An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Fiche ar an mBunreacht (Beatha Dhaonna le linn Toirchis a Chosaint), 2001: An Dara Céim. Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

No. 6, motion pursuant to section 23 of the Referendum Act, 1994, prescribing a formal statement for the information of voters to be included on the polling card will be debated in conjunction with the Second Stage of the Bill and will be formally moved when the debate on the Bill is concluded.

Tairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill provides for constitutional and legislative reform in relation to the protection of human life in pregnancy. This proposal, which represents the first legislative response to the legal issues which remain unresolved since the X case in 1992, represents a fair, reasonable and compassionate approach.

Abortion is a sensitive issue for society and it is heartening that, in general, the response to these proposals to date has been of a measured, mature and thoughtful nature without, thankfully, the rancour that characterised the debates in 1983 and 1992. It is very important to acknowledge that laws alone cannot deal adequately with the often tragic realities of crisis pregnancy in modern society. On more than 6,500 occasions in the past year alone, women giving an Irish address have had abortions in Britain and, of course, many Irish women have made this journey in previous years also. The difficult situations faced by these women and the often lonely decisions they have made demand a sensitive, understanding and compassionate response from us all.

We must also, by every reasonable means at our disposal, strive to reduce the incidence of crisis pregnancy. Law is only part of the picture; education, advice, care and compassion are, in many ways, much more important. That is why a comprehensive approach is being adopted on three different planes – constitutional, legislative and caring practical intervention.

I accept that the proposals to address the constitutional and legislative issues will have little, if any, impact on the Irish women who choose to travel abroad for abortions. I also acknowledge that a comprehensive range of compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental services is vital to provide women with the support they need to deal with a crisis pregnancy and to make decisions about the options open to them. It is for these reasons that, having considered the recommendations of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, the Minister for Health and Children has established the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, which will have the task of drawing up a national strategy to address crisis pregnancy and overseeing its implementation.

The Minister has appointed Ms Olive Braiden, who has a distinguished record in the fields of human rights and women's health issues, as chairperson of the agency. The management board had its first meeting yesterday. Initial staff have already been seconded from the Department of Health and Children to enable the agency to become operational. The Government will provide funding of €6.5 million to the agency in 2002.

The prevention of crisis pregnancy 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 before they make decisions about the course of action they want 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, which is another matter the agency will be asked to address. We need to ensure that these women are treated with compassion and understanding and that both their emotional and physical health needs are attended to. 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 to ensure that women who find themselves in this situation will have available to them as much assistance as possible.

Let us consider briefly the constitutional and legal background to the proposals contained in the Bill. In 1983, the people decided by referendum to insert into the Constitution Article 40.3.3, which declares:

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 practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

No laws were ever enacted on foot of this amendment and the provisions in the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, remained the basic law in relation to abortion. This left open the possibility that Article 40.3.3 would have to be interpreted by the courts because, apart from the 1861 Act, there was no legislation that made clear what was permissible under the law should there be a potential conflict between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn.

As Members will be aware, subsequent to the insertion of Article 40.3.3, cases have indeed arisen in the course of which the substantive issue of abortion has been considered by the courts. In the X case of 1992, a majority of the members of the Supreme Court held that if it were established, as a matter of probability, there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and that this real and substantial risk could be averted only by the termination of her pregnancy, such a termination was lawful. The stated risk to the mother's life in this case arose because she had threatened to commit suicide if she had to continue with the pregnancy.

Some of the dicta of the majority in the Supreme Court also indicated that the constitutional right to travel could be restrained to prevent an abortion taking place in circumstances where there was no threat to the life of the mother. The right to travel did not take precedence over the right to life.

In November 1992, constitutional amendments were proposed to deal with different aspects of the X case judgment. In relation to the "substantive" issue, the wording put forward by the Government was intended to recognise that there could be circumstances where, to protect the life of a pregnant woman, medical intervention would be necessary which could result in the death of the unborn child, but that these circumstances would not include the risk of suicide. The people rejected this amendment. In the C case of 1997, the High Court accepted that, where evidence had been given that the pregnant young woman involved might commit suicide unless allowed to terminate her pregnancy, there was a real and substantial risk to her life and that termination was therefore a permissible medical treatment of her condition where this was the only means of avoiding such a risk.

Mr. Justice Geoghegan also made remarksobiter dicta about the issue of travel. He believed that a court, in considering the welfare of an Irish child in Ireland and considering whether on health grounds a termination of pregnancy was necessary, must be confined to considering the grounds for termination which would be lawful under the Constitution and could not make a direction authorising travel to another jurisdiction for a different kind of abortion.

There has been a view that, arising from the judgment in the X case, and subsequently the C case also, there is unfinished business requiring a response in terms of constitutional or legislative change or both. In light of the difficulties which have surrounded previous efforts to address the issues, the Government has devoted considerable effort to facilitating and informing public debate about them. The Bill before the House represents the latest step in a careful and logical process designed to explore the issues, to enable the many people and organisations who wish to express their views on the protection of pregnant women and of unborn human life in pregnancy to be heard and to consider ways of moving forward for the future.

In the first instance the Government decided in 1997 that a Green Paper on abortion would be prepared. This document was published in September 1999 and was welcomed by many interests as a clear and balanced document, setting out as it did the history of the issues and the different arguments advanced, and discussing the principal constitutional and legislative options. The Government referred the Green Paper to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan. The all-party committee embarked on a detailed process of consultation, first seeking submissions on the options discussed in the Green Paper. The committee then held hearings at which the issues were explored in detail with many of those who had made submissions, including representatives of the medical profession and of the churches attending. The all-party committee's proceedings and its detailed report, published in November 2000, were fair, balanced and of great value in educating and forming public and political opinion.

The Government has carefully examined the different proposals put forward by the all-party committee and the approach being adopted is based on one of three possible approaches identified by the committee. Stated briefly, it will protect best medical practice, while providing for a legislative prohibition on abortion and underpinning such legislation with an amendment to the Constitution. The Government is satisfied, on the basis of all of the expert medical evidence which has been presented, that there are rare life-threatening conditions or illnesses, either associated with pregnancy or exacerbated by pregnancy, in which, to save the woman's life, it may be necessary for doctors to consider taking action in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended. The Government does not believe that a risk of suicide is a valid basis on which to provide for medical intervention and the legislation envisaged in this proposal will not permit the termination of pregnancy on this basis.

The experience in the 1992 referendum attests to the difficulty of providing in a relatively short constitutional provision for a clear prohibition of abortion, while ensuring that there is no obstacle to pregnant women receiving all the care and treatment they need. In the Government's view, the terms of Article 40.3.3 and the courts' interpretation of that Article demand a legislative response from the Oireachtas. Indeed, in 1992 one judge of the Supreme Court criticised the Oireachtas for its lack of action in this regard. There is no simple sentence or paragraph that can be inserted into the Constitution which, by itself, would amount to a balanced, effective, legal response to the complex issues which surround the protection of human life in pregnancy. The proper place to strike that complex balance is in legislation, not in the Constitution.

The proposals contained in the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill provide a practical legislative response to the issues raised by the 1983 constitutional amendment and by the X and C cases. The proposals will not satisfy the wishes of those at different ends of the spectrum, as they are aimed at achieving a reasonable compromise which will enjoy the support of the middle ground of opinion. The Government hopes that this Bill will be seen as an honest and genuine attempt to provide an acceptable and workable solution to this complex issue.

The purpose of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill is to provide a secure and effective constitutional basis for a legislative approach to the protection of human life in pregnancy. The proposals are designed to ensure that women can continue to receive all necessary medical treatment during pregnancy, while at the same time ensuring maximum protection of the unborn and maintaining a clear prohibition on abortion.

It is proposed that a referendum shall be held to approve the insertion into Article 46 of the Constitution of the text of proposed amendments to Article 40.3 of the Constitution. Firstly, a new Article 40.3.4º is proposed, to provide that the life of the unborn in the womb will be protected in accordance with the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002. Secondly, a new Article 40.3.5º will provide that any future proposal to amend or repeal the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002, will have to be approved by the people in a referendum. If the proposal is accepted by the people, the amendments to Article 40.3 will have effect only if a law containing the text of the envisaged Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act is enacted by the Oireachtas within a period of 180 days; otherwise the amendment in its entirety is nullified.

The proposed changes are designed to have a sound constitutional basis, so that the careful balance struck will not be subject to legal challenge. It is important that people are reassured that they will be consulted if changes are proposed in the future. It has been suggested that the mechanism being used is not valid because Article 46.4 of the Constitution states that a proposal for a constitutional amendment shall not contain another proposal. Any such assertion is incorrect and is based on a misunderstanding of Article 46.4 of the Constitution. There is only one proposal in the Bill to amend the Constitution, namely to insert into the Constitution the text set out in the First Schedule. The text of an envisaged criminal statute, as set out in the Second Schedule, is not a proposal within the meaning of Article 46.4 of the Constitution. The Bill to amend the Constitution does not propose that the Schedule containing the envisaged legislation should in itself have any legal effect.

If the people vote to amend the Constitution, effect will be given only to the constitutional amendment involved. The terms of the legislation on the protection of human life in pregnancy can become law or have effect only through a subsequent decision by the Oireachtas to enact such legislation. The proposed amendment was drafted deliberately to avoid containing two proposals and it does not contain two proposals. The legislation, the text of which is set out in the Second Schedule, is not being enacted at this stage. The electorate is merely being asked to accommodate that legislation in the Constitution if the Oireachtas, at a later stage, passes it into law.

It has been claimed that the current proposal is effectively the same as that put to the people in 1992. Questions have been asked as to why it should be acceptable to the people now, given that it was rejected nine years ago. In 1992, however, the people voted on the proposed wording of the constitutional change itself, but not on the legislation which would have followed had the amendment been passed. On this occasion there has been a detailed process of examination of the issues since 1997, particularly by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. The Government is committed to allowing the people to decide, not only on the principle, but also on the detail of what is proposed. The people have a right to be consulted on the fundamental issues involved in the abortion issue and the amendment process set out in this Bill recognises that right.

I will now turn to the detail of the proposals. The Bill provides for the operation of a mechanism whereby proposed changes to Article 40.3 of the Constitution and the text of envisaged legislation on the protection of human life in pregnancy will be put to the people in a referendum. The Bill itself provides for the amendment of Article 46 of the Constitution so that the text of the First Schedule to the Bill will be inserted after the existing section 5 of that Article.

The First Schedule contains the proposed text of the amendment of Article 46 of the Constitution. The proposed text to be inserted as Article 46.6.1º in turn contains the proposed text of Articles 40.3.4º and 40.3.5º of the Constitution.

The text proposed as Article 40.3.4º provides that, in particular, the life of the unborn in the womb shall be protected in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002. The use of the term "in particular" makes it clear that the statute envisaged by the amendment, if enacted, is not intended to be a restatement or redefinition of the term "unborn" as used in Article 40.3.3º. The effect of the text proposed as Article 40.3.5º is that any Bill containing provisions to amend the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002, must be referred to the people in a further referendum. The existing Article 40.3.3º, as amended in 1992, will also remain.

The effect of the text proposed as Article 46.6.2º is that if the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002, is enacted and amendments are made to Article 40, the amendments to Article 46 will no longer appear in the official text of the Constitution and the amendments to Article 40 will take effect, appearing in the appropriate place within that Article. This is because, once the amendments to Article 40.3 take place, it would be undesirable for the new Article 40.3 to appear in more than one place in the Constitution, namely, in Articles 46 and 40.

