Crisis Pregnancies: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, noting the well documented case to provide proper support structures to assist women experiencing pregnancy crisis, calls for a comprehensive and compassionate approach to the issue including the immediate implementation of such support structures as proposed in the Care of Persons Board Bill, 2001, presented by Deputy Gay Mitchell.

The proposal to provide a proper support structure to assist women in crisis pregnancies was made by Fine Gael following its input to the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution. Deputy Gay Mitchell's Bill provides for a legal basis for such support. The Government's proposal, contained in the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, published yesterday, contains three strands. My party has made it clear that the first strand, covering constitutional and legal aspects, will be discussed thoroughly by its parliamentary party and that legal advice will be taken to enable it scrutinise in detail the legislation presented to the Houses. Deputy Mitchell's Bill addresses issues raised in the second strand while the third strand deals with co-operation between Departments, health boards, non-governmental organisations and women's groups, especially those dealing with education and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Deputy Mitchell's Bill does not exclude the third strand, rather it would be part of a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the reduction of the abortion rate by helping women in crisis pregnancies and their families.

The Government's proposed amendment to the motion refers to endorsing "the establishment by the Minister for Health and Children of a Crisis Pregnancy Agency under the provisions of the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1961". The agency will be allocated a budget of €6.5 million, which approximates to what my party proposes. However, the Minister should accept the need to establish the agency on a statutory basis to ensure that adequate support is provided to women in crisis pregnancies and their children. The purpose of Deputy Mitchell's Bill is to provide for this. It is not too much to ask. The decision by my party not to call a vote on this aspect indicates our wish for the Government to accept our proposals.

The outcry from many agencies and people indicates the need to provide State support to women in crisis pregnancies. It is not sufficient that voluntary bodies should be expected to do everything. While they do excellent work they are under-resourced and are over-stretched. Senator Keogh will speak about the need for funding for such bodies, much of whose work is unacknowledged. In the context of the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution, my party recommended that there be such State support.

We do not have accurate figures on the numbers of women who seek abortion outside the State but it is clear that a significant number do so. The all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution indicated that according to national statistics from England and Wales, in 1971, 578 women normally resident in this country had abortions while in 1999 this had increased to 6,226. The figures may be even higher and they are not surprising given the concerns women have cited. These have been well documented in the book,Women in Crisis Pregnancy, by Evelyn Mahon, whom I knew when she was a researcher in the University of Limerick, Catherine Connell and Lucy Dillon. They are now part of a team at Trinity College, Dublin. The book was published in 1998 and is essential reading. It outlines the results of tremendous qualitative research and will help people to understand and support the need for proper structures to help those involved. There can be no doubt in any woman's mind that if these were put in place and properly organised and funded there would be a substantial reduction in the numbers of women having abortions.

The book outlines the practical reasons women had abortions. They were not only socio-economic, although some related to career and job concerns. The stigma of lone parenthood, which sometimes does not get the attention it deserves, stood out. Other concerns included the needs of the child, inability to cope, being too young and already having a child. Some women referred to "my body, my right" while others referred to the lack of education and training, the fact that they never wanted a child, the stigma attaching to parents or that they were too old to have a child. One third of those surveyed referred to the stigma of having a child, inability to cope or being financially unready. These are the stark concerns given by respondents to very open and specific interviews.

The bottom line is that women may choose abortion because they find themselves in a crisis or feel helpless without support. In many cases they feel they may have nowhere to turn, which is an outrageous reflection on a country that claims to be so family friendly. That aspect can be debated on another occasion but I do not see much sign of a family friendly approach when single parents contact me on the basis that they want to keep their children and ensure their education only to find they are ineligible for grants. There always appears to be stop-gaps, as is also the case in terms of medical help. It is no wonder they feel so threatened.

The all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution agreed on three definite aspects to this issue. The first was the large number of crisis pregnancies which result in recourse to abortion facilities in Great Britain. The second was an urgent need to take measures to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and the third was the need to ensure that women in crisis pregnancies must be offered a real and positive alternative to abortion to help ensure a reduction in the rate of abortion.

Deputy Gay Mitchell's Private Member's Bill is thoughtful and proactive. It needs to be taken on board by the Government if the Government parties are serious about support for women in crisis pregnancies and about reducing the number of abortions taking place abroad. The care of persons board is stressed so much because of its autonomy, because it will report to the Oireachtas and because it has a strong statutory base. A three-year term of office is specified. There will be 12 members appointed by the Minister for Health and Children, subject to the approval of the Dáil, from the membership of which the Minister will appoint a chairman. The chairman shall, at least annually and when required by the Oireachtas committee appointed by both Houses for the purpose, appear before that committee and account for the discharge of the board's responsibilities. There is accountability.

The role of the board is to take all reasonable steps to ensure that any expectant mother shall receive every necessary support. That help may take the form of advice, finance, accommodation and health care, all of which help will be available during crisis pregnancy. It should be there to support, encourage and facilitate any expectant mother to bring her pregnancy to full term. That is not asking too much. The assurance should also be provided that this help will be available not only up to the birth of the child, but thereafter too. Support should also be provided to family members of the expecting mother, or other persons concerned, at the discretion of the board. The support or assistance given by the board shall require the consent of the expectant mother.

Section 7 of the Bill provides that the board may, by itself or with such representatives of particular groups or organisations as it considers appropriate, establish schemes. In regard to NGOs and other groups, such as health boards and the Department of Health and Children, there would be schemes, the objectives of which would be to protect and support the expectant mother and her unborn child or children. There should be a chief executive who should report to the Public Accounts Committee the need for generous funding. Fine Gael proposes that funding to the board should be £50 million over a ten year period, but if the £5 million per year does not meet the requirements, this could be reviewed by the relevant Oireachtas committees to which the board will report.

Fine Gael is a party committed to social justice. We want to look at root causes and support a practical contribution to addressing a serious problem which is of public concern. I ask that the Minister accept this Bill as a positive way of dealing with crisis pregnancies and of ensuring that the agency suggested by the Minister should be part of the proposed body.

This has been suggested by other members of Fine Gael and me, co-operatively and altruistically, to ensure that an issue which has been swept under the carpet for so long can be looked at positively. It should be approached through education and with the support of all sectors of the community, such as the health boards, the Department of Health and Children, non-governmental organisations and women's groups. Collectively we will do something worthwhile in a supportive, humanitarian and community-based way by putting this on a statutory footing. That is my plea to the Minister.

I take pleasure in seconding the motion put forward by my colleague, Senator Jackman.

Discussing this in splendid isolation, by pretending there was not another aspect to what the Government put forward yesterday, would be quite unreal. I wish that we were just discussing the motion as put forward in relation to the Bill produced by Deputy Gay Mitchell. There are so many issues we should discuss that are pertinent and we have to look at the entire picture while examining this.

Obviously, this is part of an effort to support women who are in crisis pregnancies, but we have to put that in context. It is a disturbing reality that despite our growing affluence the number of crisis pregnancies among young women which end in abortion has increased. The number of teenage pregnancies has risen steadily over the years. The latest research we have from the Midland Health Board shows that 44% of sexually active women, between the ages of 18 and 45, do not use contraception. Were they all hoping to become pregnant, did they assume that pregnancy would not happen or did they have the opportunity to access family planning information and services? Unfortunately, not all of these women have that opportunity.

