation through the other House. I am sure the same will apply in this case.
When we are elected or nominated to Seanad Éireann we assume certain responsibilities beyond those of a private citizen and sometimes — classically, in the case of this Bill — Senators may be asked to support legislation which they do not agree with personally. Their disagreement, I can understand, may be based on very deeply held moral or religious grounds and that can lead to very hard choices when we legislate. A guiding test, in my view, must be whether the legislation promotes the common good, reflects the wishes of the people and at the same time protects the basic rights of individuals within a democracy. If it does, as I believe this Bill does, then as a democrat, I should support it.
In the case of the Bill before us this evening, there is, in my view, an additional test. The people in a referendum by a quite considerable majority decided to impose no limit on the freedom to obtain or to make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down in law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State. In that context I believe there is a serious obligation imposed upon us by the people to legislate for information. The only question remaining, therefore, is whether this legislation fulfils that obligation and whether it does so adequately.
The Progressive Democrats have always allowed a free vote in matters of conscience. That freedom is a guiding principle to the liberalism that I espouse. In these circumstances it would be very easy for me to oppose the legislation, to hide behind the protection of my moral objection to abortion, but what we are enacting here this evening is the right to certain types of information and the ability of some doctors, who feel they cannot go even that far, to opt out of providing that information. In my view the legislation passes the tests that I have applied to it. I believe it is flawed — it may be unconstitutional, it may well lead to a series of painful cases in the courts — but I accept it in principle and I shall support it on Second Stage.
It is important to say, as the Minister has said, that we are not providing for abortion within the State and those who try to reopen an argument which has been resolved by constitutional referendum will not receive my support. A stated objective of the Bill is to prohibit doctors, advice agencies etc. from referring women to pregnancy termination services, but without interfering with the ethical obligation on a doctor or counsellor to ensure the safety of the patient. The Bill does not require doctors or agencies to provide non-directive counselling, although it was explained in the 1992 referendum pamphlet that the amendment would permit non-directive counselling but not abortion referral. In my view it does not legalise referral.
As the Minister pointed out in opening the debate this afternoon, 4,399 women made the heartrending lonely journey to England in 1993 to secure an abortion. That is one in 11 of our annual birth-rate. Are we to assume that the vast majority of these women are less caring, any less religious, any less normal than the rest of Irish society? I think not. Here we are confronted by the ultimate national hypocrisy. Ireland silently assents to exporting the problem so that we can remain comfortable in the belief that we are a compassionate, God-fearing, Christian people. We heap trauma upon trauma. Is no one prepared to speak for these women, care for them, cherish them, forgive them, if indeed forgiveness is what they need? They do not stand before the gates of Leinster House or write to us or 'phone us in the numbers that we have seen outside the House; but their testimony is more eloquent than the vocal fundamentalism, of whatever complexion, we observe outside these walls.
I have no objection whatsoever to being lobbied on this question, provided the case is put in a civilised and rational way; and in my experience, by and large that has happened. Listening to such groups and individuals is one of the responsibilities we accept when we enter the Houses of the Oireachtas. As I say, I have not been intimidated, but I regard it as the ultimate denial of democracy if any Member of either House is intimidated.
I regard it as completely appropriate that the Churches should publicly state their views on this Bill, or indeed on any matter that they feel relevant to them. My own Church is also entitled to make rules which I must accept in my personal capacity if I am to remain a member of that Church. However, what my Church should not seek to do is to make me impose my personal morality on my fellow citizens through the laws I am asked to enact as a Member of the Oireachtas. I am pleased to find that at least one Catholic theologian sees this distinction and supports it. I also have to say that I find it extremely distasteful that somebody should regard this particular matter as a matter worthy of excommunication when there has been a thunderous silence over 25 years about those who have killed and maimed and destroyed. Where is the consistency there?
I will go so far as to say that it is questionable to what extent the State is entitled to interfere in matters of such a delicate personal nature. Has, for instance, the provision of condoms or homosexuality anything to do with the State? I would concede that in this particular case the separation of the State and private morality is less clear-cut, especially given the constitutional imperative to introduce legislation. As a liberal, I must always be uncomfortable at State interference in private morality.
One of the very disappointing aspects of the debate over the past few weeks has been the prominence afforded in the media to what I would regard as extreme positions. Increasingly, it appears to me that moderate views, the middle ground, temperate language and restraint are of little or no interest to the media. Extremism is afforded an audience, moderation is not. Perhaps the media need to ask themselves questions about how they mould attitudes in our society and what their responsibilities are.
As I said at the outset, I do not regard the Bill as ideal. Its constitutionality has been questioned, but the issue will not be determined here; it will be determined elsewhere; it will be determined by the courts. I am content to let the courts make that determination. I also believe that the legislation should give some discretion to the general practitioner. In cases where the patient has decided, after consulting with family, friends, confessor and doctor, to travel to England for an abortion, I believe a caring society would allow any doctor who was willing to do so to make the appointment and, if he or she considers it necessary, to travel with the patient.
I believe that we should have enough confidence in our doctors, in our pregnant women, indeed in our people as a whole, to expect that they will do what they believe to be right. We should have more faith in the capacity of Irish people to make sensible decisions. They demonstrated that capacity in a very concrete way during the constitutional questions in 1992 when they were able to make the distinction between the different questions which were being asked of them and did so in a quite sophisticated way.
I do not support legalised abortion, but it is a very curious fact that some countries which legalised abortion have very low levels of abortion. This underlines the value of education and counselling. While I acknowledge the Minister's allocation of £200,000 for counselling, we need to go further and to properly resource the excellent voluntary groups working in this area. Notwithstanding the reservations I have about aspects of the Bill, it represents a fair attempt to solve a very difficult problem and I shall support it. To do otherwise would be to deny the will of the people and as a democrat that is not something I could do.
I welcome the Minister. No other Minister I know has got the message across to the people as well as Deputy Noonan on this occasion. After this debate one can get a feeling of a greater understanding by people and that is what debates are all about. A great deal of confusion can be created in the minds of people by the very wild accusations and allegations in certain quarters.
The Bill gives effect to the wishes of the people as expressed in the 1992 referendum. In that year a 14 year old girl was temporarily interned in this State and that event proved to be a defining one for the people. In 1992 many of us were forced to consider the moral dilemma that women with crisis pregnancies are forced to face. Women do not need to be taken by the hand and pointed in any direction. They need to be given all the information with which to make an informed decision and that is what this Bill does.
We should be clear about one thing. This is not an abortion but an information Bill and, as such, is likely to reduce the number of terminations. It is vital to extend our family planning services and that the Government programme's commitment gives effect to this. In the meantime many voluntary groups are trying to bridge the gap and they have many constraints on them. Anybody who has been following the debate will see the vital role voluntary groups play in this regard. The Bill will not foster an abortion culture, on the contrary, it is designed to foster a culture of compassion. The vast majority of people here and elsewhere reject the use of abortion as a form of birth control.
The State has an obligation to give effect to the amendment which was supported by 60 per cent of the people in 1992. Recently a poll conducted by The Cork Examiner showed clearly the consistency of the people in that regard. The vast majority supported what is now being proposed. That is indicative of the maturity and compassion of the people. We are dealing with an electorate which is mature and understanding. We must not at any time try to confuse the people. We must speak the truth, be honest and accurate in our statements and, at the end of the day, give effect to the will of the people. That is what this Bill does.
I am implacably opposed to abortion and in this I do not claim to be any different from any other Member, the Minister or anybody else. I feel obliged as a legislator to oppose in every way anything that would leave any possible avenue for what I regard as an outrageous interference with the natural law.