The text proposed as Article 46.6.3º contains a mechanism whereby, unless a law is enacted within 180 days in exactly the terms of the text seen and approved by the people when they vote on the proposed amendment, the whole of Article 46.6 will cease to have effect and the Constitution will revert to the form in which it existed before the referendum.

The text proposed as Article 46.6.4º states that the Bill regarding the protection of human life in pregnancy is excluded from the terms of Articles 26 and 27 of the Constitution. This is because, if the people in a referendum decide that the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill, 2002, should be enacted, it would be inappropriate that this legislation should, nonetheless, be subject later to the provisions of these Articles and the mechanisms they provide for the referral of Bills to the Supreme Court and to the people, respectively.

The Second Schedule to the Bill contains the text of the envisaged Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill. When, following the referendum, the Oireachtas comes to enact this legislation, it will not be able to amend the Bill for that legislation in any way. Therefore, the substantive debate on this envisaged legislation is taking place in the course of the passage of the Bill to amend the Constitution.

The new law, when enacted by the Oireachtas, will not become a formal part of, or be written into, the Constitution. Its terms will simply have constitutional protection and recognition. It will be open to subsequent amendment like any law, but only if the people approve the amending legislation.

Irish maternity services have a deservedly high reputation when it comes to the care of pregnant women and their unborn children. The Government wants to put in place for the first time a legislative framework which will ensure that there are no legal doubts surrounding the provision of medical care during pregnancy. The Act will remove any doubt there may be about the legality of treatment which doctors may consider necessary where some women, during pregnancy, are suffering from certain rare, life-threatening medical conditions. It will provide certainty for doctors who may have feared that some interventions, although accepted medical practice in such situations, might nonetheless be unlawful. The lives of women will be protected during pregnancy and the developing human life within a mother's womb will also be protected.

Section 1 defines abortion for the purposes of the Act as "the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation in the womb of a woman". It provides exemption from the definition as abortion of a medical procedure carried out by a medical practitioner at an approved place, in the course of which or as result of which unborn human life is ended, where that procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the practitioner, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life other than by self-destruction.

In the course of the hearing of medical evidence by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, it became clear that in a very small number of cases of strict and undeniable medical necessity, intervention by doctors to safeguard the mother's life can entail or result in the ending of the life of the unborn. On reading the testimony to the all-party committee, it becomes apparent that, while there are differences of language and of interpretation among members of the medical profession, their approach to the care of pregnant women and their unborn children is essentially the same. That is, their objective in all cases is to ensure that women receive all the medical care they may need and that the health of their unborn children is afforded the maximum protection also.

There can be no doubt that in rare situations, in order to save a woman's life, it may be necessary to intervene in a way that results in the death of the unborn child. These situations are very rare, but they can and do occur. Dr. Peter McKenna, Master of the Rotunda Hospital, told the all-party Oireachtas committee that "possibly once a year a woman would be seen in this country who, if her pregnancy is not terminated within a matter of probably hours or days, will die from a complication".

It is also apparent from the evidence to the committee that many doctors would not consider that such a procedure constitutes abortion. Professor John Bonnar, Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said "It would never cross an obstetrician's mind that intervening in a case of pre-eclampsia, cancer of the cervix or ectopic pregnancy is abortion. They are not abortion as far as the professional is concerned, these are medical treatments that are essential to protect the life of the mother."

The new law, therefore, will define abortion in a way that clearly excludes such ethically legitimate procedures from being termed an abortion for the purposes of our criminal law. Doctors may provide any medical treatment which, in their opinion, is necessary to safeguard the life of a pregnant woman. The doctor's opinion must be formed in good faith and there is an explicit requirement that regard be had to the need to preserve unborn human life, where practicable. It is important to emphasise that doctors, when treating a pregnant woman, make every effort to safeguard not only her life, but that of her baby also. This will not change after the passage of the Act.

I emphasise that these proposals do not seek to address the question of protecting the unborn outside the womb and Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution will remain in place. In relation to issues such as in vitro fertilisation and embryo research, the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction has been established to consider and prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction. The Government will consider these issues when the commission makes its report.

I wish in particular to address the question of threatened suicide in pregnancy as I know it is of concern to many people. Threatened suicide during pregnancy was a central issue in the X case and the C case, to which I already referred. The effect of the proposed Act will be that a threat of suicide will no longer be a ground for legal abortion in the State. I know this is a difficult issue for many people and that there are those who believe it is appropriate and feasible to legislate to permit abortion where suicide is threatened. The Government believes the evidence considered in the preparation of the Green Paper, and also the testimony and conclusions in the report of the all-party committee, do not support the maintenance of suicide risk as a ground for abortion in Ireland and would not justify the enactment of a legal basis for abortion to avoid such a risk. Such studies as have been undertaken in other countries suggest that pregnancy has a protective effect. It is important, of course, to exercise caution when interpreting the epidemiological data from other jurisdictions with different cultures and where legal abortion is available on a range of grounds, and the Government's view is not based solely on these studies.

The key point where a threat of suicide is concerned is that, in contrast to the type of situation which will be covered by the Bill, it is very difficult to assess whether the risk is genuine. This is supported by the evidence of a number of eminent psychiatrists to the all-party committee. Dr. John D. Sheehan, consultant in perinatal psychiatry at the Rotunda Hospital, indicated there is no test or fail-safe way of saying a person will or will not commit suicide and that where suicide occurs it is due to the interaction of multiple factors rather than just one. The evidence heard by the committee also indicates that the medical response to a pregnant woman considered to be at risk of committing suicide would be to help and support her and to treat her underlying mental condition, not to offer her an abortion.

Providing for abortion where a woman's mental health may be at risk is one of the principal grounds on which abortion is permitted in other countries and experience elsewhere strongly suggests that a change in the law to deal on compassionate grounds with exceptional cases can be exploited to allow wide scale application. To take England and Wales as an example, data from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2000 over 175,000 abortions were performed. Of these, 134 were performed because of a risk to the woman's life but more than 162,000, or 92%, were solely on the grounds of risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman.

The Government is satisfied that, even though there is great public sympathy for the plight of women who find themselves with a crisis pregnancy, to provide for abortion where a woman in such a situation threatened suicide would not command widespread support and could, in effect, lead to abortions taking place on grounds other than where a woman's life was at risk.

The prescribing of emergency contraception is an accepted part of medical practice for many doctors in Ireland and has been for many years. However, the drug usually prescribed is an increased dose of the ordinary oral contraceptive pill, which is not licensed for use as emergency contraception. The all-party committee advocated in its report that any legal uncertainties that may exist in regard to the morning after pill, that is, post-coital or emergency contraception, should be removed. Under these proposals the use of emergency contraception in the form of the morning after pill and the post-coital IUD will not be prohibited.

It is important to stress that the use of any drug to end an established pregnancy will be prohibited under the Act. Drugs are now available, and others may be developed in the future, which are intended to bring about an abortion without surgical intervention. The licensing of such products in Ireland would not be permissible under the proposed legislation.

Bearing in mind that the envisaged legislation will require the holding of a referendum if it is to be amended in any way, it is considered appropriate to provide a more flexible mechanism for the approval of certain hospitals for the purposes of the Act. It is therefore intended that arrangements will be put in place to enable a Minister approve certain hospitals. The term "approved place" is intended to be applied to hospitals under responsible management and possessing adequate expertise in obstetrics, gynaecology and neo-natal care and in the treatment and prevention of life threatening diseases arising out of or complicated by pregnancy.

Section 2 deals with the prohibition of abortion within the State. The criminal offence of abortion is restated in clear, modern terms and the legal penalties are specified in terms which leave no doubt about the seriousness of the offence. It is important to stress that abortion is already illegal – other than in a case where the X case test is met – and any suggestion that new prohibitions and penalties are being introduced is not correct.

The rebuttable provision regarding the presumption of the natural and probable consequences of a person's conduct replicates the ordinary provisions relating to criminal intent in respect of homicide. This ensures that a person who, for example, administered a drug or performed a medical procedure the effect of which was to end unborn human life would be presumed to have intended this outcome. He or she could, however, rebut that presumption by establishing in a jury's mind a reasonable doubt as to whether he or she intended to end unborn human life, despite the fact that that was the natural and probable consequence of his or her actions.

The existing law in the form of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, will be repealed by section 6. Under existing legislation, any person who procures an abortion is liable on conviction on indictment to be sentenced to imprisonment for life or any lesser penalty. The Act will provide for a reduced penalty of up to 12 years. The requirement in section 2(4) that a prosecution may be brought only by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions ensures that frivolous or mischievous cases cannot be brought before the courts.

The purpose of section 3 is to provide that a medical practitioner or any other person will not be obliged to carry out a procedure to which he or she has a conscientious objection, even though it may not constitute abortion under the Act.

Section 4 deals with travel and information. The Act protects freedom to travel and the right to information in accordance with the existing provisions in the Constitution, approved by the people in 1992. It also makes clear that a court shall not restrict a person from travelling to another state on grounds that his or her conduct there would be an offence under this Act were it to occur in Ireland.

I have already referred earlier to the issues about the right to travel in the context of the C case of 1997 and the Act will ensure that there is no longer any doubt over a person's right to travel abroad. There is no question of a person's right to travel outside Ireland being interfered with in any way by the State, whatever their circumstances or reason for travelling.

Section 5 deals with the arrangements for orders to be made under section 1 of the Act. The terms used are sufficiently flexible to accommodate changes which might well occur in the future, such as a change in the title of a particular Minister in the Government. An order made under this section of the Act, in addition to designating specific hospitals as "approved places" for the purposes of section 1(2) of the Act, may deal with the making and keeping of records of medical procedures. The draft of an order must be laid before the Oireachtas and must be the subject of a positive resolution of each House, before it can have effect.

A provision has also been inserted which requires the Government of the day to ensure that orders are made from time to time so as to enable the Act to have full force and effect. The arrangements enable orders to be changed where appropriate, for example allowing new hospitals to be designated, should this become necessary, without such a matter having to be the subject of an amendment of the Act, which would, of course, have to be approved in a referendum before it could have effect.

Section 7 deals with the Short Title of the Act and arrangements for its commencement. The period of at least two months between the passing of the Act and its commencement will allow for the making and consideration by the Oireachtas of the appropriate order or orders under section 5.

The proposals in this Bill represent a fair and reasonable attempt to resolve the constitutional and legal difficulties that have surrounded the issue of abortion since the judgment in the X case in 1992. They are also the culmination of a lengthy and detailed process of consultation and debate. The time has come to move on from this and attempt to resolve matters for the future.

A pregnant woman should be entitled to whatever medical treatment she may need, even where this may unavoidably place the survival of her unborn child at risk. Any legal doubt about what is permissible in such cases must also be removed so that doctors will be able to continue to provide the necessary treatment in accordance with established medical practice. The Irish health care system has an enviable reputation when it comes to the care of expectant mothers and their children and what is proposed in this Bill will protect current practice, not change it.

A simple constitutional provision with no legislative backing would run a major risk of subsequently being interpreted by the courts in a manner not anticipated. Therefore, the route the Government has chosen is, we believe, the best way of ensuring that safeguards are put in place which spell out, in straightforward terms, what is and is not allowed and which can be amended only if the people, in a further referendum, wish to do so. The proposed Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act spells out clearly what will be permitted under the law. The constitutional provisions which will govern any future amendment of the law mean that the electorate will have a clear understanding of the meaning and effect of the various provisions in advance of a referendum.