I wear another hat as chairman of the Well Woman Centres. Our centres, which have a predominantly Dublin-based clientele, have noticed disturbing trends with a 65% increase in demand for emergency morning-after contraception between 1998 and 1999. What we would like to see is more comprehensive long-term contraception which is more reliable and preferable from the perspective of women's health. It is a sad fact that in the United Kingdom one in every five pregnancies ends in abortion. Here that figure is one in every ten and this is a country where abortion does not exist. There are many issues and it is very important to understand that our education system is failing to equip young women and young men. Women do not have these children by themselves. Young people have insufficient information and, to some extent, they do not have a sense of personal responsibility regarding family planning. The number of pregnancies ending in termination represents a huge failure to educate our young people and, unfortunately, it shows a huge failure to support women in crisis pregnancy.

We are trying to deal with this issue, initially through the Bill presented by Deputy Gay Mitchell to support women in crisis pregnancy, but we also must remember that we have to continue with education. I contend that the relationships and sexuality programme in schools is absolutely insufficient and does not deliver the type of information our young people need. It must be rolled out in a systematic way, rather than in thead hoc fashion in which it is being done at the moment. Our young people need clear, unambiguous and consistent information so they have the skills to enable them to say “No” if they find themselves in circumstances where they feel they have to have sexual relations. That is something we are very remiss about in this society. It is part and parcel of the type of thing we should be doing and I hope any agency established will ensure that the proper education of our young people is a high priority. Information campaigns and out-reach programmes should also form an important part of this.

The argument is often put forward that greater access to information on contraception and a reliance on contraception leads to more unwanted pregnancies and to an increase in the number of abortions. All we have to do is look at programmes elsewhere. I spoke to some American politicians late last year who were involved in sex education programmes. There were 12 such programmes in one state – they are divided into districts – and in the one district where they did not have a programme of information on contra ception teenage pregnancies and, unfortunately, abortions increased. That is a very important issue.

It is very unfortunate that we are discussing this in the context of what was announced yesterday. Unfortunately, regarding the proposals put forward by the Government, there was no consultation of which I am aware with any of the groups working in the field of reproductive health. There was no consultation with any of the agencies. That should have been done in advance of the announcement.

Many questions that have been asked need to be answered. That is why I believe any proposed agency should, as we are suggesting, be on a statutory basis so that it can be held accountable. Openness is very important in this regard.

Will the Minister state how is one going to reach the women facing crisis pregnancies? From the point of view of agencies to which women go for help, it is very difficult to do that. If it is difficult to do that beforehand, it is a hundred times more difficult to do it afterwards.

Much discussion must take place before we find a model that truly works. From that perspective, to support anything that provides help and resources for women is fine, but it is not good enough to do it on a back-of-the-cigarette-packet basis. The way the matter should have been handled was by presenting, as we have suggested, a Bill standing on its own without reference to other issues such as constitutional amendments.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"having regard to the recommendations of the all-party committee on the Constitution in its Fifth Progress Report that an agency be established to prepare and oversee the implementation of a national strategy to address the issue of crisis pregnancy, endorses the establishment by the Minister for Health and Children of a Crisis Pregnancy Agency under the provisions of the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1961, and the provision of a budget of €6.5 million for this agency in 2002.".

I wish to share my time with Senator O'Donovan.

It is not fair to say there was no consultation before the Crisis Pregnancy Agency was announced. In fact, it was discussed over many months by the all-party committee on the Constitution and a report was produced in November 2000.

It proposed that there should be a national strategy to reduce the number of pregnancies and therefore reduce the rate of abortion. The all-party committee identified a range of issues to be addressed in a strategy to combat crisis pregnancy. It also pointed out that several Government Departments, State bodies and voluntary organisations have responsibilities for aspects of these issues. The complexity of the programmes needed and the co-ordination necessary for their success requires a single planning focus. It proposed the establishment of an agency to draw up a strategy to combat crisis pregnancies, promote options other than abortion when crisis pregnancy occurs, and provide for post-abortion services. The agency would also have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the strategy.

Having considered the report of the all-party committee, the Government is establishing a new statutory agency to combat crisis pregnancies. The agency, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, will, in consultation with the Government and other statutory and non-statutory bodies, draw up a national strategy to address crisis pregnancy and then oversee the implementation of that strategy. It will work with a wide range of organisations, not just in the health sector but also, for example, in education, employment and housing. The Government, as I said, is supplying €6.5 million to fund this new agency in 2002.

The agency and the strategy will encompass three major elements. The agency will work through education and other programmes to seek to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies that occur. It will work with women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies to offer them meaningful options within Ireland. This will include working with society as a whole in promoting a more supportive attitude. It will work to develop supports for women who have had an abortion to provide for their emotional and physical needs. Preventative issues concerning the education of young people and adults, as well as services appropriate to their needs and lifestyles, will be addressed.

Much concern has been expressed to make women more aware of their options should they have a crisis pregnancy and to enable them to consider these carefully and assist them before making decisions about the course of action they may want to take. This is another major area to be addressed by the agency.

Women who have had an abortion also have real needs. They must be treated with compassion and understanding and both their emotional and physical health needs must be attended to. Post-abortion counselling is already available from a number of agencies but is not widely availed of. Similarly, although medical check-ups are advisable for women who have had abortions, many Irish women do not avail of them. This is another matter the agency will be asked to address in order to ensure women receive all the care and attention they need.

Women with crisis pregnancies should not be abandoned. All necessary health care should be given to them. The broadest public support should be given to the new agency to allow it to deal, in a helpful manner, with the problems faced by women undergoing crisis pregnancies.

I support the amendment outlined by my colleague, Senator Fitzpatrick. The proposal recently announced by the Minister for Health and Children to set up a crisis pregnancy agency is along the lines of what was suggested by the all-party committee on the Constitution, of which I was a member for almost four years.

Regarding a point touched upon by Senator Jackman, the committee had different views on how to approach the issue of abortion. There was a three-way split. One faction wanted thestatus quo to remain. Another group wanted the Constitution to be amended and the third had a more liberal approach. This is the manner is which the recommendations came from the committee in our report.

It is important to note, as did Senator Jackman, that all the parties to the committee, from both sides of the House, agreed unanimously with the idea of setting up an agency to deal with the difficulties associated with unwanted pregnancies. I would love be of the utopian opinion that we will not have any abortions and that we will totally eradicate the need for it, abroad or at home. Unfortunately, this is not likely to occur, but what can be done – in line with the idea of setting up a crisis pregnancy agency – is to tackle some of the real issues that arise.

It is mind-boggling in this age of modern technology, and given our young, educated population, that there are so many unwanted pregnancies in this country. The problem must be tackled, but we will not be able to eliminate it. What one can do is create by way of education, particularly in young people, an awareness and an understanding of how to deal with crisis pregnancies.

The figures mentioned by Senator Keogh are startling. The substantial increase over two years of 65% in the demand for the morning-after pill indicates that there are a lot of people – primarily the young – who are still prepared to take risks such as having unprotected sex etc. We must encourage a more realistic and mature approach in this regard.

The setting up of the agency was what everyone on the committee wanted and the Minister has acted in this regard. If certain people say they were not consulted, it should be borne in mind that we were given the task less than two years ago of dealing specifically with the Green Paper and we produced a report of almost 600 pages within a year. We held oral hearings, accepted written submissions, heard from every association dealing with matters such as unwanted pregnancies and heard different views from different religious groups. Different organisations throughout the length and breadth of Ireland were invited to make submissions, which they did. There was a detailed trawl of the submissions with lengthy oral hearings in this Chamber which lasted several weeks. Resulting from that, this report was then sent to Government which, within 11 months, decided to hold a referendum and to publish legislation to deal with the issue of abortion.