I have no involvement with any lobby group or any group which has been castigated for its performance outside the Dáil. To the extent that I have had any contact with that group, I may claim the privilege of being the only Member of the Oireachtas to have confronted them many times and say their behaviour and performance was, to say the least, undemocratic and would not achieve the ends for which they hope.
Lest we be condemned by association — there has been a little flavour of this, even in what the Minister had to say — neither am I in any way representing the views of any church. I have had no contact with any churchmen and I reject the implication of us being intimidated, as the Minister put it, by bell, book and candle.
I am not the representative of any lobby group and am not intimidated by any element, however legitimate in its own area in society. Any views I express will be based on what the Bill contains and the position in which we now find ourselves. I do not like to claim I am unique because I may lose friends on all sides — but when the original referendum was proposed I was on the Opposition Front Bench and appealed at our parliamentary party meeting that we should not concede to the emerging pressure to introduce the amendments which have now been incorporated in our Constitution. I did this because the fundamental right to life is anterior to any stated or stipulated right expressed in the Constitution.
Many rights are expressed in the Constitution, the right to free association, the right to freedom of expression and to so much else. There is one right which is so anterior to any such rights that it does not need, and did not then need, to be included as a constitutional provision. I expressed the same view in Government and members of my parliamentary party will recall me doing so. I regret that both the Minister's predecessor and ours conceded to a lobby group which has now left us in the position that we are introducing legislation of this kind to correct, in what I know may be a genuine attempt, the anomalies and get the balance right between the right to life of the mother and the child. All the time we are left with confusion of a kind which I am afraid will not serve our role and purpose or the wishes of the people as I interpret them.
I am answerable to one lobby group alone, that is the people who send us to the Oireachtas and my concern is for the nature of the society they would like to see secured in our country. I am also perhaps unique in that I was in the House of Commons in 1966, at the invitation of the British Irish Parliamentary Group, when Mr. David Steel, who was then — and still is — my good friend, introduced the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. He said it was not the intention of the Bill "to leave a wide open door for abortion on request". This can be found in Hansard, Volume 732, column 1075, 1966. He stressed that point and made a strong appeal to all and sundry and no doubt was genuine. It seemed reasonable and practicable.
All the suggestions during the all night debates — some of which I attended — were made on the basis of what would be reasonable and practicable and included that doctors would get a second opinion and would be required, as the Minister reasonably stated today, to give other options before making any final recommendation or facilitation. I invite the Minister to look at that debate and see the bona fides of honourable people like David Steel, and how what happened was very different from what they purported to do in that legislation.
I do not accuse the Minister of mal fides but I certainly question the consistency of his thinking and the security of what he proposes this legislation guarantees in light of experience. I hope the Minister's other statements are not as questionable as his statement today and on other occasions that the Fianna Fáil party actually agreed to the terms of a Bill that, if anything, went further than this. There is no basis for that. Perhaps one or two Ministers in casual consultation with the then Minister. Deputy Howlin, or somebody else had some little understanding that might secure the future of a Government but there was not an agreement with the Fianna Fáil party. It was not referred to the Fianna Fáil party. As a democrat and a member of a party whose founding fathers set standards of consistency and integrity by which I have tried to abide, I am not constrained because one or two people came to some understanding that was not referred to us. I appeal to the Minister, in any further statements he makes, to correct the impression that Fianna Fáil are turning cartwheels on an understanding they had conveyed already.
The first time the Fianna Fáil party discussed this issue was last week. The result of that free and independent democratic expression did not suit many people and gave rise to much comment, particularly from political correspondents who, maybe understandably, had a predetermined view as to what was in the interest of the Fianna Fáil party and as to what was enlightened, tolerant or reasonable. They judged the members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party by their criteria.
The view of any one journalist is only that. Journalists appear on television programmes and write in their Sunday and daily columns about the implications for us. They say we do not have the courage to face up to decisions we should take. They have decided what courage is and say those of us who have a view based on conviction are cowards. The courage required now is the courage to tell the individual commentators in the media that they will not predetermine what our views should be.
They will not ridicule me by suggesting as they have done that I am ranting like a lay pope in this House. It would suit me and my family much better if I did not have to put up with that type of comment. I could not be true to myself or to my obligation here if I allowed myself to be intimidated by that type of ridicule. If I did, I would be required to at least have the consistency and honour to leave this House.
The Minister spent some time today criticising, maybe with some justification, the pro life lobby group and the arguments they advanced. I will not be deterred by, what one might call, guilt by association. If I have the same abhorrence of abortion as many of those people, am I to be put down in my reasoned argument because others express that view in a very different way? What kind of democracy would we have if that was the way we analysed any issue?
I ask the Minister not to condemn us by association.
(Limerick East): I did not do any such thing.
One can see it all the way through the Minister's contributions. What about the bell, book and candle reference in the Dáil?
(Limerick East): I will explain it when I am replying.
The implication was that any Deputy who had another view was cowering before the church.
(Limerick East): It was not.
Indeed, it was. If not, the Minister should say now that he respects totally the consistency, integrity and honour of those who express their views.
Is the Senator in favour of information?
I will tell the Senator what I think about information presently and what exactly information represents.
(Limerick East): On a point of order, I assure the Senator that I do not intend to offend anybody or to impose my views on anybody. I would be the first to stand for the rights of the Senator to get up and express his convictions.
That is precisely what I propose to do. I heard the Minister on television the week before last observing that he hoped for a consensus in this House because he knew he would not get consensus among the people at large. That is what the Minister said.
What kind of representative democracy are we supposed to have if, where there is no prospect of consensus in the public mood about an issue — and the Minister acknowledged it on television — we should find a false consensus in the Houses of the Oireachtas? There is great concern. I am not questioning the Minister's bona fides but I propose to give some illustrations of the loose vague drafting in this Bill and the danger implicit in it.
This is an unfortunate consequence of amendments which I did all I could to oppose both in Government and in Opposition. The referendum sought to give democratic people the right to travel. Did one ever hear such nonsense? If that was the case in Bulgaria, East Germany, Russia or China, one would say they had sense because they did not have that right. Countless millions of people have the right to travel but we gave it by a referendum. I am not trying to vindicate views which were mistaken from the beginning.
I have been touched by concerns of mothers who are not involved in any organisation. They spoke to me about their deep concerns for the dignity of human life and womanhood. Other people are also concerned about the slippery road on which we are travelling, unwillingly, much less deliberately, and if we allow involvement by organisations or clinics whose purpose is to terminate the most fundamental right, the right to life.
I also have reservations about this Bill for practical reasons. I did not read the IFPA report for 1994 in detail and I would not choose to read it before any of the other circulars I get as a Member of the Oireachtas. However, its honesty can be seen in the statement it makes about the reality of abortion for Irish women. It states: “In order to achieve this, [non-directive counselling] it was decided to enter into a formal agreement with one abortion service provider in Britain, with the intention of bringing the new service under the scope of European as distinct from domestic law”. That organisation has entered into a formal agreement, not a loose arrangement. Are we expected to ignore this reality? The report continues:
It is the IFPA's firm view that counselling is only ‘non-directive' when the counsellor is free to provide the same degree of practical support whatever choice the pregnant client makes. It was therefore vital that IFPA counsellors should have the ability to provide a professional referral to an abortion counselling centre in Britain, when requested to do so.
The Minister's Bill is inadequate and flawed.
Does it make provision for that?
Senator O'Kennedy, without interruption.
The Bill deals with financial arrangements, but it does not deal with agencies, not to mention the Well Woman Centre, who have been honest enough to state that they have formal legal agreements with abortion services in England. The Bill does not cover formal legal agreements. I insist that the Minister includes some provision — I assume it is his intention and I am not questioning his good faith — declaring that people who acknowledge this as their purpose are acting illegally and will suffer heavy penalties.