The amendment is designed to acknowledge that the abortion issue is one on which the people want to have the final decision while at the same time leaving the matter primarily in the legislative domain. It may be that no interest group or organised viewpoint will be entirely satisfied with every detail of the constitutional and legislative package. Nonetheless, the Government believes that it represents the middle ground of public opinion. It aims to be compassionate and realistic while also providing an honest response to the realities faced by many women. I hope this proposal will command general support as a prudent, workable, sensible, caring and compassionate approach to what is for everyone an emotive issue and, for some, the most important issue in their lives.

I commend the Bill to the House.

The time allocation of 15 minutes is not sufficient for what I have to say. Much as I respect the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, I am disappointed the Minister, Deputy Martin, is not present to debate what I consider the most important legislation to come before the House during the current session.

I wish to advise the Senator that the Minister is out of the country on Government business.

I thank the Minister of State for that information. It is no excuse, however, because everyone was aware that Second Stage was to be taken this week.

It seems that my worst fears about the Bill are being realised. The session and the year are drawing to a close and there is a rush to pass legislation before Christmas. We are being asked to pass Second Stage today and to take Committee and Report Stages, perhaps in one day, next week. Throughout the 18 pages of the Minister of State's script, constant reference was made to the tremendous care the Government has taken in respect of this issue and to the ample time provided for the public to respond to the Green Paper and make submissions to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. However, it is all useless. In my opinion, we are engaged in a cynical exercise and I am extremely disturbed at the way in which the Government is treating this matter.

On Second Stage in the Lower House every Opposition spokesperson stressed the need for concerned and detailed debate. It is regrettable that today, in the absence of the Minister, we are rushing through Second Stage and that we will probably vote just after 3.30 p.m., when we are still not sure when the constitutional amendment will be put to the people. It is stated that two months after the Act is passed the matter will be put to the people. Are we sure it will be put to the people? The likely date for the referendum will be in February. I am inclined to believe that the Government is taking the same route it took on the Nice treaty referendum. It is rushing through the legislation and engaging in a meagre debate with the public.

The Minister of State may believe that members of the public were clued in to the debate on the Green Paper and also to the response of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. As everyone knows, it is only now that the people will begin to examine this issue in great detail. However, they will not be given the opportunity to do so because they will again be expected to take what the Government says as being the best we can do. The Government will be strongly focusing on the forthcoming election. Why is there such indecent haste to deal with this issue four and a half years into the Government's term of office? There was ample time to deal with it mid-way through the lifetime of the Government. As on previous occasions when contentious issues have arisen, the legislation is being pushed through at the last minute. The Minister of State made many references to the poor women of Ireland. I do not believe that the way we are dealing with the Bill displays sincerity on our part.

During the debate in the Dáil, and even before that, Fine Gael stated that it wished to have a concerned, non-contentious and non-divisive debate. I applaud the Fine Gael Members who took precisely that approach during the Bill's passage through the Dáil. On Second Stage in the Lower House, Deputy Gay Mitchell moved an amendment seeking the provision of a period of three months for reflection. The amendment stated that the Dáil and Seanad are being asked to pass legislation which will be open to interpretation by the courts but not amended by the Oireachtas – this is extraordinary and I hope the legal experts on the other side of the House will be able to indicate why there will be a change in the way the referendum will be put to the people – if the courts make an interpretation not envisaged by the Oireachtas or the people, noting that future amendments to the proposed legislation if passed will not be subject to the President's right to refer such amending Bills to the Supreme Court. I wonder how the President feels about that.

Senator Keogh, who is chairperson of the Dublin Well Woman Centre, will be making her contribution later. That organisation which she represents has stated that the Bill undermines the Constitution by specifically contravening Article 26 under which the President has the right to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to see if it is repugnant to the Constitution. The Minister of State failed to provide a rationale for the Government's decision to take this particular route. The President will not be allowed to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality, despite the fact that she is empowered to do so. Other powers are being eroded, but the one to which I refer is extremely important. It is not as if this matter was not flagged because Deputy Gay Mitchell highlighted it immediately in the debate in the Dáil. However, his request for a three month period to be provided to allow a reasoned debate on the legislation to take place was ignored.

Deputy Mitchell's amendment also contains the phrase "noting the unprecedented proposal to allow a Minister, by order, vary the effect of a constitutional provision in relation to evidence to be retained as to whether a medical procedure or an abortion, both as defined in the Bill, had taken place and by order to determine and vary the approved places where such medical procedures may in future take place". It is obvious from this that there are major issues at stake here. Why could the three month period of reflection not be provided? What is the rush?

I wish to refer to the 180 day period after the referendum. What will happen if there is a change in Government during that period? The Government has obviously looked into a crystal ball and seen itself being returned to office. If that proves to be the case – I do not believe it will – and new Independent Deputies support the Government in the Dáil, will those Deputies take the Government Whip in relation to this issue? These are major legal issues. I do not believe that members of the public areau fait with the minutiae of the difficulties that may arise from a legal perspective. People with intellects far superior to mine and with broad knowledge of the constitutional, judicial and legal issues involved would be required to interpret what the Minister of State said earlier. I hope we will have an opportunity on Committee and Report Stages to delve into these areas and get concrete answers which we have not had up to now.

Various speakers on the Government side have put great emphasis on showing concern, on appealing to the middle ground, on not being divisive and on taking everybody's views into account. They have started off as usual by telling us what they intend to do, that we can talk all we like but they will not give time and will just go ahead. This is happening at a time when the Government puts tremendous stress on so-called openness and transparency.

The second point I wish to make relates to the tremendous furore and anger in the Dáil because Committee Stage was dealt with by a committee and never came back onto the floor of the Dáil for discussion. I cannot understand why this was done but it was typical to rush it through there where there would not be very much media interest and less public interest, and it would come back to the Dáil and be rushed through and the debate guillotined. It makes a farce of the points that were made over and over again by the Minister, both in the Dáil and in the Seanad, that there has been such care and compassion. I find it hypocritical. There may have been care and compassion on paper but there certainly was none when it came to giving Deputies on all sides of the House the opportunity to debate and to tease out flaws that are now being pushed over to the Seanad but which we will have no time to tease out. The attitude is that we can push it through, say we have dealt with it and give it to the people. Certainly the Government's interpretation of consensus is not my interpretation of the term.

I do not have the time to go through the 34 questions the leader of my party, Deputy Noonan, asked and which certainly were not answered. They were our response to teasing out in detail what we saw as problems relating to this legislation. I have read the Taoiseach's response to the first question at least 30 times and I am as wise now as when I first read it. The Constitution already guarantees the right to life of the unborn under Article 40.3.3º and we are all very much aware of that. The Government proposal appears to reinterpret or redefine the definition of unborn contained in that provision. The question Deputy Noonan asked was quite clear. He asked whether the Taoiseach or his legal advisers could explain precisely in what manner the intended legislation and constitutional amendment altered this definition. The second question which follows from this was what effect the Government proposal would have on the definition of the term "unborn" in so far as it relates to a human life before implantation in the womb because this appears to be a constitutionally guaranteed value at present. Does the Chair think we got an answer to that? We certainly did not. The third question was how precisely, given that it was intended that the reinterpretation of Article 40.3.3º would be effected by a constitutional amendment and by legislation, was the Government's proposed legislation reconcilable with the current constitutional position which contains a general right to life of the unborn and could this legislation affect the present constitutional provision.

If I had more time I would go through many more of those questions. I raise them in a rhetorical fashion. I will not through the answer from the Taoiseach because there is one page that answers nothing for me, and if it answers nothing for me who has had time to peruse the legislation, what does it answer for the plain people of Ireland who will be asked to vote in a referendum, whenever and if ever it is put, on something we as legislators cannot unravel? There has been no effort by the Minister, except for a few references which do nothing to allay my fears, to answer the questions Deputy Noonan asked in the very early stages of this debate and to which he did not get satisfactory answers.

There are other issues about which I am extremely concerned and which we debated in Private Members' time in this House. Deputy Mitchell stressed what he thought was extremely important in relation to his Bill, the Care of Persons Board Bill, which the Government chose to ignore. He stressed that he wanted this Bill to stand alone, which would be the most effective way of dealing with it. It could have been implemented during the three months' reflective period. However, women who are stressed or who are suicidal because of crisis pregnancy – and I will return to that issue later – are still left without care. Compassion and concern were expressed right through the Taoiseach's speech, but there was no compassion or concern when Deputy Mitchell asked that his Care of Persons Board Bill be taken and implemented during the three months' reflective period. If that were done we would be seen to be showing compassion and to be taking positive action on behalf of the 7,000 women – and we are not even sure of that figure – who see nothing in this country to help them, nothing that might help them to consider adoption or to deal with crisis pregnancy. Various reports on crisis pregnancy, particularly the report entitled Women and Crisis Pregnancy by Ms Evelyn Mahon of Trinity College Dublin, have detailed over and over again the reasons women feel it necessary to leave this country to seek abortion in England.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator has about two minutes remaining.

It is shocking that I have not even reached the main issues. I really feel I am letting the women of Ireland down. I have had 15 miserable minutes during which I have not even come to the major issues. If the House would bear with me—

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

If the Senator was not happy with the Order of Business she should have said so. Fifteen minutes was agreed.

It was agreed because there was no question of wasting valuable time by having a vote. We calculated that taking time to vote would mean less time for the Bill because we know we will have to leave here this evening. We decided to do our best within the time allocated rather than taking up time unnecessarily by calling a vote.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There is no concluding time.

We were told by the people who will leaving the House at lunch time today that they would be back at 3.30 p.m.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That has nothing to do with the Order of Business.

I hope we will be staying here until 10 p.m.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator is entitled to do that. If there are enough speakers, the House will sit until midnight.

The reality is that that will not happen. We will be ushered out this evening not having done what we wanted to do. I wonder how many speakers will be able to get in. I will take particular account of this. I hope we do sit until midnight so that we can properly debate these issues.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There was a clear order that the Minister will not be called before a certain time. That does not mean he must be called at that time.

I understand that. However the experience in the past has been that anything contentious is rushed through. I am wasting my own time now, so I will continue.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The time limits should have been dealt with on the Order of Business.

I understand that. I will continue, if the Chair will allow me another two minutes.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I will allow a little latitude.

Perhaps that latitude might be extended to Committee Stage when I hope I will be able to go into detail.

There are three other issues. One is the fact that nothing has been done for the women of Ireland during the period in office of this Government in relation to putting in place ways by which they could consider adoption and continuing their pregnancy for the nine months which I firmly believe they would do if they were given financial and other support structures.

I do not have time to deal with the issue of suicide. Anybody who wishes to get the facts on that could do no better than to read the person who is the expert on suicide in the Dáil, Deputy Neville, who has put it so clearly, differentiating between physical and mental health. He wonders where we are in this country as regards our appreciation, our support for people suffering from mental illness. I would certainly put down a marker in relation to the woman who is suicidal and appears to be suicidal. Surely we could have included a psychiatrist in the medical personnel who, with very strict rules and procedures, would be able to find who is or who is not suicidal in terms of risk to life in a crisis pregnancy. The Government has chosen to ignore what the people of Ireland voted for in a referendum in 1992. I do not believe this Government has any appetite, one way or another, for doing anything to be supportive of the plight of women in crisis pregnancies.

I am deeply disappointed once again, as I was when in 1992 I listened to the people on the other side of the House telling us that they were so concerned about women in crisis pregnancies. Nothing in the Bill shows that anything has moved forward. This is rushed legislation to appease the Taoiseach who said he would hold a referendum. I have no problem with holding a referendum but I have a major problem with rushing through legislation that is seriously flawed and with which the best brains in the country are not happy.