I welcome the decision to establish an agency to deal with crisis pregnancies and that it will be provided with funding of €6.5 million. The plan of the committee was to provide £50 million over ten years. The amount provided by the Government is in line with that strategy. This is what was envisaged by the committee chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan. I am delighted as a member of that committee to see the agency being established and funding for it being put in place. I wish the agency well. It is the right road to take. Having regard to the committee's recommendations and the fresh approach of the Minister for Health and Children, the Senator who moved the motion might reconsider her position. There are many positive aspects to Deputy Gay Mitchell's Bill, but the establishment of the agency was what everyone wanted. It is now being put in place and I wish it well.

I would welcome the establishment of the agency and I welcome Deputy Gay Mitchell's Bill, especially the former were it not for the fact that it appears to have been added on to the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, to make it appear more acceptable. It is most regrettable that in light of the excellent work done by the committee chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, we had to wait a year before this uncontroversial proposal was brought forward. In the meantime, a considerable number of women have gone to the United Kingdom for abortions who might not have had them had better arrangements been in place in Ireland.

The numbers of women going to the UK for abortions have increased since abortion was legalised in Great Britain in 1967, but it is important to remember that in the past ten years there has been a large increase in the number of women in the age group from 20 to 30 travelling there for abortions. This is by far the commonest age group that goes to England for abortions. In 1990, 255,070 women in that age group travelled, in 1995, the number was 265,900 and in 2000, it was 311,600. The increase in abortion has been in the same proportion to the increase in the number of women in the 20 to 30 age group, allowing for the fact that women are more likely now to give their Irish address rather than a fictitious one. I do not want to be as despondent as some people are about this because there are people working in this field, such as myself and the people involved in Cherish, about which I am about to speak, who believe some progress is being made.

In talking about the various agencies to be established, I feel like asking if this is not a bit like re-inventing the wheel. If agencies such as Cherish and CURA had been given the funding they required over the years, what might we have been able to do? Cherish was established about 30 years ago by single mothers to assist single mothers. As most people will remember, it was unacceptable then for a single mother to keep her child. The work done by Evelyn Mahon in producing the report in Trinity College showed that social and economic pressures are still the main reasons a woman would consider going to England to have an abortion. Some young women will consider adoption, but everyone has a unique reason for deciding to terminate a pregnancy. The vast majority make the decision because they feel they cannot continue with the pregnancy and are not in a position to support either themselves or a child.

Some people tell me I encourage women to become single mothers. I do not do that, but I believe that if a woman has a crisis pregnancy, the least I can do is try to help her so that if she wants to consider keeping her child, the facilities exist to do so.

It has been extraordinarily difficult over the years to get funding for Cherish and I applaud the Eastern Health Board, as it was then, and the Northern Area Health Board for funding us. We will shortly be funded by the South-Western Area Health Board. The Eastern Health Board was good over the years. However, between 1995 and today, we did not receive any increase in funding. We do not even receive £150,000 nowadays. We received an increase of £40,000 recently for which we are grateful, but imagine trying to run an agency such as ours on that amount of finance. We are working from hand to mouth. One year I was obliged to ask consultant colleagues who were obstetricians and who would know the difficulties of these women to give me £100 each. The vast majority of them gave me funding.

I assure Senators that any time we appeal for funds there is not much of a response. It is not considered worthy of great support. Everyone is against abortion, but when one tries to help single mothers, it is difficult. At one stage we were located in premises in Pembroke Road which I was terrified to enter because I was concerned the place would fall down around me, and people were living there. This country's answer to abortion is that suitable accommodation cannot be provided to house people while their various problems are dealt with.

What would Cherish do if it had more money? If we received some of the money – a couple of million pounds would do and not the whole £50 million – the organisation, which has a strong history of assisting single mothers with crisis preg nancies would put in place a five year strategic plan. At present we cannot even plan six months ahead. The money would enable us to establish a network so that we could liaise with individuals and groups throughout the country. We would try to establish regional offices in Limerick, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Athlone, Donegal, Clonmel and Dundalk, to name but a few places where we could be useful.

We would try to give single mothers better access to the services and information we have on offer. We would also try to expand directly in the Dublin area where there is a large population of single mothers and where family support workers are needed. These areas are frequently socially and economically disadvantaged and they could badly do with our assistance. If we had more money, we would be able to do more in terms of supplying accommodation. We would also be able to do more to try to help young women become economically independent. I praise the vocational education committee for the funding it has given us and the practical help by way of teachers running classes for single mothers to become computer literate because that was an area where it was good to get jobs.

I would also like to be able to obtain better crèche accommodation because it is very difficult for these young women to continue with their education or to be involved in work because child care is extraordinarily dear. Will Senators help me obtain funding for Cherish so that we can do more in this area? I would be very obliged if they would because everyone present is against abortion.

Our opening hours are not as long as we would like. Many people work for the organisation in a voluntary capacity. I would be very grateful for some money which would allow us have longer hours so that we could have better counselling, better teaching facilities and better crèche facilities for all the various people who come to us. In view of the money now available, I will be extremely angry if Cherish does not get some of this funding because while the Government are setting up the agencies, women will be going to England. We could be talking to those women and offering them the services which have been available for nearly 30 years. The Minister should ask his Department at least to give Cherish some of the money so that we can attempt some of the measures I have outlined. I was very sorry to see this money thrown in as an addendum to this Bill.

I am not in favour of putting anything like this legislation into the Constitution. The same legal experts who say that this legislation is right were wrong the last time. I objected to the 1983 amendment because I thought it could be construed in several different ways. I feel the same about this legislation. I strongly object to the definition of abortion and I do not know how the pro-life groups, who have said that human life begins at conception, have accepted it. I agree that implantation is a better description, but abortion is described in the legislation as meaning the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation in the womb of a woman. There is no definition of an end-point.

We could at least have taken on the medical terminology which says, "until the child is viable." It will not matter with this legislation, but internationally it is this sort of sloppy legislation which has allowed for what are described as partial birth abortions in the United States. I would describe these operations as "foetuscide," as third trimester abortions – which the Minister will know of, being a doctor – which are done on a two-stage basis in the United Kingdom to ensure that the child is dead before the abortion takes place. There is no end-point in this legislation.

I am also astonished that under the heading "conscientious objections," the legislation states, "Nothing in this Act should be construed as obliging any person to carry out any medical procedure referred to in section 1 of this Act." However subsection (2) of part 1 states, "A medical procedure is not an abortion if it is to save the life of the mother." Surely, the person should at least be obliged to let the mother know in advance that they are a conscientious objector. It would have been wise to include that.

I realise that this is not the subject of tonight's debate but I feel angry about this. I urge the Minister to provide money for Cherish up front. We will be working. We have the facilities in place, we are ready to go and to expand while the Minister and Fine Gael are setting up the various agencies.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I could debate with Senator Henry some of the issues that she has raised but, as she said herself, they are for another day. I will leave them aside despite being tempted to engage with her. I disagree fundamentally with some, not all, of what she had to say regarding the substantive question. I am sure we will come back to using the term "substantive question" again.