The IFPA report for 1994 also states: “Senior counsel's opinion was obtained and the IFPA was satisfied that it could defend its new service against any legal challenge which might arise”. I gave the association a different view when I telephoned it. I said that not only could it be challenged, but it would be struck down. That organisation presents “senior counsel's opinion” as a statement of law. I would like to think that a senior counsel's opinion represents something worth listening to, but it is not a statement of law. The association also stated: “On this basis [the basis of senior counsel's opinion] a formal agreement was signed between the IFPA and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in September 1992”. This Bill is flawed because it does not address this fundamental issue.
(Limerick East): Did the Senator look at section 8?
I did and we will deal with it on Committee Stage.
I did not deal with the timing of the Bill because others did so in the other House. Information, as defined in the Bill, and its controls do not apply to a relative or friend. A relative or friend will not be constrained by the safeguards in this Bill. As a lawyer and public representative, I find it totally inadequate and legally offensive to ask us to pass a Bill without any internal evidence. "Friend" is not defined in this Bill. What is to stop someone from the Irish Family Planning Association or the Open Door Counselling group meeting someone on a one-to-one basis as a friend and saying they can give them advice? Surely we live in the real world. The Minister said that "a friend" was not subject to restrictions and that is faulty and inadequate.
I would like to see clear definitions because the courts will not look at what the Minister said when introducing this Bill, but at what it contains when passed by the Oireachtas. If the Bill does not provide for what the Minister intended, the courts will not pay attention to his intention, but to the Bill as enacted. The courts will say that if that was the Minister's intention, he should have included it. The Bill could not define what "a friend" who will be exempted means, yet it has some other interesting definitions. The following definition in the definition section which will enlighten the nation is, "‘woman' means a female person". If we can include that definition, we should be able to define "a friend" who will be given this exemption.
(Limerick East):“A friend” is not mentioned in the Bill and we do not have to define it if it is not in the Bill.
The Minister is giving assurances to the nation in his statements in order to absolve himself. He gave those assurances publicly on five or six occasions in the Dáil, the Seanad and on radio and television. Then he blandly says that "a friend" is not mentioned in the Bill.
(Limerick East): That is correct.
If the Minister is giving assurances about friends being excluded, it is about time it was mentioned in the Bill. It is nonsense for a Minister to say this without trying to define the categories within which "a friend" can operate.
(Limerick East): It would be like the Stasi if we had to define this.
I do not mind engaging in rational discussion, but I am now being associated with the Stasi. It is one thing to be associated with the pro-life lobby whom I asked to leave the front of the House. I told them to allow the legislators to do what they should do according to their consciences without any intimidation. I am glad — I am not saying it happened because of what I said, but it had a little influence — they are not outside the House today. The Minister will not put me down by associating me with the Stasi. That is rather too smart and sharp and it is not intellectually honest.
I accept the Minister's intentions in providing that people will act in accordance with certain standards and give certain types of information. However, what provisions are there in the legislation for the legal procedure of discovery or for furnishing documents? The Tánaiste is experienced in this area. He asked for documents to be presented to a tribunal and when he went before it he was the last man to produce anything.
The Minister said various actions or statements would be illegal, but what provision is in the Bill to ensure access to the information and documentation people can informally convey in their offices? I see no powers for presentation of documents or discovery. We can live under the illusion that because we have said so the law will make this illegal but if the Bill is to achieve anything, it should contain the power to ensure its intention will be implemented. The Bill is totally defective in this sense also.
I have another interesting observation and I may end up with no friends in either the pro-life group or the press but that does not matter to me. I have seen so many euphemisms about pro-choice, etc. If political correspondents give a view about what is in the interest of Fianna Fáil as a party, I will listen to them, even if the decision is up to ourselves. Even if we are to turn our backs on what we believe we should do in conscience to achieve what is better for us as a party, I will listen to their practical judgments. However, have they questioned what our role is?
One of the most distinguished men I was privileged to serve with when I came into Fianna Fáil as a young man was the late Frank Aiken, a man of stubborn integrity. There was a debate in our parliamentary party in 1966 or 1967 when a vigorous young Deputy, Tom Meaney from Cork — who was never anything other than courageous in stating his mind — said some decision would not go down well in his area and it would be bad for the party. Frank Aiken said it was not our business to consider what was good for the party, the only obligation we had was to consider what was good for the country; and if it happened to be good for the country, it would turn out to be good for the party.
Fianna Fáil has been doing that since.
I am not claiming we have lived up to that standard, but on an issue as vitally important as this, it is time to state all the flaws and say the general assurances are not matched in the legislation. Whether or not those who report what I say here think this is good for the party does not rate in my mind by comparison with what is good for the country.
On radio yesterday I heard the statement which impressed me most in recent interviews. It was a county councillor from the west — I must not have canvassed him.
The Senator must not have got his vote.
He found it sad that the safest place for any being under natural law, namely the mother's womb, could now after this Bill, not as a deliberate intention——
It is not, 40 per cent of conceptions——
—— be the most hazardous place.
It always was.
If we are interested in the dignity of women and of life, we will find a way. The Minister's intention is good, despite the misstatements he has made about Fianna Fáil. He says he will ensure those who honestly state what their purpose is — the Well Women Centre, etc. — will be declared as engaging in illegal activity and will be prevented from giving information by subterfuge. Are we being childish?
I am glad Senator Norris has arrived, it will encourage me more. We have all inherited a mess which I hope we tidy up and do not make worse. I have been a personal friend of Lord David Owen for many years. In 1966 he did not think he was opening the door to abortion on request and we all know what happened.
(Limerick East): It was Sir David Steel.
Is the Minister convinced that when this is passed he will not hear the euphemistically named "pro-choice" group say this is the ultimate hypocrisy? I can see the headlines now. In two years they will complain we do not mind giving information for abortion services outside Ireland but we do not provide the service ourselves. That is the next stage and if the Minister believes they and the persuasive forces in the £300 million abortion industry will not use that argument, he is much more naive than I thought.
I would like to share my time with Senator Gallagher.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister and compliment him on dealing with an issue which has already been decided by the 1992 referendum. The Bill relates to one of the amendments put before the electorate by the then Fianna Fáil / Progressive Democrat Government. Only one member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party at that time did not agree with the wording and as a result lost the party whip.
Politicians, especially Government members, live in the real world, because they are part of it and have to deal with it. This Bill had to come before the Dáil and Seanad and the Opposition, since they are politicians, must always find something wrong with whatever the Government proposes. It is sad that on this occasion one party has found fault with a Bill across the board. It is rare that legislation is introduced which has already been decided in a referendum and in that respect this Bill is almost unique.
I praise the Minister for facing up to the problems of those who went abroad for abortions. He has been honest and courageous in this case. He has provided, and will provide, extra counselling facilities. That is an honest step. It will help the unfortunate individuals whose minds are not their own when they are going through a time of crisis. The Minister must be complimented for his efforts in that regard.
A Government must take note of the wishes of 60 per cent of the people. The question the people were asked to vote on in the referendum was quite clear. This has been pointed out in weeks. We have seen what the Minister for Health at that time, Dr. John O'Connell, said on television file tapes. We have seen what was included in the information leaflets circulated to the people.