I will deal with this in greater detail on Committee Stage next week. Even if we have to sit until Christmas Eve, this legislation deserves proper debate, particularly if the Government intends to stand by its word that the legislation should be debated with great care, diligence and compassion by legislators.

I welcome this important debate. I wish to confine my comments to a number of key areas. First, I am taken aback and concerned by the constant accusation of delays where this legislation and referendum are concerned and by the attitude that there has been a constraint on the Lower House and a proposed constraint on this House in this matter, an attitude with which I disagree.

This debate has been taking place for three decades. The Government came to office in 1997. Prior to that there had been referendums in 1983 and 1992 and the X and C cases. This was the first Government to take action. In 1997 the Green Paper on abortion was published and within months the Government put the issue into the domain of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. That committee, which comprised Members of both Houses, trawled through the issue for approximately one year. During that time, the committee invited submissions from various parties on the liberal side, which sought a more pro-choice approach, the pro-life side and the various religious denominations. A total of 110,000 submissions were received by the committee. Subsequently, there were nine days of hearings, most of which took place in this Chamber, for people who wished to give oral submissions. These people were from the medical profession, the religious denominations, the pro-life side and the pro-choice side.

It boggles the mind to hear talk of delays. This was a thorough examination of a sensitive and difficult issue. The Government did not rush into a referendum or legislation. The all-party committee's report is approximately 700 pages long and reflects various views and aspects of life. It should be noted that 95% of the 110,000 submissions to the committee came from the pro-life side of the debate. They pointed out that there was a demand for a referendum to clear up the problems created by the judgment in the X case.

Following the publication of the all-party committee's report, it was sent back to Government and, within months, the Taoiseach established a new committee under the chairmanship of the Minister, Deputy Martin, to assess what the Government should do with it. In September this year and with the support of the Tánaiste and the Progressive Democrats wing of the Government, the Taoiseach decided to move forward on one of the three proposals made by the all-party committee. The all-party committee did not hold a vote on the issue. One of the proposals was to leave well enough alone and not to legislate or hold a referendum which, it appears from the debate in the Lower House, is the preferred choice of the Fine Gael Party.

Another proposal was the more liberal approach to legislate, following the X case, for a more liberal regime. The third proposal was the approach adopted by the Government, to respect the demand for a referendum by holding a referendum. Coupled with that it was imperative to introduce legislation to ensure that the X case and the anomalies thrown up by it could be resolved in a sensible fashion. To be frank, if many of the Members who spoke in the other House were sincere, they would admit that they neither want legislation nor a referendum, but sincerity was not the order of the day. As one of the national newspapers noted, there was a great deal of hypocrisy in the other House. I hope this House will have a reasonable and proper debate on this sensitive issue.

I hope I have put to bed the notion that there has been delay on this issue. To compare this referendum with the Nice treaty is like comparing chalk with cheese. For the Irish people the Nice treaty represented a leap into the unknown in Europe. The debate on this proposed legislation and referendum has been taking place in Ireland for almost 30 years. To say it is new and strange is untrue. It was agreed by all parties in the all-party committee that one of the possible three solutions was legislation and a referendum and I am pleased this is the approach the Government has taken.

I wish to put on record my personal respect for and gratitude to my colleague, Senator Hanafin, chairman of the Pro-Life Campaign. It has done tremendous work. It has been a labour of love for this man to have brought this matter so far. In the other Chamber and in some newspaper columns the red herring about constitutional difficulties has been thrown up. It is said that there is legal opinion to suggest that the approach being taken by the Government is improper and dangerous and goes into uncharted waters. However, this approach has been given the all-clear by the Attorney General and my reading of a number of reports from senior and eminent constitutional lawyers indicates the legality of passing legislation which is then put before the people to decide.

It is important to put what we are dealing with into perspective. I consider abortion to be a serious issue. I oppose it on a personal basis. We are proposing legislation and a referendum but what are the Opposition parties proposing and where are their parameters?

I wish to cite Dr. John Wyatt, an English paediatrician, who might put this issue into perspective. He said:

It is now possible with intensive care to give a very good chance of life to babies who are as small as 23 weeks gestation, but at the same time abortion is legal up to 24 weeks and in some cases beyond. You have this rather bizarre situation where you can have one group of doctors trying to save the life of a very small baby and at the same time, even in the same hospital, abortions are being performed at the same gestational age.

This is the remarkable phenomenon in Britain. Evidence given to the all-party committee indicates that with developments in science and advances in medical practice, it might be possible within the next ten or 20 years to save an unborn baby at 18 or 20 weeks' gestation. That should be borne in mind.

There has been much discussion in both Houses about the X case and the risk of suicide. Of the several submissions received and debates held by the all-party committee, it was almost unanimous that the X case was a particularly bad example, and there was a particularly bad decision by the court. A bad case ended up making bad law. It was a regrettable case—

Suicide is even more regrettable.

—and eminent professional psychiatrists told the all-party committee that it is not likely for a pregnant woman to commit suicide, but the contrary is the case. There are respected statistics, not alone in Ireland but throughout the world, to back that up. I hate to see the red herring introduced that we are rowing back on the position on suicide in the X case. I hope that Opposition Members have time to read the lengthy committee report. It indicates clearly that the notion of suicide as an appropriate reason for having an abortion is probably the worst example one could give. Instead of being a possible motive to commit suicide, pregnancy seems to be a deterrent.

Many questions have been asked as to when life begins and why the new legislation uses the notion of implantation. There is an unfair belief that by bringing in this legislation and by using the word implantation, we are abandoning the existing protections in sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and abandoning the protection in the Constitution under Article 43, but that is not the case. As I understand it, the Government in bringing in this legislation is adding an additional layer of constitutional protection to human life after implantation. After that, the provision in the Bill for the deterrent of a 12-year jail sentence in the case of abortion comes into effect.

Instead of interfering with what happens before implantation, we are creating a new layer of protection, both constitutional and legislative. That should be recognised. Some of the more fundamental people in the pro-life movement had certain reservations in this regard. I hope they understand that, instead of opening the floodgates, the Government is creating another layer of protection. That should be supported.

My speaking time is constrained – I agree with Senator Jackman that 15 minutes is scant for discussing these issues – however, the time limit has been agreed and I will abide by it. I commend the Labour Party on making its position clear a long time ago. It held its Ard-Fheis in Cork some months ago and passed a motion in a certain direction, although many of the grassroots in Labour do not agree with that motion. Nonetheless, the Labour Party put its stance clearly before the people. It wants a particular liberal approach. Its certainly does not want a referendum. In the aftermath of the X case, it wants legislation for a more liberal approach and the adoption of abortion in Ireland.

On the one hand, Fine Gael is trying to keep up with its famous snail of conservatism. On the other hand, it is chasing the hound of liberalism.

Who says so?

Fine Gael wants neither legislation nor a referendum. It is caught in a situation where the party and the grassroots are totally divided.

We are not divided.

My constituency colleague in Cork South-West, Deputy Sheehan, made his position very clear and got plenty of publicity for his stance. He is not alone in his view.

What is wrong with Deputy Sheehan having his own views?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator should be allowed to speak without interruption.

We face a possible referendum which has been agreed by the Government and the Taoiseach. We have arrived at this point because the Government has jumped several difficult hurdles since 1997, despite being accused of delay. This is in one sense Custer's last stand. If we do not have a referendum on this issue now, there will not be an appetite for a referendum during the term of office of a succeeding Government, however that Government is made up. This is the last opportunity for those who have demanded and advocated a referendum for the past ten years.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moffatt, to the House. I do not blame the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, for not coming here today after the dreadful time he had on Committee Stage in the Dáil. I was fascinated that only Deputies McGennis and Roche turned up to give the Minister support in that debate. Deputy Cooper-Flynn spoke once but she only said the four words, "No, it is not." The Minister must feel really hassled. Of course, none of the Progressive Democrats arrived to give him support, not to mention the four Independents who demand this legislation. I regret the Minister is not here but I know that the Minister of State will be more than adequately able to deal with everything Members have to say. Perhaps the Minister of State will understand even better than the Minister some of what I have to say.

The words on the voting card for the referendum are totally inadequate to give voters an idea of what this legislation means. There is a phrase that says the devil is in the detail. In this case, the danger is in the detail. I am not sure how we are to get this danger across to members of the public. This legislation has been described as politically ingenious. That may be the case, but its lack of clarity and its use of a constitutional method for putting a new section into the Constitution has not been tried before. It is dangerous and I regret it very much.

I am not asking for liberalisation of the law regarding abortion. It would be welcome if we could even manage to maintain the situation as it is at present. I am very concerned about this legislation, particularly its length and complexity. I opposed the 1983 referendum because I felt that there was little clarity in that legislation. It should be remembered that when it went before the Supreme Court, it was interpreted in exactly the opposite way to what those who had promoted it expected. If the Supreme Court could do that with 43 words, what can be done with all these pages that are now to be voted on? These pages will be considered by the Supreme Court in the future, while the President's right to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court has been removed.

I am delighted to see Senator Hanafin in the House today. Senator Hanafin and I have a friendship going back nearly 20 years. We are coming up to the anniversary of our first meeting when we were discussing this same topic – we have been discussing this topic since the early 1980s – and Senator Hanafin and I are still on opposite sides of the argument.

I wrote to the Taoiseach recently to say that we know where we are at the moment, sort of, and asking why can we not leave things alone. This letter was similar to the words I used in 1983. I remember saying that mothers and babies were safe at that time. Why could we not leave the situation alone? No one was attempting to do socio-economic abortions then and no one is attempting to do socio-economic abortions now. We should leave the situation alone. We need legislation to ensure that doctors know that they are within their rights when they perform procedures to preserve the life of the mother. However, we will very shortly live to regret the complications we are experiencing at present.

I totally agree with the report Dr. T. K. Whitaker made. His committee included our present EU Commissioner, David Byrne, for whom I have the greatest admiration and who was a former Attorney General in this State and a member of Fianna Fáil. I totally agree with what they said, that is, that legislation with clarity is what we needed. This could not be more complicated.

Doctors have welcomed the legislation with qualified reservations because they want their position made clear. The O'Flaherty judgment, however, said that surgical treatment is permissible to save the life of the mother and the cer tainty of her death is not necessary. We could have quite easily clarified that for them – indeed, many lawyers have said to me that it is perfectly clear at the moment. They do not feel they are open to any challenge when undertaking abortions, described as medical procedures by some, to save the life of the mother. We could have done that quite easily.

I am very surprised that those who pushed for the 1983 amendment, like Senator Hanafin, have accepted this wording because I do not think it gives anything like the same protection to the fertilised egg, which was considered by many of those people to be the beginning of conception. This is an area in which the pro-life movement, as it describes itself, seems to be split. I notice that Mr. Justice Rory O'Hanlon, who spoke with such eloquence on the legal situation in 1983, is firmly opposed to this referendum as, indeed, is Dana Rosemary Scallon, Member of the European Parliament, who has great experience of the effect of European legislation on what we may introduce here. I gather Youth Defence, which has a new name, Mother and Child, is opposed to it. It is the voice of young people. All of them have a point.

I should be happy that we have decided pregnancy will begin from implantation because, during the 1983 referendum, I argued that this was the thing to do. There was lack of certainly about when an egg was fertilised and where the fertilised egg was because we know many fertilised eggs do not implant and many of those which implant do not go on to a full-term pregnancy. I felt it was much safer to use implantation as a beginning but I am surprised that those who were most vociferous in the 1983 referendum have agreed to the current proposal. I gather they are saying it is the best for which we can hope. Is that a suitable moral attitude? I am not sure it is, but Senator Hanafin is well able to speak for himself.