I fail to see the need for the motion in the name of the Fine Gael Senators, or the need to vote on the issue. My failure to see such a need is based on yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Health, confirmed by the Taoiseach, that an agency to combat crisis pregnancies is to be established and that it will receive funding of €6.5 million in 2002. This precisely mirrors the approach of the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution, and in particular, it reflects what I, as a member of the committee, understood the Fine Gael position to be.

Even before yesterday's announcement, I failed to see the need for the motion because each of the three approaches put forward by the committee to deal with the abortion question supported the plan to reduce crisis pregnancies. All members of the all-party committee agreed on this; it was not just the view of the Fine Gael Party. The report of the committee states that the first approach is to concentrate on the plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and the rate of abortion, and to leave the legal position unchanged. The second approach is to support the plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies, accompanied by legislation which will protect medical intervention to safeguard the life of the mother within the existing constitutional framework. The third approach is to support the plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies, to legislate to protect best medical practice by providing for a prohibition on abortion, and consequently to accommodate such legislation by referendum to amend the Constitution.

There were three different approaches, none of which commanded the unanimous support of the committee. However, in each of the three approaches, the need to have a plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies is mentioned. The Fine Gael proposition, if it was such, was supported by all members of the committee.

Fine Gael suggested that £50 million would be required to implement the plan over a 10-year period. If my euro to punt mathematics are correct, the €6.5 million provision for the agency in 2002 is as near as makes no difference to the 10-year £50 million target established by Fine Gael. Even those members of the committee who disagreed with the Fine Gael proposal to leave the legal position unchanged, which is the first approach, and who preferred what has now broadly been included in the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, supported the plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies.

The fifth progress report of the all-party committee states that some members support the legislation to protect best medical practice while providing for a prohibition on abortion and consequently to accommodate such legislation by a referendum to amend the Constitution. Those who support this approach are in full agreement with the action plan which offers women in crisis pregnancy real and positive alternatives to abortion and contains measures to reduce the rate of abortion. I fail to see the need for a division on the motion.

It was a racing certainty that whatever the nature of the legislative proposals, or whether there would be a referendum on a constitutional amendment, a crisis pregnancy agency would be established. That was announced yesterday by the Government and the Minister for Health and Children. I am surprised by Fine Gael's attempt to politicise the issue and to seek to secure a form of moral superiority for their party on an issue which was not politicised at all within the committee, and was an issue on which there was universal agreement.

In the wider debate, we will need calm, compassionate and steady words. I hope that is where the debate will bring us. There is no dispute about the figures. They are known to all. They are in the report and were put to the committee by those who gave evidence to it. The depth of human suffering and misery is not in dispute. The question concerns what should be done about it. That is what the committee addressed and the analysis in each case was that this agency should be set up to deal with the issue.

I agree with Senator Keogh that it would be unreal to discuss the agency or support for women in crisis pregnancies in isolation from the larger question. That larger question was addressed effectively yesterday by the Government in the proposals made. The committee itself did not treat the issue of abortion in isolation from the question of support for crisis pregnancies. The proposals brought forward yesterday are balanced and reasonable. At one extreme of the argument, there is a complete disregard for the health of the mother. At the other extreme, there is a demand for abortion to be made available almost for social reasons. Most reasonable people reject both of those positions and the Government approach will be widely accepted.

Most of all, I hope that the debate will be conducted in a civilised and calm manner and that when the question is put, it will be carried by the people. It was dealt with in that way by the vast majority of the large number of people who came to the committee to give evidence. The degree of consultation and involvement which Senator Keogh seems to believe is necessary was there. Anybody who wanted to, any group or interest who had something to say, came and made their views known to the committee.

That was done in a very reasonable and calm way and the hearings helped to advance matters considerably in terms of our understanding of the issues involved and of grappling with extremely difficult and complex matters. I would prefer legislation, but I know that if we are to deal with the consequences of the X case, legislation alone is insufficient. There is, of necessity, a need for a referendum on a constitutional amendment.

If one allows the threat of suicide to be used as grounds for securing an abortion, that will lead to the point where somebody will present themselves to their general practitioner, claim to be suicidal and will be able to secure an abortion in this jurisdiction. That is not something that I would want to see and neither would many in this country. It is no harm for us to state our position on each of these issues. It is the position of my party that on matters of conscience, on matters as complex as this, each person is guided by their conscience and can make their own decisions as to how to vote on these issues. I hope the 25th amendment will be adopted by the people and I wish the agency, which will be established as an adjunct to the legislation and the referendum, well. I hope it will be successful and that it will achieve what all of us want to achieve, that there will be genuine support, compassion and advice available for women in crisis pregnancies.

I could go into the question of the definition of abortion, which was raised by Senator—

You have very little time remaining.

I was about to conclude by saying that I was going to get into the question of the definition of abortion that was raised by Senator Henry, but realising that some of the best medical and ecclesiastical brains in the country had considerable difficulty in enunciating a definition when they attended the committee, what has emerged under the Government's proposal is very reasonable and balanced.

I welcome the Minister to the House and announce my very strong support for the amendment and indeed for the proposal as outlined by the Minister for Health and Children on behalf of the Government. I am sure I am one of the many public representatives, national and local, who have been lobbied over recent years in regard to bringing forward a constitutional amendment to ensure that abortion is outlawed once and for all. That would be my position also, and I am sure it reflects the views of many Members of both Houses. Yesterday's announcement is a clear indication of the determination of the Government to resolve this matter. It is clear that when the Government and the Taoiseach make promises they deliver on them, which is very important.

Abortion is an option which should not be considered except where crisis pregnancies occur as in the cases outlined by Senator Fitzpatrick and others. It is my firm and long-held view that when women find themselves with a crisis pregnancy they need all the support they can get. The concept of Christianity should have a practical meaning in that regard. I believe that every possible support should be given through the various agencies that exist in this area. I am delighted that the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has been set up and I see this as having a co-ordinating role. I acknowledge the great work that is being done by Cherish and CURA and, indeed, other support groups for women who find themselves with a crisis pregnancy. The proposal by the all-party committee, which is now brought forward as a definitive proposal by the Government, should be supported because it will bring together all the various elements of support that is necessary for women with a crisis pregnancy.

I wish to address the issue of teen pregnancies and in that regard I refer to the long crusade that has been pursued by my colleague, Senator Farrell, in relation to underage drinking. There is no doubt that drink and unwanted pregnancies have a definite relationship. Arising from the declarations by him and other Members of all parties in this House pertaining to the evils that can emanate from underage drinking, I am delighted that the publicans in my town of Mullingar are taking a very proactive role in ensuring that the people drinking on their premises have at least reached the legal age. The Garda in Mullingar is also taking a very proactive approach in this regard. I will let other Members speak for their own areas.

Senator Keogh made an important point which I wish to support, although it was made by a member of the Opposition. Pregnancy, whether wanted or unwanted, is not a single person issue, it involves two people. Over the past 22 years I have been inundated with expectant mothers coming into my office relating that they have nowhere to go, no income and so on. I could count on two hands the number of times that the partner or spouse accompanied them. When people have a crisis pregnancy, especially in the case of teen pregnancies, every effort should be made to establish the paternity of the child and this could be facilitated by the use of DNA testing. They should be made stand by their responsibilities. To borrow the old phrase, it is always the woman who is left holding the baby.

A very important point was made with regard to the educational requirements pertaining to this area. Parents have a huge responsibility in this regard. What is the use of pointing the finger at the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, the Ministers of State or the teachers of any given teaching institution and asking what they are doing to help. What are the parents doing? Where does parental responsibility begin or end?