The previous speaker offered an interpretation that the Minister was against the pro-life movement. The Minister has not said that. He simply pointed out that the pro-life campaign at that time, in fairness and in honesty, opposed the amendments for the reasons they offered. However, as the Minister said, they have now changed their ground. They are entitled to do so but people who are responsible for drawing up and implementing legislation based on a particular formula of words in an amendment cannot change. They must stay with what is in the wording. That was the task that confronted the Minister. He is carrying out that task and I compliment him on his efforts.
I compliment the Minister for taking the time to listen to the entire debate today. That is much appreciated by Members. I did not intend to speak in this debate because, to be honest, I did not know what the fuss was about. The referendum in 1992 decided the issue and that was that as far as I was concerned. Legislation had to be introduced to deal with it.
Sometimes one feels a sense of outrage as one listens to people speaking. People who deem themselves to be experts on everything cannot be experts on this subject. They cannot put themselves in the same position as the people who are affected by this legislation principally because they are not of the same sex. This issue affects women and it galls me to see men lobbying and speaking against abortion and to see men outside the gates of Leinster House today demonstrating against abortion. It is easy for them. They cannot get pregnant. It is a simple as that.
With regard to information, I do not know what the fuss is about. The people were given the choice in 1992. They voted against abortion which is their right. They voted for information and that is also their right. They are entitled to that information. We as politicians are constitutionally obliged to implement the legislation and it is about time we did so. We must accept the reality of being politicians. It is not about sitting on the fence or politicising an issue in which there is no right or choice involved. This is something we must do.
Do the people of this country or the politicians in this House really think that information will go to women's heads and, like lemmings running to the sea, they will run for abortions as quickly as their feet can carry them? Do the people who spoke earlier today not give credit to women for not being fools, for being able to make their own decisions, for being able to accept information for what it is, which is simply information? Information can do nobody any harm. Information should be available on every issue regardless of whether one agrees with it. It is there. One can read it and one can learn from it. Fair enough if it suits one person and not another. That is their decision. Individuals can make their own moral judgments on what they plan to do and it is not for anybody else to decide.
Hypocrisy was discussed by several speakers. I wish I could avoid the subject but I must speak on it. The people voted in the referendum to export the problem. We vote to export what we do not like on our doorstep. It is fine if it happens somewhere else. People see Ireland as the land of saints of scholars. The attitude is that we are the good people and that the evil and corruption that happens elsewhere does not happen here. We should not kid ourselves. We are human beings — what happens in this country happens in every other country and what happens in other countries happens here. It has always happened here, from prehistoric times down through the ages. Women have always had unwanted pregnancies and had to deal with them. There was nobody there to help them and that is the reality.
It is unfair that politicians are put under pressure to a large extent and to a personal degree with regard to their private opinion on a moral issue. However, I notice that I am the only speaker from my constituency to address this issue. Why? It is not seen to be politically expedient to do so in Cavan-Monaghan. I do not think the people in Cavan-Monaghan have any greater notion of morality than people anywhere else. I could safely say that the same number of young girls and women are leaving Cavan-Monaghan as are leaving other areas for abortions. They are doing so without consulting anybody.
This Bill will not answer all the problems, but it will give girls and women somewhere to go for basic information. Information, as provided for in this Bill, can only help to reduce the number of abortions. When one has some place to go and somebody one can talk to in confidence who will give information about what is involved, one might be braver and not get on the first boat. One might sit down and think about whether it would be possible to have one's child.
During the debate there has been much talk about people's rights. This issue involves women. I am aware that it involves the right of the unborn but it also involves women, not men. We must address the issue of why we have one of the highest rates of abortion in Europe. Those are Irish babies being killed. Why is that? We refuse to let it happen on our own doorstep. We refuse to acknowledge that so many women, young and middle-aged, have unwanted pregnancies and deal with it in their own way.
I wonder about the people who show so much so-called concern about the issue. If men accepted the responsibility for making girls pregnant perhaps they would have a right to speak. Otherwise, however, they ought not. This country is riven with hypocrisy. It is okay for the young lads in the house to go out gallivanting and do what they wish but the women must be home early and different rules always apply. The women are supposed to be good. We all know it takes two to tango and for every unwanted pregnancy and every woman who is left pregnant there is a man at fault. Where are they on this issue? Are they knocking on the door to help these women through this difficult time? Are they arriving with offers of funding and support? They are not. Let us be realistic about it — it is a woman's problem and she is left with it. Perhaps they are not so often left holding the baby but, by God, it is their problem.
I listened to Senator O'Kennedy speak about the definition of a friend. It would frighten the wits out of me if the Minister dared to attempt to define a friend. For a start, we do not know who our friends are. I can just see a secret service type Gestapo suddenly appearing on our streets, watching to whom we spoke and reporting to the powers that be why they might have been speaking to us. The Minister could not dare enter into such a situation. I acknowledge the Minister's sensible approach to the subject. It is impossible to deal with this in one Bill, particularly with regard to information, which can and will be got from various sources regardless of whether this State provides for it, which we must acknowledge.
Abortion is available here because we have not dealt with the substantive issue. If a doctor makes a diagnosis that an abortion may be warranted in view of the danger to the life of the mother, or whatever the wording is, abortion then becomes an entitlement. We must examine that.
In many ways, the whole debate will be overtaken by time because science is advancing at such a rate that the abortion pill will shortly be available for unwanted pregnancies. It will simply be a matter of taking a tablet and, thereby, getting rid of an unwanted pregnancy. This legislation will then become obsolete. Perhaps, everybody is getting themselves tied up in knots over something to which science will provide the answers in due course.
I am the second of a family of seven and I believe in the virtues of the family and the moral code of society. However, that does not mean that I am entitled to force what I believe down everybody else's throat. I am single but when I marry I hope to have many children. However, the lifestyle here would simply not encourage a woman to do that. I say that with due deference to Senator Kelly, I do not know how she manages.
Senator O'Kennedy referred to the rights of the unborn. I come from a large family where everything was paid for from one PAYE salary and I question what Senator O'Kennedy did, as Minister for Finance, for the family. Where did he provide money to support the family? It is all very well to talk in the abstract but when he had the golden opportunity, which many of us will never have, what did he do to support the life of the family?
He gave more than 2.5 per cent.
My father was no better off as a result and the hypocrisy continues.
With respect to the Minister, it is a man's solution to a woman's problem. As a young, single, woman, I am very concerned about the people who deem themselves entitled to speak on this issue. I often question what they would do if their daughters came home pregnant. The people who go up the aisles on Sunday would kick their daughters out of the house on Monday.
We have to question the values of this society and stop being so two faced and hypocritical. We have a real problem which we have yet to address. We have to examine how we can provide proper sex education, counselling and practical support for unmarried mothers and families. Only then, can we put ourselves on a moral pedestal.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He had a difficult task in front of him in preparing this legislation. I do not think that he is any better or worse a Christian than the rest of us and he probably tried his best in this Bill. However, I do not approve of the Bill and I will be voting against it.
The title of the Bill should read "Regulation of Information (Termination of Unborn Children outside the State) Bill, 1995". The only real information which, despite assurances to the contrary, the Bill contemplates relates to the names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics abroad. This is implicit in the plain construction of the definition of the information contained in the Bill itself and it is said expressly in the guide to the Bill published by the Department of Health.
To even suggest that it somehow imposes an obligation on doctors counselling abortion to provide information on non abortion options and promote counselling in this regard, is to ignore not alone the ethical reality but also the clear duty of care of doctors when dealing with vulnerable women and girls with crisis pregnancies. The giving of information, the only purpose of which is to assist or obtain an abortion, is abortion assistance and can have no other purpose.
The modern model of patient referral, grounded on the rights of patients, dictates that a doctor does not refer a patient for treatment or intervention but rather the patient refers himself or herself, the doctor being merely a facilitator in the process. If we apply this model to the Bill, if it is enacted it will operate as a referral for abortion in all but name.