The situation of the mother is being diminished in this legislation because she is not mentioned in the area regarding abortion whereas at least her right is conceded in the Article 40.3.3º amendment. I consider that a weakening of her life. The Minister saidin vitro fertilisation, cloning and embryo research will not be affected by this. I welcome the setting up of Professor Dervilla Donnelly's committee but I had to introduce a Private Members' Bill on the regulation of in vitro fertilisation in this House nearly two years ago to get the Government to do something about it. If we had continued with my Bill – I did not mind how much it was torn apart – perhaps we would be a little further on now and we would not be saying that if this legislation and referendum are passed, it will not affect in vitro fertilisation, cloning, embryo research and so forth. We would have the answers before us instead of having to rely on the report of a committee which is nowhere near making its conclusions public. This is another case of which we have had so much from this Government of live horse and you will get grass, that is, something will be done in the future and we should not worry about it now.

The issue of when a pregnancy begins is a problem. Implantation is not a precise time. As the Minister said when debating this in committee, implantation usually takes place between three and ten days after fertilisation but I have heard it said that it can take place up to 14 days, even by Dr. Craven who is not a medical practitioner but who reported to the all-party committee of which Senator O'Donovan was a member and which was so ably chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan. Even those who describe themselves as being on the pro-life side say that implantation can take place up to 14 days after fertilisation. This gives an amazing amount of latitude after a person has had a positive pregnancy test.

There are other issues here which are difficult to deal with. What if the woman does not realise she is pregnant and she takes something which may cause an abortion even though it is not an abortifacient? For instance, I asked the select committee about the situation regarding cytotec which, as the Minister of State knows, being a general practitioner of great repute, is widely prescribed for gastric ulcers but as a prostaglandin can cause abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Will the 15 year old child who takes her granny's tablets be accused of having an abortion?

The Minister has given some indications about the situation regarding medical abortifacients. However, medical abortifacients are becoming more widely used and are used for about one third of cases in the United Kingdom which is the most common destination for women from this country when they want to procure an abortion for socio-economic reasons. It costs about £1,000 for a person to go to England to have an abortion. It costs £200 for the flight, £300 sterling for the abortion, £200 to stay overnight and the remainder for incidental expenses. A medical abortion is much cheaper. Suppose a woman decides to take the first pill, which is the one that will have a hormonal effect in England, but does not take the second pill, a prostaglandin, until she comes back to Ireland because, as the Minister of State knows, there has to be that large gap between the taking of the two parts of the compound, will she be accused of trying to abort her pregnancy in this country or will it be considered an abortion which took place in England? We need to look at that.

The fact that we do not know whether a person is pregnant is very important in terms of this legislation. On Committee Stage in the Dáil on 26 November 2001, Deputy Gay Mitchell asked if the Minister was suggesting that someone was not pregnant until there is implantation. The Minister replied by saying, "I am not". I do not know what he meant by that. Does it mean that a fertilised egg, if it is in the womb, is a pregnancy? That needs to be clarified, although these issues may be raised on Committee Stage.

The Minister of State and Senator O'Donovan spoke about the problem regarding false claims of suicide. I would not be so critical of the Supreme Court as others because it heard the whole case and I was not there. I remember the child in the X case had supportive parents but when the C case came up, it was a different kettle of fish. The child, who was in the care of the health board, had been most traumatically raped and beaten up. There were serious questions over the family situation. The 13 year old child was in the care of the health board and was threatening to commit suicide. As I remember, that case dragged on for some weeks. It was in the winter and all I could think of was that the rivers were deep and wide and that it would be very easy for a 13 year old child to do away with herself.

It is important to point out here that the circumstances under which one becomes pregnant are very important when talking about the protective effect of suicide. Rape and incest are totally different from a consensual pregnancy. Appleby's report, which showed that there were instances of pregnancies in these situations, is, it appears, being ignored today. The protective effect of pregnancy is different when the woman wishes to be pregnant or even when the pregnancy has not resulted from a circumstance such as that which I have described. The most recent report on suicide in this country showed that 40 children committed suicide in the past few years. A woman is described in this legislation as any female person which, of course, would include children because it would include those who are under 18 years of age.

I do not like people being so certain that nothing will happen in this regard. I have only once met a woman who threatened to commit suicide when pregnant. She was well into her thirties. She had had two pregnancies, after which she had suffered from profound post-natal depression. The depression continued during the pregnancies and I do not think she ever recovered. She said she would kill herself if she got pregnant again. I cannot say if she would have, but certainly many people would have taken a great deal of notice of her.

I am not suggesting abortion as a treatment for post-natal depression or any sort of depression. We must be very cautious as there will always be spurious demands made for an abortion because of the risk of suicide. I am sure the Minister of State and Senator Fitzpatrick will remember that we were always warned never to disregard the threat of suicide.

There are three areas about which I am concerned. With regard to the definition of abortion, there is no end point. Senator O'Donovan pointed out that one could have an abortion up to 24 weeks in England. We have no stipulation in this respect. I never heard of a definition of abortion that included viable children. If some people in the future want to bring in abortion for other reasons, they may use this to determine up to what point abortions may be carried out.

I am concerned about the definition of an "approved place". The Minister said that the serious risks that may occur and the mother's life will be taken care of, but I do not think anyone has taken any notice of emergencies. The Minister of State should note that, while maternal deaths are rare, haemorrhage is still the most common cause of maternal deaths in this country. We have taken no account of the fact that a woman with an 18-week pregnancy may be haemorrhaging at the back of the Inagh Valley in the snow when she cannot be brought anywhere and when there may still be a foetal heartbeat. What would happen? Suppose a woman on the Beara Peninsula could not be brought to Bantry hospital. What would happen then? If she was brought there, it may not be an approved hospital in terms of the definitions of approved hospitals given by the Taoiseach. An approved place is intended to be applied to hospitals under responsible management possessing adequate expertise in the area of obstetrics and gynaecology and in the treatment and prevention of life-threatening diseases arising out of or complicated by pregnancy.

I have a report from the Coombe hospital, which followed up 21,170 women who delivered between 1 January 1999 and October 2001, inclusive. It found that more than 50 of these women were near-miss maternal mortalities. Haemorrhage was the cause of the most common near miss; 31 of the cases involved haemorrhaging. The report also pointed out that, although most of these events are managed in the maternity hospital setting, management outside these parameters occurred in selected cases. Do we want the selected cases to be in places where the person in charge could not carry out what is described as a medical procedure as opposed to an abortion? Such procedures cannot be conducted other than in an approved place.

I am extremely concerned about the opt-out clause for people who are conscientious objectors. We should remember that people are not being asked to conduct abortions for socio-economic reasons. They are being asked, under section 1(2) of the Second Schedule, to carry out medical procedures at "an approved place in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended where that procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the practitioner, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman's life other than by self-destruction." The most recent Medical Council guidelines published in 1998 state with regard to the childin utero:

Refusal by a doctor to treat a woman with a serious illness because she is pregnant would be grounds for complaint and could be considered to be professional misconduct.

The Minister should also remember that 50% or more of the junior doctors in our hospitals are not from this country. They are non-EU nationals who may not be very familiar with the sort of fudging that can sometimes happen here. They may think they are in an unapproved hospital and decide they should be conscientious objectors. What if a conscientious objector never declared this to his employer or the unfortunate woman requiring the medical procedure and there was nobody else available to carry it out? The least we should do is to add in other jurisdictions and say that these people have to make their positions clear. In other jurisdictions, this will only pertain to socio-economic abortions, but in this jurisdiction we will make it possible to be a conscientious objector to carrying out a medical procedure to save a woman's life where there is a real and substantial risk that she may die. There is great danger in this detail.

I welcome the opportunity to speak, particularly when the Leas-Chathaoirleach is in the Chair. To see somebody with such a distinguished family record in the Chair gives me and many others great pleasure. It reminds me that I could not possibly accept that ordinary Fine Gael voters throughout the country, whom I have come to know so well over the years, would vote against this Bill. I am satisfied they will vote for the Bill in spite of some of the leadership they are getting.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is the first time I have spoken in the House in his presence. He is a man of great integrity and he is greatly respected in his own area, which is the test for anybody. I thank Senator O'Donovan and Senator Henry who earlier made some complimentary remarks about my long involvement in the pro-life movement. Even though I have been involved since the very beginning, I do not believe I did anything worthwhile. I do not claim great credit for anything, but I am glad to have been involved. I am glad to be here today because I spent last week in hospital. This is a debate I would not have wanted to miss.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001, is the end point of a process initiated by the Taoiseach in 1997. It seeks to address the abortion issue honestly, following the uncertainty created by the 1992 Supreme Court decision which allowed abortion in potentially wide circumstances. This process, which led to the Green Paper and the all-party Oireachtas committee report, is the most far-reaching investigation on the subject ever undertaken anywhere in the world to try find a genuine resolution to the issue. Those who contributed to this process must be congratulated for their efforts in laying the groundwork for the referendum proposal. The process to date has also shown that a calm and respectful debate can be conducted on such a controversial issue. People can make their points of view known without becoming the targets of personal attack and criticism. It is vital that this tone be maintained if we are ever to arrive at a proper understanding of the values at stake. There is an onus on Members of the Oireachtas to ensure that the debate remains moderate, respectful and factual.

The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution will ensure that Ireland remains the safest country in the world in which to be pregnant. While preserving the outstanding record of care that women receive, the Bill also restores to the law an obligation to ensure that great care is taken to preserve the life of the unborn child as far as is practicable. The passage of the twenty-fifth amendment will also place a spotlight on the need to have relevant supports in place to help women with crisis pregnancies. At present there are insufficient supports and resources to assist women in that predicament. It is important we create an atmosphere where women no longer feel that the only option available to them is abortion. With the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency an opportunity now exists to address these difficulties.

The work of the Caring Foundation in the United States, mentioned at the all-party hearings, could form the basis for putting programmes together to assist women in crisis pregnancy. The Caring Foundation runs high visibility advertisements designed to reflect the needs of women in crisis pregnancy. With sufficient funding the caring agencies in Ireland currently offering alternatives to abortion could make what they offer better known and used.

There is a much calmer atmosphere surrounding the whole issue now than on previous occasions when the subject was debated. This affords the opportunity for Members and others to work together on the areas of agreement and create something meaningful and lasting to help reduce our abortion rate. It was clear at the Oireachtas hearings that key areas of consensus exist where something positive can be done to address the issue.

Irish abortion figures are much too high. Any abortions are too many and represent a human tragedy for both the mother and her unborn child. We must recognise that abortions are low in comparison with other EU countries where abortion is legal, but rather than merely criticising the manner in which crisis pregnancy is dealt with in this country, we should acknowledge that tremendous efforts, particularly in the voluntary sector, are being made to help women in crisis pregnancy. Legalised abortion does nothing to confront the reality of crisis pregnancy, it simply ignores it.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill forces us to confront the need to introduce clarity into the law regarding the right to life. In other countries the distinction between necessary medical treatment in pregnancy and procedures which directly target the life of the unborn have been blurred. InThe Irish Examiner on 20 November, Ronan Mullen quoted Dr. John Wyatt, an English paediatrician:

It's now possible with intensive care to give a very good chance of life to babies who are as small as 23 weeks gestation, but at the same time abortion is legal up to 24 weeks and beyond. You have this rather bizarre situation where you can have one group of doctors trying to save the life of a very small baby and at the same time, even in the same hospital abortions are being performed at the same gestational age.

The twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution will secure the highest standards of medical care for pregnant women and will ensure they receive all necessary medical treatment when pregnant. The proposal excludes threatened suicide as a reason for intervention in pregnancy based on the overwhelming evidence to the all-party Oireachtas hearings. The evidence clearly showed that abortion itself increases the likelihood of suicide.