From my experience over many years in psychiatric services, people who tell you they are going to commit suicide invariably do not do so. This would be one of the most puerile reasons for granting an abortion that I can think of. It is an established fact that the person who commits suicide is the most calculating and scheming individual who will ensure that nothing stops them from taking their own life, and one would not need to be a rocket scientist to work that one out.

What can be done to help in this situation? I repeat, if only to underline the matter, that what has been suggested is the best way forward. I believe that the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will have a co-ordinating and supporting function that will bring everyone together. The most important point of all, which was made here by Senator Henry, is that nothing can be done without money. The Government has put its money where its mouth is and I am delighted that €6.5 million has been made available to deal with this problem. As pointed out by Senator Fitzpatrick, we are not talking about the area of health alone, it is a multi-faceted problem. One needs to address the issue in the context of education, employment, housing and so on.

This is a deep and complex problem. Abortion should never be considered as an option. It is a heinous crime against humanity. As one who is totally anti-abortion, I believe what has been brought forward here and is supported by the pro-life groups is the best way forward. I strongly support the amendment and the approach that has been adopted by the Minister for Health and Children.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to come into the House to discuss the very important issue of crisis pregnancy, which is a subject of concern not only to the Oireachtas but also to society generally.

I apologise for being somewhat late but I had to clear some material in advance for Adjournment debates that I have to attend in the other House later this evening. It is important that whatever I say on the record is correct.

I do not propose to deal with the broader issues covered in the legislation published yesterday and the constitutional amendment. The House will have an opportunity at a further date to discuss that in a calm, reflective and constructive manner. The only comment I would make is that to date, both on the airwaves and in the other media, we have had a very measured debate with people of divergent views communicating those views in a calm and constructive manner. Those people have set the tone and tenor of this debate and I hope that will continue right through the discussion of the various issues both in the House and outside.

The Government accepts that the proposals announced yesterday to address the constitutional and legal issues surrounding the protection of human life in pregnancy will have little, if any, impact on the situation of those Irish women who choose to travel abroad for abortions. Many of those who have participated in the consultation and discussion process which preceded the production of the Green Paper on abortion and, later, the report of the all-party committee on the Constitution have recognised this also. It is fair to say that one outcome of the process on which the Government embarked in 1997 has been to move much of the debate onwards, from focusing primarily on situations where a pregnant woman's life is at risk to considering also the position of women for whom pregnancy represents a crisis in their life.

The Government has decided to establish the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to draw up a national strategy to address crisis pregnancy and oversee its implementation. Before setting out the detail of what we are doing, I would like to outline part of the process which has brought us to this point.

In 1995 the Department of Health, as it then was, commissioned a study by the department of sociology in Trinity College into the factors which contribute to the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and the issues which resulted in women choosing the option of abortion. In 1998 my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, published the outcome of this research. The study,Women and Crisis Pregnancy, was widely welcomed and helped us to gain valuable insights into the factors leading to crisis pregnancy and the experiences of women who find themselves in this situation. The key findings of the study included the following: a significant number of women lacked information on the availability of counselling services and, in the study, one third of women who had abortions abroad did so without receiving any counselling; there was considerable ignorance about the human reproduction process and effective contraception methods; there was a failure of men to take responsibility for contraception; the combination of alcohol consumption and risk-taking sexual behaviour was a factor in many crisis pregnancies; a wide range of factors influenced a woman's decision to have an abortion, including perceived education, career and child care difficulties if she proceeded with her pregnancy; women who had abortions felt that single motherhood would prove to be a very difficult, unsupported alternative; there was a lack of information available to women about adoption and the availability of services which facilitate adoption.

In the deliberations of the all-party committee on the Constitution, crisis pregnancy was a recurring issue. The committee was concerned about how the number of crisis pregnancies, and the number of those ending in abortion, might be reduced.

In its very comprehensive report, published in November last, the committee identified a range of issues which it considered needs to be addressed in a strategy to combat crisis pregnancy. It also pointed out that different Government Departments, State bodies and voluntary organisations had responsibilities for aspects of these issues. It believed that the complexity of the programmes needed and the cohesion necessary for their success required a single planning focus.

The committee proposed the establishment of an agency which would have responsibility for drawing up a strategy to combat crisis pregnancies to promote options other than abortion where a crisis pregnancy occurs and to provide for post-abortion services. It envisaged that the agency would also have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the strategy.

The Government has carefully considered the recommendations of the committee on this issue and has decided to establish a new statutory agency to combat crisis pregnancies. I have signed the statutory instrument, under the provisions of the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1961, to establish the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, this has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas and a copy has been circulated to each Oireachtas Member. Ms Olive Braiden has agreed to be the chairperson of the agency and the board of the agency and initial staff to enable it to begin to function will be appointed as quickly as possible.

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency will have the task, in consultation with Government and other statutory and non-statutory agencies, of drawing up a national strategy to address crisis pregnancy and overseeing its implementation as I have described. It will work with a wide range of organisations not just in the health sector but also, for example, in the education, welfare, employment and housing fields. The Government is providing funding of €6.5 million, or £5.19 million, in 2002. That is exactly what was recommended by the all-party committee on the Constitution, £5 million per annum over ten years leading to £50 million by the end of the ten year period. We have adhered strictly to that. That is additional to current funding being provided for such services which amounts to approximately £5.72 million in the current year.

The prevention of crisis pregnancy in the first instance will be a primary task of the agency. Preventative issues concerning education of young people and adults, as well as services appropriate to their needs and lifestyles will be addressed. Much concern has been expressed about the need to make women more aware of their options, should they have a crisis pregnancy, and to enable them to consider these carefully and to assist them in making decisions about the course of action they wish to take. This is another major area to be addressed.

Women who have had an abortion, either recently or some time ago, have particular needs also. We need to ensure that women are treated with compassion and understanding and that both their emotional and physical health needs are attended to. Post-abortion counselling is, I know, already available from a number of agencies, but is not widely availed of. Similarly, although medical check-ups are advisable for women who have had an abortion, the sad fact is that many Irish women do not avail of these. This is another area which the agency will be asked to address in order to ensure that women receive all the care and attention they require.

The Care of Persons Board Bill, which has been published by Fine Gael, while undoubtedly motivated by genuine concern for women who find themselves with a crisis pregnancy, does not, in my view, go far enough in addressing the issues. It approaches them from the relatively narrow focus of supporting expectant mothers in bringing their pregnancies to term, and possibly providing assistance after the birth also. The objectives spelled out in the Bill are ones which can be easily encompassed within the remit of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, which will be much more wide-ranging. The proposed Bill completely ignores the vital question of preventing crisis pregnancies in the first place and the need for sympathetic, caring counselling and medical services for women who, for whatever reason, have gone abroad for an abortion.

The agency we have established will draw up a strategy to address the different aspects of crisis pregnancy, as I have already outlined. It will work in partnership with different Departments and agencies to promote and co-ordinate the attainment of these objectives by means of an operational plan. It will have the very important task of monitoring and reviewing progress on the achievement of these objectives and will propose remedial action where this is necessary. The agency will also be empowered to take measures or initiatives and to commission research into issues coming within its remit.

Research is a particularly important dimension of the agency's work. It may also draw up codes of best practice for service providers and promote their adoption, as the particular needs of women with a crisis pregnancy or those at risk of such a pregnancy may not always be acknowledged in the way that services are organised and delivered. It will also act as a source of advice to the Minister for Health and Children and other Ministers on issues relating to crisis pregnancy.