Abortion assistance or referral is manifestly and objectively unethical. The fundamental principle of medical practice is primum non nocere— first do no harm. Because of the intimacy and dependency of the doctor patient relationship and the gross inequality of power involved, adherence to this principle is essential to the proper practice of medicine, breaches being punishable by professional sanction and the law. To assist in or refer for the destruction of the life of any patient is, therefore, expressly unethical and legally enjoined.
Uniquely in the practice of medicine, a doctor when dealing with a pregnant mother has two patients, as was said in the other House, the mother and her unborn baby. He has a duty of care, both ethical and enforceable in law, simultaneous to each. To consider or counsel, however this counselling is carried out, that abortion is merely one option from among many which may be legitimately chosen, or to assist in or refer for the destruction of the life of one patient, is a clear abrogation of a doctor's duty to that patient and is ethically impermissible.
Within the medical model, induced abortion, the intentional destruction of the life of the unborn child, is not a treatment of any condition, physical or psychological, in a pregnant mother. The Medical Council, in its 1994 guide to fitness to practise and ethical conduct, expressly states that the medical necessity for abortion has not been proved. Accordingly, abortion is by definition unnecessary treatment and, therefore, prima facie unethical.
Any assistance or referral for unnecessary interventions is also unethical, the degree of ethical impermissibility being compounded if the woman so assisted or referred is put at risk because of her exposure to that intervention. Indeed, there is an ethical imperative that a pregnant woman be actively dissuaded from such a course of action rather than expressly assisted and referred.
Although the Bill does not appear to suggest that a doctor will be obliged to supply abortion assistance information when requested, when is the provision of such assistance lawful? It has not, in any positive sense, been drafted in terms of prohibitions unless certain positive conditions are fulfilled. However, the very legitimising of such assistance information associated, as it is, with legitimising abortion as a permissible option in treating pregnant women will, inevitably, lead to an expectation that there is a right to such abortion assistance; to which, of course, there will be a corollary duty on doctors to supply.
Doctors, therefore, will ultimately find themselves drawn, as this debate has sought to, into the area of political ideology which is not medical and is anti-medical in nature. The danger from this Bill, from the perspective of medical practitioners, lies in its potential to thus corrupt medical practice in the longer term with the fostering of a pervasive abortion culture which will inevitably ensue.
The Bill presumes a right to an abortion outside the State. In this sense, it can be rightly termed a pro abortion Bill. The purpose of the Bill, among other things, is to facilitate or enable women who have decided to have an abortion to carry through that wish. In that sense, it can rightly be termed a pro-abortion Bill. It could have drawn the line at providing factual information but it did not. It seeks to provide, in the words of the Department of Health's guide to the Bill, "information which is likely to be required by women availing themselves of pregnancy termination services, for example, the names and addresses of such services and methods of contacting them".
Supporting this Bill, whether we like it or not, is to support a Bill which legitimises the act of having an abortion when the woman involved has made that decision. Those who support the Bill can protest as much as they wish that they are as pro-life as the next person and base their arguments on what they see as the pro-life aspects of the Bill, but their act in supporting it is a clear pro-abortion stance. Admittedly, it is pro-abortion in another jurisdiction, but it is pro-abortion nonetheless.
We must ask ourselves if it is possible to devise an anti-abortion information Bill. I believe this is possible. Such a Bill would set out to protect the right to life of the unborn and to look at the information amendment in the context of the right to life clause in the Constitution. It would not include the giving of names and addresses of clinics, where the most inevitable outcome is the death of the unborn child, possible physical damage to the woman who is undergoing unnecessary surgery and almost certain psychological damage due to the post abortion syndrome. Abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother.
We do not expect doctors to hand out the names and addresses of drug pushers. How could we legitimise the act of doctors in helping in the destruction of one of their patients? In the medical world, the provision of names and addresses is commonly called referral or assistance, which is exactly what it is. An anti abortion Bill would never contemplate legalising the advertising of abortion clinics, which this Bill does. This is abortion promotion, as advertising in itself is promotion.
The Government commits itself to funding agencies, such as Life and Cura, and this is commendable. However, it is long overdue, not just from this Government but others also. It is upsetting to listen to the liberal secularist preachers complaining that the pro-life movement is only concerned with lobbying. Many of the people in these groups are involved in caring, whether it is for children, born or unborn, women with difficult pregnancies or unmarried mothers and so on. The fact that they do not advertise their charitable commitment or use it for political ends should not be a cause for slurs to be cast on their credentials.
The Bill also outlaws the making of certain arrangements. It is extremely sad to see people, who in their hearts and souls are pro-life, allowing these particularly positive measures in the Bill to blind them to its essential pro-abortion nature. The Minister may argue that the Bill is more pro-life than others previously countenanced. He may be correct, but that must not take us away from the fact that it regulates information in a manner which is utterly damaging to the unborn child.
We can speculate on what the previous Labour-Fianna Fáil Government might or might not have done in other circumstances. However, to allow ourselves to get caught in the battle over what might have been would be to ignore the central issue in this debate — can we legalise the provision of names and addresses of abortion clinics abroad and still maintain that we are protecting the right to life of the unborn? I do not think we can.
It cannot be argued in defence of the Bill that this is what the people voted for in 1992. Sixty per cent of the people supported the information amendment to the Constitution. Some of these were undoubtedly swayed by the censorship argument that names and addresses can be found easily in telephone directories and libraries. Many were undoubtedly influenced by what they read in the Government information booklet. The following quotes from the booklet are very relevant to this debate. Page three states:
The Government's objective is to do what is right in the public interest, motivated by a deep concern for the right to life of the woman and also fully committed to the protection of the right to life of the unborn. There is no human right more fundamental or more important than the right to life.
A question is posed on page six: "If all these referendums are passed by the people, what effect will they have?" The answer was that the information amendment will enshrine in the Constitution the right to receive and impart information about services lawfully available abroad, subject to conditions that will be laid down by law, and permit non directive counselling of pregnant women, but not abortion referral.
What would it permit or not permit? The amendment would permit non directive counselling, but not abortion referral. However, I do not know how much non directive counselling is available in the State because I do not know if many people have been trained as non directive counsellors.
What conditions will be laid down by law? The Government said that the legislation will permit a doctor or an advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling is also given on all the alternative options open to her. It will not be permitted to promote abortion or to encourage the woman to select it in preference to other options or to provide an abortion referral service. The legislation will also permit general factual material concerning abortion to be published in the media, as long as it does not seek to promote abortion. However, such material will not be permitted on billboards, wall posters or leaflets delivered to homes. This is covered in page 13 of the booklet.
The amendment says nothing about giving names and addresses or advertising. The people supporting the Bill say the booklet implies this when it says, information on services available elsewhere. Those opposing the Bill say that the booklet states no referral, no promotion and that the Government is fully committed to the right to life of the unborn. For what did the people vote? It is far from clear that the people can now be blamed for this pro-abortion Bill before the House. At best, according to the Government, it can say it is now setting down the conditions in law under which the information can be given.
However, the Government cannot claim a mandate from the people for the Bill. It cannot hide behind the people and say that they asked for this. The Government cannot say that the people approved of the type of abortion referral allowed for in the Bill. The people did not ask for this type of abortion referral, nor did they give their approval to it. One can be sure from the unrest outside the House resulting from this Bill that the people do not want——
——abortion referral legalised. It is not too late to request the Minister——
Where is the unrest?