The amendment recognises the humanity of the unborn child and obliges that everything practicable must be done to preserve the child's life whenever the mother is receiving necessary medical treatment. The proposal defines abortion for the purposes of the criminal law. It does not redefine when life begins and does not undermine the existing protection for human life, prior to implantation under Article 43.3 of the Constitution. I regret a certain Senator is not present to have that pointed out.

Because of the protection of that Article in the Constitution the Government has not signed the Convention on Human Rights and Bio-medicine, the convention which permits embryo experimentation. There is a spurious argument in circulation that this proposal would lead to massive experimentation on human embryos and that the EU plans to spend trillions of euros on embryo experimentation targeted solely at Ireland. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I hope when the campaign begins, credible, honest arguments are used and such scaremongering fairytales are rubbished.

This proposal is an honest attempt to address the issue. I congratulate the Taoiseach on having the courage to bring it forward. It gets the balance right between safeguarding all necessary medical treatment for women in pregnancy and restoring clarity to the law on such an important issue as the right to life. It also places an obligation on each one of us to do more to create a more supportive environment to help and assist women in crisis pregnancy. I commend the Bill to the House.

It is regrettable the Minister for Health and Children is unable to be with us today. I accept what the Minister of State says and I welcome him to the House but this is indicative of the fact that the other side of the House is not prepared to listen to arguments. It is unfortunately true that the Bill was guillotined on Report Stage in the Dáil, which is not appropriate for such important legislation.

Notwithstanding people's genuine beliefs about abortion, this Bill is one of the most cynical exer cises in legislation I have seen in the Oireachtas. The Bill, which purports to protect human life in pregnancy, does the opposite. It specifically removes the protection of the life of the pregnant woman by removing a so-called "self-destruction" clause, the threat of suicide, as a genuine threat to the life of a woman.

Why are we having this referendum? It is for political expediency and I do not subscribe to the view that it is for any other reason than to placate four Independent Deputies who have supported the Government for four and a half years. I am in politics because I believe in justice and equality. I entered politics because I wanted to see true equality in our society and above all I have supported women's rights. I stand by my beliefs in my response to this appalling Bill. I am proud of the open way my Fine Gael colleagues have conducted this debate and particularly proud of the women in Fine Gael who have been outspoken and made clear arguments.

We all know this referendum will not solve the problem of crisis pregnancy. It will not prevent any of the 6,500 to 7,000 women, or more, who go for abortions, though I wish it would. Abortion is a personal, moral, ethical and social issue which has no place in any Constitution.

There have been many references to the X case, which I well remember. I was on the Government side when I spoke about it and I reflected on what my own response would be in similar circumstances. It was given more immediacy by the fact that one of my own daughters was then just 14, a child with her whole life ahead of her just like the child in the X case, not a statistic but a girl full of life and hope for the future. How would I react, I asked myself, if she had suffered the appalling trauma of rape or if she had been violated and driven to that extreme point of threatening suicide? What if she considered ending her life because of what had been done to her through no fault of her own, a child betrayed? I would have valued the life of my daughter above all. That is the kind of reality we are debating.

I was very interested to hear the statistics cited by Senator Henry earlier regarding the number of children who commit suicide. I was also struck by her comments that, as a medical practitioner, she is conscious of the need never to ignore the threat of suicide. When I was training to be a guidance counsellor many years ago, the first thing I was told was that no matter what one's view is, one must always take the threat of suicide seriously. It was hammered home to us.

As chairperson of the Well Woman Centres, I am all too aware of many cases of frightened women following the lonely trail to England, often without support or medical backup. It is widely acknowledged that the decision to travel for an abortion is a difficult and traumatic one. I was incensed, therefore, to read the Taoiseach's replies to Deputy Noonan's questions about this Bill. Senator Jackman referred to some of the so-called answers that were received. In reply to one of the questions, the Taoiseach said:

It is the Government's view that the medical consensus in the medical profession is the only thing which now stands between us and thede facto introduction of social abortion in this country. The legislative vacuum which now exists must be filled. If legal provision were made for suicide risk, a system of psychiatric assessment and court supervision would, almost inevitably, follow. If that were to happen, even if it were initially done on a narrow basis, the scene would be set for a gradual introduction of social abortion in Ireland.

The statement represents an insult to Irish women. It does not show compassion for them or acknowledge their heartbreak when deciding to take the lonely road to England. The use of the phrase "social abortion" suggests that women decide to have an abortion between painting their nails and going to a dance. Where are the legions that, in the past nine years, could lawfully have claimed to be suicidal and demanded an abortion?

The Government strategy of establishing a crisis pregnancy agency, in tandem with the publication of this Bill, is another attempt at a political stroke. While I welcome any agency trying to deal with crisis pregnancy, I cannot but be cynical when I see that there are no terms of reference and no direction as to how the agency should interact with existing service providers. The Government did not consult relevant groups in this area before announcing that the new agency was to be established. I believe the inaugural meeting of the new agency was yesterday. It is extraordinary that Olive Braiden, who has a wonderful record in supporting women, was asked to set up the agency from scratch. We do not know yet what the agency will do.

I would like to give some startling statistics, compiled from a sample of 800 women over a period of eight months, from a British clinic which offers abortions to Irish women. The statistics reveal that 45% of Irish women were not using any form of contraception at the time they became pregnant and a further 40% stated that their partners were using condoms. It is obvious that those not using contraception did not want to become pregnant, given their decision to have a termination. It is equally obvious that condoms were being incorrectly used in many cases. Why do we not educate young people before they become sexually active? We should teach young men to be responsible. Young women should be helped to make informed choices and to display the necessary skills of assertiveness to reject a sexual relationship if they are not ready. Information campaigns about contraception and family planning are needed. Our resources should be targeted at education.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill will not enhance women's health or promote quality of life. It ignores rape and incest and the trauma of the victims of such crimes. The right to life of the unborn will supersede the right to health of the mother. The Bill perpetuates the hypocrisy of the fact that significant numbers of women travel to England for abortions.

The Constitution is an aspirational document, which should not be restrictive and should not contain legislation. It is no place to legislate for private morality. This Bill has serious implications for the Constitution and threatens the withdrawal of certain existing fundamental rights. I believe the Bill contravenes Article 26 of the Constitution, which refers to the right of the President to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to ascertain whether it is repugnant to the Constitution.

Hear, hear.

This Bill undermines the Constitution. One of the most important powers of the President, as defined in the Constitution, will be negated if he or she is not be allowed to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. If enacted, this Bill will not be susceptible to challenge in the courts, which once more denies citizens a key democratic right, as enshrined in the Constitution. The Bill bypasses the Oireachtas, as any further change to it will have to be referred to the people before it can be signed into law by the President. The Government does not trust Irish women and certainly does not trust Members of the Oireachtas, the law makers, to do their jobs.

I agree with Senator Henry's comments about the criminalisation of women. I strongly oppose the insertion of clauses into the Constitution to criminalise women faced with a crisis. My work with the Well Woman Centre, which provides non-directive pregnancy counselling services, means I am aware that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a hard one. Such a decision becomes even tougher when a women feels she is doing something which may be illegal, even though she is breaking no law by travelling outside the State to avail of a service legally available elsewhere.

I will give a suitable example of this, which is by no means the worst with which I am familiar. A terrified 19 year old girl who was haemorrhaging badly when she arrived at a Well Woman clinic was afraid to go to hospital or to her general practitioner as she had been to England and had procured an abortion. She obviously needed hospital care as she was haemorrhaging badly, but it was difficult to persuade her to go as she was terrified that she would be approached by the Garda. Her belief that she would be viewed as a criminal may result from the loose talk and inaccuracy that pervades debate on abortion. The State is frightening such women.

By excluding suicide, this Bill negates the Supreme Court judgment in the X case, as well as the decision of the Irish people in the 1992 referendum. I strongly oppose the exclusion of suicide as a risk to the life of the mother, as it is an infringement of basic human rights. The best way to address the risk of suicide is to bring the X case judgment into expression on the Statute Book, something that should have been done by now.

Senator Henry has already referred to the Bill's intention to legislate for medical freedom to treat a pregnant woman whose life is in danger and I also question the intention. I observed the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, nodding his head as Senator Henry outlined the various difficulties that may emerge. I hope he agreed with the Senator's remarks. We do not need legislation or a referendum to give effect to medical freedom, as it is already enshrined in the Medical Council's ethical and clinical guidelines to doctors. The process of decision-making is unclear.

References have been made to suicide, but we should remember that mental illness may also threaten the life of a woman. The right to health and quality of life is a basic human right. The World Health Organisation defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being" and that is what we should determine. We are lucky that the standard of health care in this country means that few medical or psychological conditions cause chronic deterioration of a pregnant woman's health or quality of life. It is clear that such conditions do exist, however, but they are not being acknowledged. It is useful that somebody with a medical background is spelling out what is happening.

This unnecessary Bill does not display compassion for a woman with a crisis pregnancy, but denigrates her. If the Government were serious about addressing the plight of the 6,500 Irish women who have abortions in Britain each year, it would dedicate its resources to helping and supporting them. The Government has made a fatal error. There is no consensus regarding this referendum and there is a split in the so-called pro-life lobby. The well choreographed launch which sought to give the impression of a cosy consensus was quickly recognised as a con job. The people, and most importantly women, will not be fooled. I hope this referendum is not held, but if it is, that it will not be passed.

I was about to leave the Chamber when Senator Keogh commenced her speech. I am proud to be in this House having heard such a wonderfully moving, passionate and convinced speech. This is what the House is all about and I salute the Senator for her passion and commitment to women who find themselves in this difficult situation.

Contributors to the debate so far have referred to the complex nature of abortion and the fact that it is a sensitive issue. The sentiments expressed on all sides, including by Senator Hanafin who is a well known advocate of this kind of amendment, have been reasonable. However, I am suspicious of this Bill which I do not like. The Bill should be opposed, as I intend to do, and I will also table amendments to cure what I regard as its principal flaws. To any politically educated observer, the legislation appears to be a cynical manoeuvre by the Government to satisfy the demands of four Independent Deputies who made it a condition of their support that such an amendment would be introduced during the lifetime of the Government. Like Senator Keogh, I believe this referendum will fail and that may be the best outcome. I will campaign against it.

The newspapers have suggested that the Roman Catholic Church has grave doubts about this referendum. The Constitution is not the correct place for any such provision. All over the world, constitutions are recognised as the appropriate place for the enunciation of general principles governing political, social and ethical life and not for dealing with specific issues such as abortion, contraception and divorce. On every occasion on which we have inserted provisions such as this into the Constitution we have had to remove or amend them. We are being encouraged to travel down a dangerous, wrong road. The Church of Ireland has repeatedly made it clear that it holds the view I have just expressed. It strongly dissents from the notion that the Constitution should be abused in this way, a view which is supported by all other Protestant churches. This fact should be taken into account.

Why has this Bill been introduced? I can only assume it is because of a curious kind of fear on the part of the Government, but of what is it afraid? I believe it is a fear of the courts. We are not prepared to trust the courts. God knows Irish courts are conservative and we do not trust them because the highest court in the land has taken the reasonable view that a young girl who has been raped and is at a tender age may contemplate and carry out suicide if not allowed to have an abortion. It is uncaring not to take such a ruling into account.