The agency will have a board of nine members and in addition there will be a committee of up to 20 persons which will advise the agency on issues coming within its remit. In this way the agency will be governed by a small and effective board while at the same time there will be an opportunity for a wide range of interests to be involved in the agency's work through the committee I have described. The agency itself will not be a large administrative body as its role will be primarily one of planning and co-ordination, with services being delivered by a wide range of other organisations. The agency is required to make an annual report of its activities to the Minister, who must arrange for copies of this report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. The agency and its senior officials will be available to appear before committees of the Oireachtas in the normal way.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge that there are already many agencies, both in the public and the voluntary sectors, which have for many years been doing excellent work in addressing the problem of crisis pregnancy. I express the Government's appreciation of this work, involving many committed individuals and organisations throughout the country. In terms of funding, since coming to office the Government has provided an additional £3.79 million to health boards for the development of family planning and pregnancy counselling services, bringing the total amount in the current year to £5.7 million. In addition, a range of pregnancy counselling organisations are assisted at national level, with £700,000 being provided to them annually.

However, I acknowledge that there is much more which can and should be done to ensure that support services are expanded and are accessible countrywide, and that there is co-ordination of activities and services. Among the agency's tasks will be to assess the services that are already available, to identify where deficiencies exist and, working with service providers, to devise strategies to address these.

I stress again that the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will play a major role in the development of co-ordinated, responsive and appropriate services. The Government hopes that, over time, it will be possible to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies among Irish women and ensure that women who find themselves in this situation will have available to them the widest possible range of assistance to help them to deal with their situation. By putting these measures in place we hope to ensure that the numbers of Irish women seeking abortion abroad are kept to a minimum.

I commend the new Crisis Pregnancy Agency to the House. I understand that there is an alternative Bill before the House but the new agency which we are establishing under the necessary primary legislation meets the concerns of all Members of the House in respect of the issue of crisis pregnancy, follows very closely the recommendations of the all-party committee on the Constitution and in many ways endorses its approach to this issue. Therefore it should not be an issue which should divide the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on the legislation which will be coming before us and on the crisis pregnancy strategy. This is an important strategy because there has been a problem for a long time. As others have said, 50% of problems are alcohol and drug related. We in this country are a little hypocritical. We are very benevolent and yet we do not seem to worry about the abuse of alcohol which results in deaths on our roads, in people being stabbed during rows and in unwanted pregnancies. We all must make a greater effort to address that problem. I have been preaching about this for over 30 years and I will continue to do so. If we could address that problem or at least get a grip on it, we would solve many related problems.

Abortion is terrible. Of course many people who are in favour of it do not like to refer to it as abortion but as termination of pregnancy. It is, however, the same thing. I would say to all the girls who have had abortions that they are as innocent as the child who was aborted because at the time they were being advised and encouraged to go for an abortion they were not really fit to make a decision. I hope this Crisis Pregnancy Agency, with CURA, will encourage more people who have a problem to get advice and to realise there is a better way.

It is sad that adoption has become a dirty word, and this should not be tolerated. There have been several television programmes castigating nuns and people who sent children to America for adoption in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. While that is the history of unwanted pregnancies, it is sad that the history of the more educated and enlightened society of the 1990s will be that of the abortion clinics to which we sent our unwanted pregnancies. I hope we will change that.

As I have said time and again, I am disappointed that doctors who studied to save lives and promote good health are involved in abortion clinics. That is sad. They should think about what they are doing.

We are told that many unwanted pregnancies are the result of one night stands. People say that young people are now more sexually active and we should tell them to use contraceptives etc., but that is wrong. Should we say to all the criminals of Ireland that they have a weakness and to save them trouble we will leave the doors open and let them all come in? Contraception is not the answer. We should ask them whether they think they should have more respect for themselves and their bodies. When boys talk about how great they are with women, we should ask them the question an old man asked me and a few other young fellows over half a century ago when, as boys do, we talked about how great we were at getting women, that is, "Would you talk like that about your own sister?" Would those boys, who talk like that and get girls pregnant, like their own sisters to be made pregnant? They would not.

We should teach people to have respect for themselves. I said this when we introduced legislation regarding contraceptives. I always opposed that legislation. I said it would open the floodgates. What has it done? It has liberalised sex. People were in favour of the use of contraceptives because they said there would be no more unwanted pregnancies. However, there are more unwanted pregnancies than ever and there is a greater incidence of sexually transmitted disease. It is not just a matter of preventing unwanted pregnancies, it is also a matter of trying to prevent disease.

We should educate people. These days everybody is concerned about their rights, but with every right there is a responsibility. Young people have responsibility for respecting one another. Good marriages and happy lives are not built on sex alone. They are built on personality, the way the couple gel together and the way they can work together and communicate. There is much more to a happy relationship than sex.

One must not forget that many boys today are happy to get girls drunk just to have sex with them. They are happy to spike a girl's drink and that is a big problem. Many girls say that when they go out to a disco they cannot put their drink in a glass but must keep it in the bottle and bring it with them when they go out to dance because if they leave it, it may be spiked when they come back. This is a sad reflection on society and it will only be cured by teaching people to have a little more respect for themselves.

We must make a determined effort to prevent people opting for abortion. I recently saw a television programme about a man who was hoping to contact his mother. The interviewer asked what he would like to say to his mother if he met her. He answered that he would say, "Thank you very, very sincerely for giving me an opportunity to live." That says an awful lot. I wonder if some of the aborted babies could speak to defend themselves whether they would prefer to live with an adopted parent or be aborted. I would safely say they would prefer to be given up for adoption.

We should encourage people to give up their babies for adoption rather than opt to have them aborted. There are many people with good homes and I have not yet met a child reared in an adoptive home who had anything other than the height of praise and respect for their adoptive parents. Many of them got a better education, including secondary and third level education. Adoption should not be regarded as a dirty word. Girls with unwanted pregnancies should be encouraged to give up their babies to a good comfortable home and in future years they could meet and talk with them and explain why they had to give them up for adoption.

I am pleased the Government is investing so much money in the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and I hope and pray that people will avail of this service. I congratulate CURA on the work it has been doing. The Government is investing almost €6 million which will prevent many of these people from going abroad to have abortions.

Abortion clinics are a big money business. They are not operating for the love of anyone, just for the love of their own bank accounts. It costs £300 to £500 to have an abortion which takes less than ten minutes. These clinics say they provide counselling but we know that many of these girls get no counselling.

In regard to the suicide aspect, if a girl is suicidal the State should take her into care and provide medical treatment. The answer is not to put her on the boat to an abortion clinic. She should be put into a caring institution which would look after her welfare and ensure her depression is cured.

I congratulate the Minister and the Government on facing up to their responsibilities. I congratulate all those who worked in agencies and on the various committees on the wonderful job they have done in bringing this motion before the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Ms Hanafin, to the House. This is a timely debate given the introduction of the Human Life and Pregnancy Bill, 2001, published yesterday and the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency about which the Minister, Deputy Martin, spoke.

Despite the Bill which will be coming before us in a number of months, more than 6,000 women are recorded as choosing to go down the route of having an abortion. I am sure another couple of thousand could be added to that figure. These people feel they have no other option. While we would like to think they choose that route due to being raped or a medical condition, unfortunately they choose that option mainly for social and economic reasons. We like to think we are a more liberal and open society, but the stigma of being a lone parent or having an unwanted child at a particular time in one's life weighs very heavily on the minds of many of these women.