——to outlaw the provision of names and addresses. There has been much opposition to the Bill. I am sure many Members have been lobbied, although I have not been lobbied that much. However, we must acknowledge that the nature of the letters and telephone calls points to the fact that a sizeable proportion of the people are opposed to this legislation. If one is truly anti abortion, one cannot countenance voting for legislation, which, for the first time here, acknowledges a right to abortion. If this Bill is passed, in the future people will look back on this week and acknowledge it as a rubicon.
The renowned Judge O'Hanlon, who is possessed of immense courage, likened abortion to the Holocaust. What happened in the Holocaust? Millions of innocent people were killed or destroyed because they were supposedly inferior. Certain categories of people, such as Jews, homosexuals and gypsies, were deemed not to be deserving of life. Surely the Minister can see the analogy or likeness of this point, where people can be eliminated or exterminated just because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or because one does not like them. Does the Minister not think that the elimination or extermination of Jews, homosexuals and gypsies by the Nazis bears a striking resemblance to the extermination of 50 million unborn babies worldwide each year? They have all one thing in common, which is their innocence. Their only crime is their existence.
No one has the right to take the life of an innocent human being. No one has the right to facilitate the destruction of that innocent human life. This is why the Minister's Bill is so terrible. It marks the acceptance that in some cases it is all right to destroy innocent life, just as long as one does not do it in Ireland. It condones by helping to facilitate and there is no compassion in this.
It is not compassionate to encourage abortion; it is compassionate to discourage it. No woman who chooses abortion does so lightly in a cavalier fashion. I do not believe that women who are hurt by rape, or who are frightened or lonely, choose easily. They must be supported and helped in every way possible because no matter how they go away, they return wounded. I do not understand why Governments do not spend millions of pounds to find out why so many chose this terrible option. In relation to research and education, I am delighted the Minister said that the Department of Health will commission a major study to identify the factors. I made this point at the outset. The Minister had a difficult job and, in my opinion, he did not succeed, but others may disagree.
If we pass the Bill, we will be feeding into an agenda defined by people outside. A famous man, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, used to be a director of the largest abortion clinic in the world, with 35 doctors working under his supervision. During his tenure 60,000 abortions were performed there, 120 every day of the year, including Sundays but excluding Christmas Day. He performed another 15,000 with his own hands in his private practise. He now deplores this record and puts the case against abortion by stating:
I am personally responsible for 75,000 abortions. This legitimises my credentials to speak to you with some authority on the issue. I was one of the founders of the National Association for the Repeal of the Abortion Laws in the US in 1968.
A truthful poll of opinion then would have found that Americans were against permissive abortion. Yet, within 5 years, we had convinced the US Supreme Court to issue the decision which legalised abortion throughout America in 1973 and produced virtual abortion on demand.
How did they do this? They used three tactics — one can currently see them in operation in this country. The first key tactic was to capture the media and they did this by fabricating figures and opinion polls. One of the figures they fabricated was the number of illegal abortions done in the USA. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 people but the figure they repeatedly gave to the media was one million. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was 200-250 people. The figure they constantly fed to the media was 10,000.
The second key tactic was to play the Catholic card. They systematically vilified the Catholic church and its so called "socially backward" ideas and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion. This theme was played on endlessly. They fed the media such lies as "We all know that opposition to abortion comes from the hierarchy and not from most Catholics" and "Polls prove time and again that most Catholics want abortion law reform". The fact that other Christians as well as non-Christian religions were, and still are, monolithically opposed to abortion was constantly suppressed, along with the pro-life atheists' opinions.
The third tactic they used — the one used in newspapers here all the time — was the suppression of all scientific evidence that life begins at conception and the denigration of that evidence. A favoured pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible, that the question is a theological, moral or a philosophical one, anything but scientific. Fetology makes it undeniably evident that life begins at conception and requires all the protection and safeguards that any of us enjoy.
The Minister says in his speech that the objective of this Bill "has two obvious components; first to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, and secondly, to reduce the extent to which unwanted pregnancies end in abortion". That is laudable if it can be achieved, but I do not see how this Bill can do it. However, I wish the Minister well and hope he can do it.
I am not sure that we realise what we are doing in this Bill. Everybody has compassion for a woman who is raped or who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy and does not want to tell anybody. However, the human life in her womb is also at stake. We should discourage people, not facilitate them. The reason I am opposing this Bill is not because there are not good points in it but because its basic thrust is to facilitate abortion in some way and to accept that it is all right in some circumstances. I believe it is not right in any circumstances; we cannot take human life. The Bible says: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and before you were born, I consecrated you". I would not have the guts to face my maker and say that I supported or helped in any way the destruction of a human life by abortion.
As I said, the Minister is no different from the rest of us. He may have done his best, although I think he could have done better. However, I believe this Bill does in some way facilitate the procurement of abortions, albeit abroad. I cannot support it and I ask the rest of the House not to support it. For the first time, this Bill attacks, even in some slight way, the sanctity of human life. This is sacred. That is why we do not drive through red traffic lights or beat people up. When a slight chink is made in that armour, we slowly but inexorably move from a place where life is sacred to where death is acceptable. Then it is only a short jump to euthanasia. In some countries, babies up to two weeks old have been allowed to starve to death and been given painkillers so they will not be heard crying. I know that is a big jump from this Bill. Nobody here wants to see abortion becoming widespread in Ireland, but it is done by first putting a chink in the armour.
People should have no illusions about what this is about. It is not about liberalisation or freedom, but enslavement, entrapment and money. Most of the referral agencies have links with abortion clinics. They do this in every country because they make a lot of money out of it. We should not facilitate or feed into that in any way. I am not against giving factual information on abortion but against giving information that will assist in referral.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish him well in his new and important portfolio and thank him for staying for the duration of this debate.
I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important issue. The Minister for Health has brought this legislation before the House. A majority of the people voted in favour of providing information for abortion services abroad. The majority of voters in my Cork North-West constituency actually voted against the freedom of information and the provision entitling women to travel to other countries to have abortions. However, as a democrat, I fully accept that the decisions of Government have to be made in accordance with the majority view.
My own views on this matter are mixed. As a general rule, a pregnant woman should be given every opportunity and encouragement to see her pregnancy through. Many couples cannot have children of their own and would welcome the opportunity to adopt a child and give it the love and care it needs. On the other hand, I understand that there are circumstances where a mother's physical or mental health may threaten the continuation of her pregnancy. The recent news that a 12 year old child is expecting a baby, for example, is very disturbing. It is well documented that thousands of Irish women travel to Britain each year for an abortion. The bulk of them make this journey without discussing their pregnancy with anyone and certainly not with the health care professionals. There is an urgent need for non-directive counselling to be made available on a large scale.
Women living in rural areas are at an automatic disadvantage at the moment, given the lack of family planning facilities outside the cities. There should also be provision for follow-up visits by counsellors for every patient, irrespective of her choice. This legislation would clear the way for such support mechanisms to be put in place. I am not discounting the valuable work carried out by organisations like Cura and Life in facilitating women who choose to continue their pregnancies, but women who are distraught because of an unwanted pregnancy or, for example, the parents of a pregnant teenager, as happened in the X case, would simply not approach these organisations. It is time we confronted that reality.
I object in the strongest possible terms to the tactics being used by the anti-abortion lobby to put pressure on Deputies and Senators. I would be prepared to treat their objectives as sincere if they showed a genuine interest in the problems of unwanted pregnancies. I would take them seriously if they balanced their extreme views by focusing on the need for better sex education, better family planning services, improving housing conditions and more educational opportunities for girls. Unfortunately, the opposition to this legislation consists of the same people who opposed the progressive development of this society and still refuse to acknowledge the underlying problems. In this bracket, for example, I see the objectors to the Stay Safe programme in primary schools in denying that child sex abuse is part of our society. These people seek to preserve a false status quo. They want sex shrouded in silence, a silence that protects criminals, yet they tell us that they want to protect children who need never know that sex crimes occur. There are no such children, because all children have the right to have their bodies treated with respect. Those who say abortion is the wrong solution should look at ways of eliminating the need for it. The aim of legislators should be to try to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.