The Supreme Court made this ruling and we do not trust it. We will obviate recourse to the courts system and bypass it. We will also tie the hands of Parliament. We have a neurotic fear of the Oireachtas, which will not be allowed to legislate for this area. This is strange behaviour on the part of Parliament. We will also tie the President's hands. I agree with Senator Keogh that this proposal raises serious constitutional doubts. We have a neurotic fear of the courts, the Oireachtas and the President and are deliberately bypassing these democratic safeguards by introducing this Bill.

I will table two amendments in particular to the legislation. One amendment will propose the deletion of the phrase "other than by self-destruction" in the Second Schedule. We must take seriously the possibility that a young person would take her own life. One always has to take such threats seriously. I do not have Senator Keogh's experience in this field, but I was involved in various kinds of counselling services, particularly within the gay community. The agencies which trained our volunteers stressed the need to take the threat of suicide seriously. On most occasions such threats will not come to fruition, but there is always the possibility that a threat will be carried out. Can one gamble with the life of a young person?

The Supreme Court has taken a most reasonable view of this issue. Its ruling stated that if it is established that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such a termination is permissible. Can anyone dissent from, or disagree with, such a view? If one does, one is prepared to take the risk of death to protect the unborn. The word "unborn" is rather unlovely as it conjures up other notions such as the undead. It is an inexact word.

The Title of the Bill is a misnomer as it includes reference to the protection of human life. What about the health and welfare of the mother? I will table an amendment to extend the Bill's definition of "medical practitioner" to include properly qualified psychiatrists. If we really care about the well-being of young people, we must take this view.

At the beginning of the 21st century is it appropriate that a young person of 13 or 14 years of age, who has been the victim of rape or incest, should also be sentenced the nine months' hard labour, penal servitude, with all the fear, trauma, depression and apprehension which flow from that situation? On top of the trauma of rape or incest, the State is piling on the demand that the individual should carry this burden. This is grossly wrong.

The First Schedule to the Bill proposes that the amended Article 40.6.2º should read:

If a law, containing on the provisions set out inAn Dara Sceideal [. . . ] is enacted by the Oireachtas, this section, other than the amendment of Article 40 of this Constitution effected thereby, shall be omitted from every official text of this Constitution published thereafter, but notwithstanding such omission this section shall continue to have the force of law.

I do not understand this provision for which there may be a technical reason. However, is it the case that the Government is rightly shamefaced and would like to expunge whatever traces of this legislation it can find?

I welcome the fact that the legislation includes an acknowledgement of the right to travel. The Minister of State indicated that about 6,500 known cases of abortion are carried out in England every year involving Irish women. However, because of the class system and financial deprivation, many women will not find it easy to travel to the UK or to the Continent to have an abortion.

I welcome the acknowledgement in section 3 of the Second Schedule of the right of conscience, even in the limited circumstances in which an abortion may take place, and that no pressure should be placed on medical staff to perform such procedures. This is a matter of conscience.

I share Senator Henry's concern about the lack of any age guideline and the fact that all persons, including what any decent person would categorise as children, may be criminalised by this legislation.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Before lunch, I indicated my reservations about the Bill and my intention to table two amendments on Committee Stage. I have since done so, and the amendments will be circulated.

The Bill, on page 8, section 2(2), states:

For the purposes of this section, a person shall be presumed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of his or her conduct; but this presumption may be rebutted.

This appears to be a very dubious proposition. It appears to alter the balance of evidence and to put the onus on someone to prove himself or herself innocent. In Irish law there is normally a presumption of innocence. The Bill appears to shift the onus of proof and this is regrettable.

The Minister of State referred to the establishment of a crisis pregnancy agency and this is to be welcomed. However, in the light of what has been said this morning regarding the fact that there was no consultation with the bodies most intimately concerned in this area, which have committed themselves to this matter over the years and which have long practical experience, this measure has the look of a cosmetic exercise, especially when there is little clarity with regard to the organisation, funding and structures of such an agency. It looks as if it is intended to put a positive gloss on a situation. This is a matter of great concern.

The Minister of State later said: "Women who have had an abortion, either recently or some time ago, have particular needs also and this is an area which the agency will be asked to address." How can the agency address this area when it is criminalised? Surely young women will be terrified to go to proper agencies if they feel they are guilty of a criminal offence. This is a very dangerous area. We hear from time to time of cases of young women who have had an abortion late in pregnancy, and of the foetus being discovered. Garda appeals are often put out to the woman to make herself known, with an assurance that she will be treated with compassion. How will young women accept that they will be treated compassionately if abortion is rendered a matter for criminal law?

The Irish Family Planning Association has also raised this matter in briefing documents, as the Minister of State knows. The IFPA is very critical of the Bill as it might affect women who attempt self-induced abortion. The association is also of the opinion that the Bill is intended specifically to overturn the judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case. At the heart of this referendum is yet another attempt to render the life of the woman "less equal than that of the ‘unborn' ".

The judgment in the C case will also be radically affected. If the referendum is passed – and I am optimistic that it will not – the grounds for court judgments similar to that reached by the High Court in the 1997 C case will be removed. In the event of a future similar case, the girl or woman would not be able to avail of the protection of the X case ruling and would therefore be prevented from travelling to get an abortion in the United Kingdom or on the Continent and would not be permitted to have an abortion here. In this context, these proposals create the conditions in which there may be a future suicide by reason of the enforced continuation of a pregnancy.

Asylum seekers and women with disabilities who cannot travel unaided and women needing financial assistance will all be affected. I cited this before lunch as an example of class injustice. The briefing I received from the Irish Family Planning Association asks two critical questions. I have tried to answer one of them by the first amendment I have tabled. That question is: When is a medical opinion not a medical opinion? Does the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform presume to distinguish between mental and physical health? By making a decision to exclude the risk of suicide as a justification for legal abortion, the Government is saying that consultant obstetricians may lawfully terminate a pregnancy, after implantation but before viability, on the basis of advice from doctors such as cardiologists and nephrologists but they may not do so if that advice comes from a psychiatrist. I thought we had got to the stage when we accepted that mental health was on a par with physical health and treated with equal respect. The Bill suggests that psychiatrists' opinions are less valuable than those of other doctors when it comes to dealing with suicidal women, yet they are the very people who will first come into contact with a potential suicide victim. This gives rise to the possibility that a consultant psychiatrist might reach the considered view that the ending of a pregnancy is necessary to save the life of the mother because of the risk of suicide, but under the proposed new law this opinion could not be acted upon. Do we have such a contempt for the profession of psychiatry? Are we not prepared to accept its professional informed view?

The next question asked by the Irish Family Planning Association is equally interesting. When is an abortion not an abortion? This is a question about honesty of language. In the Bill, the Government has conceded that there are situations where abortion is required in Ireland to save the life of a woman. However, it seeks to pretend that these life-saving abortions are not really abortions. The IFPA briefing quotes Dr. Peter McKenna of the Rotunda Hospital in evidence given to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. Dr. McKenna gave his experi ence of a patient with fulminating high blood pressure, associated with heart failure, associated with a molar pregnancy. He said the only way in which the woman could be stopped from dying of heart failure was by terminating the pregnancy. Dr. McKenna told the committee:

I would take the the view that if the treatment is aimed primarily at terminating the pregnancy, this is an abortion and it is semantics to say otherwise.

The Bill makes it lawful to provide such treatment but insists that the term "abortion" should not be applied to the procedure. That is quite extraordinary.

The Well Woman Centre has also produced a clear briefing document. Many of the points to which I have referred are made in it. The document raises the question of the lack of enhancement of women's health and the prejudice which will be enshrined against the well-being of women.

The Well Woman Centre suggests that the Bill undermines the Constitution by specifically contravening Article 26, the President's right to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court. The President will not be allowed to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. This negates one of the most important powers of the President, as defined in the Constitution. Earlier, I suggested a neurotic fear of the courts and the Oireachtas. I now suggest the same fear of the President.

The Well Woman Centre document also considers rape and incest. Surely no young girl should be compelled to go to full term with a pregnancy which resulted from an act of violation. The one thing welcomed in the document is the acceptance of Levonelle, the morning after pill.

I will be voting against the Bill and I will table amendments, which I will argue again, when the Bill next comes before the House.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, to the House.

The origins of today's debate go back to the insertion by the people of Article 40.3.3. into the Constitution in 1983. Ironically, the promoters of the new article produced a wholly unintended result when the Supreme Court in the X case in 1992 ruled that the threat of self-destruction can amount to a substantial risk of the life of the mother. There then followed the defeat by referendum of the proposed twelfth amendment of the Constitution, designed to deal with the outcome of the X case. Again ironically, this result was due to dissatisfaction with the proposition by some who objected to the recognition in the Constitution of the principle of the termination of the life of the unborn and by others who objected to the restriction imposed by the proposal.

This was followed by the C case when it was ruled that termination was a permissable medical treatment of a 13 year old girl's condition where abortion was the only means of avoiding the risk of suicide as a substantial risk of her life. This brings us very nearly to where we are today. There has been a long and comprehensive consultation process leading to the Government's promotion of today's legislation as the most balanced and sensitive way forward, starting with the 1999 Green Paper on abortion.

I was privileged to participate centrally in the consultation process through my membership of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. The committee received a great number of submissions and held an extensive series of hearings embracing a wide spectrum of opinion and expertise. I wish to pay tribute to the chairman of the committee, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and to its secretariat for the work they did.

In the context of today's debate it is worth noting the committee's terms of reference stated specifically that "Participation in the All-Party Committee would involve no obligation to support any recommendation which might be made even if made unanimously" and that "members of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee, either as individuals or as party representatives, would not be regarded as committed in any way to support such recommendations". These are important words as they contributed significantly to the good working relationship of the members of the committee and to producing balanced, compassionate and non-acrimonious debate. The Oireachtas itself might benefit from a similar model, because I am very disturbed by the politicisation of this enormously complex, sensitive and emotive issue and by the desire of some to seek refuge in obfuscation so they can avoid stating their position on the substantial question of abortion itself.

Having listened to the evidence given to the committee and having participated in the preparation of the report I reached several conclusions. Among these are that the issue is extremely complex; that the definition of abortion itself is contentious, even within the medical profession and could not be agreed; that the threat of suicide is not sufficient grounds for a termination; that there are exceptional circumstances where termination is necessary to protect the life of the mother for medical reasons; that the churches, both Christian and non-Christian, agree that abortion in the sense it is commonly meant is wrong, other than where there is a substantial medical risk to the life of the mother; that the medical profession requires legal certainty that procedures sanctioned under medical ethics could be used without legal prosecution; that the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 needs to be amended; and that those who advocate referring the question to the people by way of referendum, with a few exceptions, are reluctant or unable to provide a wording or that where such a wording is available, it contains so much detail and qualification as to be far too over elaborate and detailed for inclusion in a document as concise as the Constitution. The list is by no means complete. I could add to it issues such as rape, incest, the morning after pill, the IUD, pre-enclampsia and the terrible situation of the 100,000 Irish women who have been exported to England for abortions.

One strong message I took from the hearing was that of Dr. Harith Lamki, consultant obstetrician at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. Based on his evidence, there is a great deal to be learned from Northern Ireland where the situation is radically different from that in England. I recall from the evidence given by the doctor that there are only 30 terminations per year. Time does not allow a detailed description of Dr. Lamki's evidence but it can be found in the committee report.

I have noticed an increasing tendency to quote selectively from the expert evidence to the committee in support of one's own narrow point of view. This was apparent in the debate in the Select Committee on Health and Children. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution put forward three approaches in its report. In every case the committee advocated the adoption of a plan to support crisis pregnancies. The agency to deal with crisis pregnancies is being established and will receive funding of €6.5 million in 2002. Irrespective of the differences over how one should proceed on the issue of abortion, everybody in the committee agreed that such an agency should be established.