We often tend to think that it is young women who are choosing abortion. However, given my background in midwifery, I would say that quite a number of older women choose that route, mainly because of financial circumstances but also due to being involved in second relationships and not wishing to start all over again with a young family.

Very often we have great sympathy for people who find themselves pregnant because they have been raped and who feel they have no option other than abortion. However, we are not quite as compassionate and are probably more judgmental as a society of people who choose the route of termination of pregnancy, which is extremely unfortunate. One of the objectives of the agency which is being established must be to support those women who feel they have no other option. Regardless of what support structures are in place there will be women who feel they have no option but to choose that route. We must respect the right of these people to do what is necessary for them.

One of the aims of the agency must be to support women who choose to have an abortion and come back to this country. A large number of women suffer from gynaecological problems post termination of pregnancy as a result of the procedures which have been carried out. They suffer not just from physical problems but, more importantly, emotional problems, in particular guilt if and when they become pregnant again. Great emphasis must be placed on looking after women who feel they have no option but abortion.

I welcome the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, one of the main aims of which will be to offer meaningful options to women within Ireland rather than choosing abortion. I wholeheartedly welcome that aspect. However, I believe that objective will create difficulties because it is easier to assist and look after an individual who comes to attention through the Crisis Pregnancy Agency for the nine months they are pregnant and for the six or eight weeks post delivery. Unfortunately, while the supports may be in place during that period, the problems will occur in the following 20 years when that mother is trying to rear her child. No one will be available at 12 midnight when the child is screaming with colic.

There must be a concerted effort to try to bring together not just the statutory agencies but the non-statutory and voluntary bodies who support young mothers in many communities. These are the people who will make this work. It is easy when people are brought to one's attention. The aim is to deliver a healthy baby, have a healthy mother at the end of a pregnancy, help her get over the initial panic and shock of being pregnant and help her through the physical and psychological stage of pregnancy. I do not know how this can be done because it can be very difficult to co-ordinate various Departments. The difficulty will be in trying to have a proper all round approach to help these mothers for the next 20 years.

The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has invested huge amounts of money in encouraging lone parents in particular to go back to education and work. However, before this kicks into place support will be needed for women who will choose to keep their babies or at least deliver them.

Senator Farrell mentioned adoption. Unfortunately that is almost considered a dirty word and women almost prefer abortion. This is unfortunate and it is particularly heartbreaking, especially for those who have worked in the field of maternity and midwifery, when one sees the numbers attending infertility clinics. They would literally give their right arm for the opportunity to raise a child.

There must be supports so that women can see there is another option. Adoption must be examined and promoted in a much more progressive manner. To date it has been pushed to one side. From past experience in maternity hospitals, I know that mothers who delivered their babies were embarrassed to say they were going to give them up for adoption. Some chose not to see their child as they did not want to have to break the bond at a later stage. It is particularly sad for me as a midwife. I accompanied a mother to a front door as she was carrying her new born baby out of the hospital to hand it over to the adoption agency. She wanted everybody to feel she was the same as the rest and was going home like the other mothers. I remember that lady, who is probably the most courageous person I have ever known. I often wonder how she got on. It was heartbreaking for me as an objective individual and I do not know how she coped. In fairness to her, she chose the route of adoption and I hope she was happy as I have no doubt her child was happy.

Probably the greatest role the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will have to play will be in education. At one time we considered the age of sexual activity to begin from 16 years, but unfortunately statistics show it can commence in the very early teens. While there is a relationships and sexuality programme in schools we may have to educate boys and girls, perhaps prior to leaving primary school, albeit in a very general way at that stage, in terms of their responsibilities. Transition year is an ideal opportunity to discuss all these values and for young people to learn more about life. Greater emphasis must be placed on relationships and sexuality programmes in schools.

I concur with what was said about the high per centage of people not using contraceptive methods. As a midwife it is amazing the number of women, even those having a second and third child, who wonder how they are pregnant and who say they were not using a contraceptive. Many of these people have been dealing with, for example, GPs and public health nurses, and there are opportunities for education, but unfortunately for whatever reason they are missing those opportunities. I agree that a huge number are not aware and are not using any form of contraception. Restarting the awareness campaign would have a dual purpose of preventing the increase in sexually transmitted diseases – unfortunately we have become a little complacent in this regard – and unwanted pregnancy.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. The emphasis could very easily be placed on the nine months of pregnancy and the two months post pregnancy, but the emphasis must be on co-ordinating the approach of the various statutory, non-statutory and voluntary bodies. Emphasis must also be put on education.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is an opportunity to congratulate and commend the Government on bringing forward this proposal which is aimed at protecting human life. For once and for all I hope we will resolve the situation in relation to abortion.

In 1995 Trinity College carried out a study of the reasons for crisis pregnancies and the associated fallout. There were no props to deal with the situation and it is time a pregnancy agency was established. That study raised the lack of information, counselling services and services in general, the role of alcoholism and the spiking of drinks in the context of young girls who are sexually active. Another issue is the lack of information on adoption, adoption procedures and the perception of adoption. I know the Minister of State is doing much work in trying to make it easy to facilitate adoption procedures and it is appropriate that we should compliment her on the work she is doing in this area.

I looked at the Bill put forward by Senator Jackman and saw many good points in it. However, there is no reason its provisions cannot be incorporated into this agency. The study and all the work has been done and the Green Paper has been published. There were a number of submissions from the medical profession, the churches and all walks of life. The question of how to combat crisis pregnancy was raised time and again. The strategy which will oversee implementation of the agency will be crucial in terms of education, health, housing and the options available to those who may want to see through a pregnancy. It must also focus on those who have had abortions and resultant post traumatic stress.

In terms of education, the counselling techniques we use are very important, as are the people. We all know it is possible for the wrong people to give one-to-one counselling, who do nothing to improve the situation. When we are dealing with the matter through State and non-State bodies we must make sure we have the right people in the job. It is all about empathy and sensitivity, and if we do not get that right it will not work.

I absolutely agree with the concept of and see great merit in co-ordinating the different areas. We have a great chance of success in this context. The idea is great and I have been a long time waiting for it. It has been thrashed out very much in the Green Paper and the all-party committee. Our party agrees totally with the proposal and I ask others to come with us. We must have a consensus and should not be divided in our opinions. The proposal is worthwhile and has all the ingredients necessary to make it a success. I compliment the Minister on it.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Who could disagree with this recommendation? Senator Dardis asked why this motion is being debated or why we should have a division on it. I cannot see us having one, because nobody could disagree with the recommendation from the all-party committee on the Constitution that an agency be established to prepare and oversee the implementation of a national strategy to address the issue of crisis pregnancy. I welcome the decision of the Minister of Health and Children to set up this agency and to provide it with a budget of €6.5 million in 2002. We can argue about the size of the budget, the speed of setting it up, the personnel etc., but none of us can disagree with this decision and we should welcome it.

I have listened to this debate and the measured way that Members spoke about this problem. I was wondering what a crisis pregnancy was. It is a subjective decision on the part of a woman who finds herself pregnant and for some reason does not want to be pregnant.

In my work I have seen many such women over the years. They fall broadly into two categories. The first category comprises middle-aged women between 30 and 50 and mostly around 40. These are women who have not taken any contraceptive, have taken a chance, forgotten to take the pill, had an affair or have some other reason. The other broad category is made up of young people aged around 20 and sometimes much younger.