May I share my time with Senator O'Toole?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I do not enthusiastically or warmly welcome this Bill, although I recognise the means by which it arrived in the House. I am glad this Government has decided to address the issue so quickly. I remember in the aftermath of the X case we called for legislation to implement the necessary implications of that judgment. I recall in particular in 1992 how the late Mr. Justice McCarthy essentially reproached the Oireachtas for not having acted in a legislative capacity.
The Bill is politically shrewd but morally ambiguous and possibly liable to some form of legal challenge for a variety of reasons, although the Minister has assured us that he believes this is not the case. People in political and legal life come from a variety of backgrounds and it is reasonable that they have their own views. It is striking that the Government in this case has been advised by an eminent and distinguished legal authority, the Attorney General, who, if I am correct, before he occupied this position and when he was a senior barrister at the time of the referendum, was one of a group of barristers opposed to it. There is no suggestion that the Government on this occasion may be in danger of receiving specifically illiberal advice — one assumes good legal advice with no malign intention.
The Minister's speech was effective, particularly when he dealt with the arguments of the so-called pro-life lobby. He said "aspects of the Bill have been criticised from several quite different perspectives.... Some are wrong in fact, some are wrong in law and all are inconsistent with the wishes of the people as expressed very clearly in 1992." Is the Minister satisfied that the Bill is totally consistent with the wishes expressed? It seems that in some regards the Bill is far more restrictive than persons like myself would have wished for.
The X case concerned a 14 year old girl who was raped and who sought to go abroad for an abortion. To take up Senator O'Kennedy's point — and this is not a point against the Minister — the Minister made some advances in that he indicated that friends and relations would be exempted from the prohibition on assistance. I wish that was clearly spelled out in the Bill because I cannot understand Senator O'Kennedy's objections. In the case of that 14 year old girl, surely it would be humane to permit her mother, also distressed, to assist her distraught daughter? To introduce legal machinery to prevent that most human of situations seems to be callous in the extreme and I cannot understand that being presented by people who claim to be humane.
The Minister said his objective is to minimise the circumstances in which women have abortions. I do not believe the Bill will do that, although it may well reduce them because it is a step in the right direction. I agree with people who are opposed to the Bill on the basis that it is a foot in the door. This will be further opened up by perhaps case law and constitutional appeals. I do not believe this Bill will end the abortion issue. It will not minimise the number of abortions; it may reduce them.
As I said in the House before, I was a tutor in Trinity College for ten years and partly because I had a colourful career in the courts, young women came to me as their moral tutor as they felt I would be non-judgmental. One young woman per year came to me with what they regarded as a crisis pregnancy — eight or nine in total. First, I listened to them, and I found that difficult because I am very much inclined to the beauties of my own voice. On these occasions, because it was a serious and sensitive matter, I would listen to them and let them pour out all their uncertainties, troubles and difficulties once I made them comfortable. Then I would refer them to a genuinely non-directive agency. I do not believe what is specified in the Bill is non-directive; it is extremely directive against the option of abortion. Of those young women, one had an abortion and remains satisfied with her decision. If somebody like me and if non-directive counselling had not been available, I am certain the majority of those women would have got on the boat in misery and fear without the provision of addresses, with no friends and support and perhaps would have contacted from a telephone box in central London an agency which might not have been in their best interest.
If we want to minimise abortion rather than perhaps marginally reduce it, we should campaign for total freedom of information, referral and freedom of choice. If people like the Regius Professor of Law in Trinity College and others who so stridently attacked the pro-choice lobby thought carefully, rationally, lucidly and compassionately about the situation and were committed to minimising the incidence of abortion, then they would campaign to give people as much freedom and dignity as possible in making a choice.
If we look at compartative figures, Holland, where there is free access to abortion and good sex education, has a lower per capita incidence of abortion than what we know of in this country, although our abortions conveniently take place in England. It reminds me of a time when it was quite common in the Dublin District Court to hear a sentence of six months or go to Britain. That is what we are still inclined to do with young women who find themselves in this difficult situation.
It is a good political balancing act that the Minister is providing money to Cura, Life and Cherish. That is a balance on behalf of the so-called pro-life groups which is fair enough because this is a democracy. There are decent people who are committed to the pro-life view; they are not all cranks. Even some of the cranks are decent people who are overmotivated. The argument about the crowds outside the House was laughable. I remember the last referendum, the deluge of mail and telephone calls I got and the abusive crowds outside. There was none of that because people have grown up and realised that it is a complex issue — it is not black and white.
I hope that giving money to Cura, Life and Cherish is not an exclusive list of funding proposals. I would like the Minister to give money to Frontline, the coalition of organisations dealing with the issue and consequences of unplanned pregnancies, which include, Cherish, Doctors for Information, the Well Woman Centre, the Irish Family Planning Association, etc. It would be good if these caring people were also given some funding from the Government to ensure that it is a balanced affair.
The Minister dealt well with the pro-life arguments; it was beautifully clear and logical, and politically shrewd. The Bill is far more restrictive than I had hoped, and it is a restriction on the existing situation in the aftermath of the X case. Although the Bill allows what it calls non-directive counselling, by definition, if a counsellor may refer a client to Cura but not to the Marie Stopes Clinic, for example, that is directive; it is loaded. Abortion is singled out as distinct from the other options presented to the woman with a crisis pregnancy and a value judgement is thereby clearly implicit.
I also mentioned that the Bill might be liable to challenge; this is the information I have. It may be in breach of the Constitution in certain respects. In July 1993 in the Supreme Court, in the case concerning the Well Woman Centre, Ms Justice Denham, in a minority judgement, gave the only judicial interpretation to date of the 1992 information and travel amendments. She held that under the right to travel amendment, assistance given to a person exercising their right to travel is part and parcel of that right. That was the view of a senior judge, the only one to give a judgement in this area. She went on to emphasise that such assistance would, particularly for economically and socially deprived persons, be essential in order to enable them to exercise that right.
As somebody who has a closeness to socialism and republicanism in the Wolfe Tone tradition, I find it regrettable that the economically and socially deprived should be disadvantaged by this Bill, as I believe they are.
Where is your membership card?
When the Labour Party reclaims its socialist soul I will be happy to join.
There are few republicans left in the Labour Party. I am with Senator Norris on this.
There are other restrictions. The prohibition forbidding, for example, any information provider from having a direct or indirect interest in any abortion provider outside the State may, I am advised, be open to challenge under European law following the 1991 ruling in the European Court of Justice in the students' case, where the court held that it was not against European law for Ireland to forbid the provision of information on abortion clinics "where the clinics in question had no involvement in the distribution of the said information". The clear implication is that if there is a financial link between the information provided and the clinic, then European law would not allow the information to be banned. Can our law then prohibit such a financial link from being created?
The Commission on the Status of Women made a telling point in a submission in March 1992 supporting what I said earlier about the effect of making abortion information and referral freely available. It said that the basic premise of the statement was that women should have the right to avail of counselling and information as well as the right to travel and, indeed, if counselling were permissible, some women might well decide against a termination in favour of another option.