Both of these groups fall into the categories of women who want to have an abortion and get rid of the growing child and other women who want to carry it to full term. Of the many women I saw afterwards who carried the child to full term and delivered the baby, approximately 90% of them were happy.

I have also seen many women after they have had an abortion, including some who had not just one but up to five abortions. They were not unhappy; it seemed to roll off them. It made me very sad, not that they had such disregard for human life, but that they had such little grasp of the sanctity of human life. I am totally opposed to abortion; I always have been and always will be. Once we lose respect for the sanctity of human life we fall into a regime of evil.

Some Senators spoke of the important educational and co-ordinating role this agency could fill. It includes not just the provision of information, guidance or help during or after the pregnancy, but also the information that can be promulgated by such an agency before pregnancy.

Most of the women I have seen with crisis pregnancies did not plan it. The older women took a chance, but the younger girls were mostly drunk when it happened. I have seen some very sad cases of rape, but that is very different.

Some Senators mentioned the problem of teenage drinking. I spoke to some parents recently and asked them how much money their children spent on alcohol. I met one young girl who works part time in a supermarket for £70 per week. She gives nothing to her parents and spends £40 on drink on a Friday night. When I asked her how she could spend so much she explained that she has ten drinks costing about £3.50. They do not go out to get merry, but to get transmogrified. They lose all control and at that stage sex occurs and pregnancy comes afterwards. It is normally very sad. No agency set up in recent times performs a function more necessary than will be carried out by this one.

In his announcement yesterday, the Taoiseach tackled a large problem and, after a measured debate, I hope we will reach consensus. Nobody will be pleased with everything, but in large it will address a question that has been hanging over us for a long time.

We always have to remember the person. I have seen people who were in tears. The greatest reason for women not carrying a child to full term was that they felt they could not face the consequences. It was not that they could not mind the child or get help to mind the child, but they could not face their parents, husband or lover. They felt they would in some way become an outcast.

We have a duty to teach not just women but also men that human life is sacred. All our laws are predicated on the sanctity of human life. If we do not drive through red lights, we do not kill people. We talk about the destruction of human life in New York and how terrible it would be to bomb people in Afghanistan, but when I face somebody who has a child growing in her womb and does not want to have that child because she feels she cannot get support, then I realise that an agency of this sort has to perform a useful function and I commend the Minister for setting it up.

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, some speakers must not have been listen ing. I made it very clear at the beginning that there would not be a vote. I heard particularly Senator John Dardis, who unfortunately is not here, say that there would be. There is no question of that.

One might also think that this was a Fine Gael amendment to a substantive Government motion. However, our motion was put on the Order Paper on 26 September. Yesterday, the 25th Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life and Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, was announced.

Our spokesperson on health, Deputy Gay Mitchell, on consultation with our front bench, decided to go ahead with this Bill because it was a response to the all-party committee on the Constitution and also a response to the excellent publicationWomen in Crisis Pregnancy by Evelyn Mahon and the sociological group in Trinity, which the Minister, Deputy Martin, mentioned was commissioned in 1995. He did not say that it was commissioned by the then Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan.

Our party is being conciliatory. We are enveloping the Government party in terms of consensus and we are not making an issue out of it. The suggestion that we, as an Opposition party, did nothing about the findings in this book or the findings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution is extraordinary. In case people do not believe that, in 1995 the then Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, commissioned a study on women and crisis pregnancy in Ireland. The study was commissioned to identify the factors which contributed to the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and those which resulted in abortion. To give him his due, in 1998 the then Minister for Health, Deputy Cowen, published the outcome of that research. We must look at this issue from the point of view of co-operation and not simply dismiss it as something on which the Opposition cannot have a voice.

Senator Ormonde asked why Fine Gael does not take the agency approach rather than the board approach. I would state the opposite. I started my contribution by saying that the agency should come under the remit of the board because the board would be set up under the care of persons board Bill and would be required by an Oireachtas committee, appointed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, to appear before it and account for the discharge of its responsibilities. That would give it actual responsibility and accountability, and that is set out clearly in the Bill. That was a much stronger approach.

The Minister, Deputy Martin, stated that the Bill did not go far enough but he is forgetting that the agency could be part of it. Senator Henry made an impassioned plea, because she is actively involved in Cherish, that moneys be made available instantly because that organisation is working on a shoestring. I could say the same for CURA and, to a degree, the Well Woman Centres, which were mentioned by Senator Keogh, who is chairperson of that organisation. The Bill was specifically drawn up to bring NGOs, health boards, statutory organisations outside health boards, the Department and Members of the Oireachtas, both Senators and Deputies, together to resolve this extremely traumatic situation. Listening to Senator Ormonde, as a practitioner in the field, we have all had the harrowing experience of meeting girls who have had abortions, who returned here without counselling and who did not get counselling before they travelled to have the abortion. We do not know how they cope with that. I am sure they survive – I hope they do.

I understand why the Minister had to leave but I hoped he would have seen fit to say that he will put the agency method within the remit of the Bill. That is all we were asking for and there was no intention of having a division. It is seldom I criticise Senator Dardis, but where the lady doth protest too much, the gentleman did protest much too much. He must have some problem with the whole issue of the amendment. He castigated Deputy Mitchell, talked about Fine Gael taking the moral high ground and said this was a political response. I am saddened that he responded so negatively and so divisively, and he was the only Senator who did so. He must not have listened to me because I said at the outset that even in relation to the amendment, there would not be a division because the issue is so important and traumatic.

As Oireachtas Members, we are supposed to be giving the lead in terms of consensus. I feel very strongly about the divisive note from Senator Dardis in relation to Deputy Mitchell, who believes in the need for a board and set about drawing up a Private Members' Bill to assist women with crisis pregnancies. The results of this crisis pregnancy research was published in 1998. We are now almost into 2002. Deputy Mitchell's priority was to move the issue forward.

I hope this will be the last time we will hear such a divisive note in this Chamber when we debate the issue. Fine Gael stated that we will discuss this Bill in great detail, but in the interim we will need legal advice, in the same way that the Government had legal advice available to it, and advice from the Attorney General. We would be extremely flippant if we did not take this matter seriously. I say that not because I am a woman but because of the pain and suffering of more than 6,000 people, some of whom are middle aged women, traumatised for having a pregnancy in their older years, or very young girls. As a teacher I am very much aware of the pressures on young people today.

It is extremely important that everybody familiarise themselves with the findings in this report which include the lack of information and ignorance about the human reproduction process. In that regard, there should be some method of evaluating the sex education programmes in schools. We cannot simply introduce something, as was done six years ago. There has to be an annual evaluation. Other findings include the failure of men to take responsibility; the combination, as mentioned by Senators, of alcohol consumption and risk-taking sexual behaviour; the factors influencing a woman's decision to have an abortion; and perceived education-career-child care difficulties. These are comments from women who were interviewed. Another finding was that women who had abortions – this is the sad part – felt that single motherhood would prove to be a very difficult unsupported alternative. That is what they found and that is what we all find in speaking to young women. The lack of information available about adoption and the availability of services which facilitate adoption were also mentioned. The Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, has done a lot about that during her short period with responsibility in this area.

I hope this is the last time we will have a divisive comment and I hope the Minister will reconsider and perhaps put the agency under the remit of the Private Members' Bill brought forward by Deputy Gay Mitchell, which I have raised here in the form of a motion.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 10.30.