The Irish Family Planning Association, in a detailed briefing looking at the client expectations of counselling, said:
Any regulation of counselling which would have the effect of limiting a counsellor's ability to offer a comprehensive information service to clients would have the immediate consequence of clients bypassing the counselling option. When pregnancy counselling is sought on the understanding that full information may be made available on request, the consequence of such regulation would undoubtedly be that those women for whom the pregnancy is a crisis will terminate without the benefit of counselling.
That is the danger in any restriction on counselling.
I also feel strongly about the apparent invasion of the doctor-patient relationship. We have heard about the Catholic ethos and, in a debate in this House on the Adelaide Hospital, we had to grapple with the notion of the Protestant ethos. I note that at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation Séamus Mallon, reacting instinctively to the mention of abortion, said that the Rev. Martin Smyth and he had both gone to John Major to seek some kind of derogation from the application of abortion legislation from England to the North. He seemed to think this covered all the Protestant denominations. I have news for Séamus Mallon; the Rev. Martin Smyth has nothing to do with my religious position. I am a practising member of the Church of Ireland and it has made its position clear. Nobody, including the Church of Ireland, looks on abortion as positive. It is always a matter of sadness and regret. However, the Church of Ireland to an unusual degree respects the privacy and integrity of the relationship between doctor and patient. This is a legal intervention that is extremely worrying.
I regret having received some pretty gruesome photographic material. However, people are entitled to lobby as vigorously as they want and it did not particularly distress me — I suppose I am hardened. A lot of this material is intellectually dishonest. The people who promote these notions are not in possession of the full medical facts. From my files I took out an article from The Irish Times of 19 October 1992 by a senior physician, Professor Turlough FitzGerald, in which he deals with the notion of the foetus experiencing pain. He writes:
... The synapses transmit sensory and motor stimuli from one set of neurons to another.
Synaptic contacts are already present in sufficient numbers by the seventh week to cause movement in response to direct stimulation.
Unfortunately, this simple fact has been interpreted to signify that an embryo can feel pain.
Horrifying tales are being told to the young about the agonies of embryos undergoing physical or chemical destruction during induced abortions. The embryos are certainly dying, but it is incorrect to assert that a state of consciousness exists before the cortex is properly formed. The necessary anatomical substrate for pain perception is unlikely to have been laid down before the 16th week at the earliest.
We ought to know these clear scientific facts.
The only challenging, harsh and rhetorical speeches were made by male Members of this House. The women from all sides, whatever their opinion, spoke in terms of human understanding and compassion, and it was moving to listen to. In particular, Senator McGennis showed great courage from the Fianna Fáil benches. I listened with interest to her talking about the changing attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to stillbirths and the doctrine of limbo.
My friend and colleague. Senator Lydon, said he could not stand before his maker having assented to any Bill of this kind because of its consequences. The maker is well able to look after himself or herself. If one was worried about the peril to the souls of the unborn and at what point the soul enters the human foetus, surely God can determine that for himself or herself and come to the assistance of that soul whether or not we agonise in our conscience about it.
Reference was made to Mr. Justice O'Hanlon. I know nothing to lead me to believe that he is anything other than an extremely fine, upright and moral man. However, his interventions have worried me considerably going back to the time when he wrote an article in the Irish Law Times which seemed clearly to suggest that the law he was administering in his court was the law of God as he understood it, the natural law — a phrase which means the Roman Catholic theological position at any given time.
Senator, first, you have only 11 minutes left; second, the Judiciary is independent of this House and has always been deemed to be so.
Third, Senator O'Kennedy will get you.
If it is independent of this House it should also be independent of the Vatican.
Would the Senator like a debate on that?
Certainly. I would like a full debate on that but I yield to Senator O'Toole.
I thank Senator Norris for sharing his time with me. All the arguments, for and against, have been well made at this stage and it is impossible to think of anything new to offer. I have sympathy for the Minister in this unholy situation, where the right and left, the conservatives and the liberals, have been united by common opposition for diametrically opposing reasons. It is always a difficulty and one which is dealt with in some detail in "The Prince". I commend that the Minister read it as it offers advice on what would be required at this time.
It is important to recognise what we are doing here. It is not a question of making moral judgments nor is it a question of coming down on the issue of the right to life or otherwise. That was taken out of our hands by the people two years ago and the answer was clear. I will not go through all the detail of the arguments but in all the referenda there was never one which was so clearly explained and understood by the people as the referendum dealing with this issue two years ago.
The people responded 60 per cent in favour, 40 per cent against, giving rise to a constitutional imperative. Some would argue with this, but there was a decision by the people regarding the Constitution which we are required to interpret. There are imperatives in the Constitution which require legal follow up which have been ignored by the State and with which the State has been unable to deal, for example, the right to minimum standards of education has been ignored since the foundation of the State. Nevertheless, in this instance we are responding to what the people decided.
The question of the flaws or otherwise in the Bill — is it a feeble Bill, a weak Bill, a dangerous Bill, will it stand the constitutional test? — is one for another time and place. The Bill before the House meets the requirements of the people. It is not, in any sense, extravagant in its response to the needs of the people and we have a legislative duty to respond. The people knew and understood; they voted and their answer was clear. They have given us a direction which is to allow the provision of information and non-directive counselling in a controlled environment.
The Bill seeks to meet the minimal requirements which were determined by the referendum. There can be no change from that and there can be no doubt that many of those opposing the Bill and many of those who use the most lurid arguments — and entertainments indeed — to distract from the will and decision of the people have been sorted out on this occasion. Like Senator Norris and others on this occasion, I did not receive the silent phone calls, the hate mail and extraordinary, vitriolic attacks. On the last occasion these activities cost me a Seanad seat. I have no time for those who engage in such activities.
I congratulate the Minister on the extraordinary public handling of this business over the past two to three weeks. It is a tribute to him. There are bad and good days in ministries and people in public life cannot look forward to too many good days. However, the courageous leadership displayed by the Minister in the past fortnight has been significant in giving other people the courage to state their point of view, to articulate what they believe and to respond to what the people sought. The Minister can take the credit for this, whatever other arguments people may make about his Ministry. I take this opportunity to wish the Minister well.
The Minister made much reference to research, information, education and counselling. Many people have sought help in many areas, and one area on which the Minister is very clear is that of sex education and the Stay Safe programme to protect children from becoming pregnant. As somebody who represents the views of teachers I advise the Minister that this is an issue which must be approached with extraordinary sensitivity, with real support and the necessary resources to undertake this work. It is part and parcel of what we are discussing today to ensure that at the educational level, teachers and others involved in educational management and in delivering the educational service are allowed to develop sex education and safety education programmes to protect children. This service should be provided as soon as possible.
The Bill clarifies the responsibilities, duties, rights and entitlements of people on all sides of the argument — the person who is pregnant, the medical personnel and others in the relevant agencies. The Bill ensures — and this is a viewpoint I support — the control of public information in this area and it also ensures that all information is provided, presented and developed in the context of full counselling being available. In this I take issue with my colleague, Senator Quinn, who used the analogy of smoking when discussing this issue. Until such time as we require people to take counselling before they buy a packet of cigarettes or tight up, the simile does not work because there is a clear difference between the two. The Senator and I differ on many issues, and we differ on this issue.
The Bill is effective in ensuring that we prohibit any referrals to pregnancy termination agencies. It also prohibits any kind of easy access to pregnancy termination, rather it does the opposite. For the first time, those in a panic, those about to take the boat or the plane now have somewhere to go to get advice and I hope that within that advice and counselling, many people may change their minds from taking what nowadays many feel is the only option open to them.
I support this Bill. None of us welcomes these developments as there are problems for everybody in dealing with them. I congratulate the Minister on his adept and masterful handling of this matter, both publicly and in both Houses.