This brings me to the central question of how to deal with the substantive issue. My own preferred option and that of the Progressive Democrats would have been not to deal with the abortion issue by simple constitutional means. My own preference would have been to take a purely legislative approach. However, if one accepts, as I do now, that the threat of suicide is not grounds for an abortion – it is worth recalling that Dr. Anthony Clare explained that pregnant women have one twentieth the expected risk of suicide – then this leads inescapably to the need for a constitutional amendment to deal with the outcome of the X case. I therefore personally favour the third approach of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution which is "To support the plan to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies, to legislate to protect best medical practice while providing for a prohibition on abortion, and consequently to accommodate such legislation by referendum to amend the Constitution". This approach is made easier by the Medical Council's clarification in September of its ethical guidelines for medical practitioners.

What we have before us is fundamentally legislative with the addition that the people will be allowed give or withhold their consent to it directly. My only reservation is that in the future subsequent legislation must be referred back again to the people for their approval. While this approach may be the only realistic option in terms of constitutional matters relating to abortion, I would be very opposed to its use as a general precedent. The Oireachtas should make the law and let alternative Governments seek to change it if deemed necessary. However, this reservation does not take from my general support for the Bill. As my party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, said on publication of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill:

It contemplates where there is an unavoidable conflict between the right to life of two constitutionally protected individuals, the mother's right to life shall prevail. It protects the unborn human life in pregnancy while at the same time ensures that a pregnant woman will receive any necessary medical treatment to protect her life.

The Progressive Democrats is like all parties in that we contain a plurality of views. From its foundation the party has always upheld the right of its individual members to vote according to their conscience. In cases such as the Bill before us, where there are deeply held personal convictions and where immensely difficult and sensitive moral issues are involved, I do not believe any party should be subject to a Whip. Indeed this principle, one that was taken on board by the all-party committee in the terms of reference I alluded to earlier, would if applied universally lead to a much less acrimonious and polarised debate than is now developing within these Houses and beyond. It is unfortunate that there appears to be so little room in our media for the middle moderate ground, which I contend is represented by this Bill. Only conflict and polarisation are newsworthy and that in turn leads to the promotion of extreme views and language.

The two extremes in this debate are very well known. At one extreme 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, and most people in the Houses, reject both positions. Each end of the extremes pushes its case with an equal disregard for the validity of any alternative view. There is a frightening fundamentalism that treats democracy and consensus with equal contempt. It is this fracturing of consensus that I have seen develop with increasing force. It leads me to the conclusion that to proceed to a referendum at this stage would be unwise. We need to recover the middle ground, not divide the country.

The Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Mary Harney, stated in the Dáil during the debate on Second Stage, "It would be unwise to proceed finally to a referendum unless sufficient broad middle ground support for the proposition is apparent." That statement, which I support, could be made with even more force today and I ask the Minister and the Government to consider very carefully the way forward as I have great fears about the consequences of a referendum on the issue at this stage.

In 1983, I believed it was wrong to insert Article 40.3.3º into the Constitution and voted accordingly. This was represented by some of the extremists which I have already spoken about as being pro-abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope my position is clear as my conscience is clear. I shall vote in favour of this Bill.

I welcome the Minister. I have listened to Senator Dardis trying to make some case for the support by the Progressive Democrats for the Bill and saying that while he has reservations he supports it.

It reminds me of the tax amnesty back in 1993, to which I was opposed. I recall participating in an RTE "Prime Time" programme with Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who was not then a member of the Labour Party. When I expressed my reservations, Deputy Rabbitte responded that reservations are for Indians. If one has reservations on a matter, one should be prepared to stand up and be counted. There are so many reservations about this particular proposal, both in terms of the constitutional amendment and the legislation that is to be enacted to implement it, that it is very difficult for anybody to say, in a reasonable fashion, that the facts, evidence or information available are sufficient to justify another referendum on this issue. For the third time in almost two decades – 1983, 1992 and now 2002 – we are to have another divisive re-run of the issue. It seems we have to put this before the people every decade

The reality is that a very substantial number of Irish women go abroad every year for termination of pregnancy and we all know that. In the region of 6,500 to 7,000 go to Britain alone, apart from those who go to other jurisdictions on the Continent and to the United States. On those figures alone, over the last 12 to 14 years, the number of Irish women involved was of the order of 100,000. Are we to say that we knowingly accept that this happens and, in the Bill before us, acknowledge, aid and assist it but that we will draw the line at the possibility of its happening under any circumstances in this country?

I believe that, at the core of this constitutional amendment, there is hypocrisy – the old hypocrisy of the Irish solution to an Irish question. That old hypocrisy, which we have lived with, has brought so much abuse, as it were, in this country in so many walks of public life and pillars of society, because we have not been courageous enough to face up to the reality. I ask the Minister of State how, on the one hand, one can say that a person who in any way aids somebody, by the provision of information or any other method, to have an abortion in this country will receive a sentence of 12 years' imprisonment and, on the other hand, say that anybody who assists in providing information for anything that is lawfully available in another country will not be subject to any penalty? In other words, it is a crime, with a penalty of 12 years' imprisonment, to give information for an act to take place in this country whereas the same act performed in another jurisdiction is not subject to any penalty. Not only that – it is lawful. That is hypocrisy. It is the nod and wink, the Irish solution. We will not allow it to take place at home under any circumstances – there is one set of circumstances – but not only do we condone it taking place abroad, we recognise that it is happening all the time and we are facilitating it in this Bill. It is literally there in black and white.

As legislators, how can we possibly set down that contradictory set of principles on one page and say we will proceed with a very severe penalty – 12 years – if information is given in relation to the termination of pregnancy in this country and no penalty if the information is supplied in relation to travel or otherwise in relation to the termination of pregnancy in any other jurisdiction? How can we think of putting such proposals like that in our Constitution? That is insulting to Irish women. It is telling women who have gone abroad in those circumstances that we know they have gone abroad, we recognise that as a massive crime in this country but we turn a blind eye to its taking place in another country. Is that how we wish to go forward in this century? Is that not the order which was the norm in the last century? Is that the old de Valera concept of colleens dancing at the crossroads, everything hunky-dory, everything simple, no complications, women in the right place and men controlling the entire situation? Is that what we propose to do? I believe that is at the heart of this Bill. It is a last gasp effort for control by a male dominated society.

I am appalled that the Progressive Democrats – and particularly the women in that party – should subscribe to this terrible legislation. Irrespective of one's position on the termination of pregnancy, I find it a totally unacceptable proposition to say that one will condone it in another jurisdiction while writing it into the Constitution that it will not be condoned in this jurisdiction. I believe the people of Ireland see what is being done in this regard as something unnecessary, useless and ineffective in terms of the underlying problem. Not one woman fewer will go to Britain or elsewhere for an abortion because of this Bill. It will not have the slightest effect on the situation. We are returning to the old legalisms, the old Jesuitical approach to problems in the Irish context – that we will legislate to prevent it taking place in this country so that we can simply sweep the problem under the carpet and it is then no longer a problem for us.

This is a disgraceful Bill, a disgraceful proposal to dishonour our Constitution with such an amendment. It has already caused dissension in the ranks of those who are against the termination of pregnancy in any circumstances. The former judge, Mr. Rory O'Hanlon, is dissatisfied with it. Our illustrious MEP, Ms Rosemary Scallon, is against it. Youth Defence seems to be ganging up against it. The Catholic Church will, next week I believe, make its views known on the matter. It is undoubtedly divisive – and for what purpose? What will it achieve? Perhaps it fulfils a commitment made by the Taoiseach, back in 1997, with Senator Hanafin and a few others that the matter would be dealt with – and a commitment to a few Independents who are keeping him in power. That is not the proper way to run a country.

There are quite a number of specific issues which I intend to deal with on Committee Stage and I will not address them to any great extent today. In the one area where the current situation is being changed, where it allows for abortion if the mother's life is in danger but not in terms of suicide or self destruction, as it is put, I think that is a retrograde step. It is a legal decision rather than a medical one and it corresponds to the legalisms that underpin this legislation.

There is also the question of implantation in the womb as distinct from conception. I am sure the church will have a great deal to say on that matter next week. The fact that there is no reference in the legislation to any date by which an abortion, in the approved circumstances, can take place gives rise to further questions. If the legislation is enacted as it stands, it will lead to Ireland having probably the most open abortion regime in the world.

Under the legislation, a medical practitioner can be a conscientious objector and can refuse to carry out a proper legal medical procedure. Practitioners will, therefore, be able to act on a whim because no conditions – good, bad or indifferent – are being imposed. How can the Government include a provision which states that a medical practitioner can conscientiously object to carrying out a procedure designed to save a woman's life? Surely a medical practitioner cannot be a conscientious objector unless he or she has good reasons for doing so. It is not good enough that practitioners will be able to act on a whim because women's lives will be at stake.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, will be the worst ever amendment to the Constitution and the worst ever legislation to have been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is bad and dangerous legislation and the principles underlying it are totally wrong. We should not be considering the Bill. We should throw it out and state that what is being proposed cannot be achieved. It is laughable that we are going to make it a massive crime to commit a certain act in this jurisdiction while facilitating its performance in another jurisdiction where it is legal. I cannot accept that we are about to include this in the Constitution and make it the law of the land.

Senator Dardis, who is a good humanitarian and libertarian—

I did not personalise this matter in any way and I am surprised the Senator is doing so.

I cannot believe that the Progressive Democrats are prepared to subscribe to something of this nature.

I did not politicise this matter and my case in that regard rests.

Senator Costello, without interruption.

I will withdraw those remarks because I have no wish to personalise the matter. I just got carried away.

I look forward to discussing these matters on Committee Stage. I hope that a guillotine will not be imposed and that we will have the opportunity to tease the issues out carefully and put forward our views.

I was pleased to see my friend, Senator Hanafin, in the House this morning. I admire the assiduity and conscience with which he has pursued this issue over the years. I was moved by the contribution of Senator Keogh and deeply informed by that of Senator Henry. I am grateful to them for that. Like Senator Dardis, I hope I can avoid politicising this issue in any way.

I welcome the efforts the Government has made in introducing this legislation to take the heat out of the situation and ensure that the discussion on this issue is as dispassionate as possible. I pay tribute to the work done by the committee chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan which made a massive contribution to our understanding of this matter and to the atmosphere in which it is being debated. I welcome the establishment of the crisis pregnancy agency and I wish Ms Braiden well in chairing it. I hope the board will be able to extend its activities to promoting health education in our schools.

I will begin by stating that I am against abortion, but that is easy for me to say because abortion is not going to affect me. There is something extremely patronising about a Legislature that is hugely dominated by men lecturing women on these extremely intimate, difficult and complex problems. I extend my comments in this regard to the male half of the population in respect of their attempts to deal with these issues, from their point of view, which they find very difficult to understand.

I have some experience of the workings in Northern Ireland where the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, still applies. I must consider Dr. Lamki's evidence at some point and I may comment on it at a later stage. It is interesting that a case is being brought before the courts in Northern Ireland by a group of people seeking a judicial review against the Department of Health there requiring it to either publicise or issue copies of the guidelines it distributes to members of the medical profession. I am sure the Minister of State would be glad to be relieved of that burden in any particular case.

I do not believe this is a suitable subject for a referendum. We should have had the courage to legislate, as we were asked to do on several occasions, and be finished with the matter. I do not believe it is a suitable subject for a referendum because it is extremely complex and very difficult to express in the form of a single question. Even though the Government has made a reasonable effort to indicate the shape the legislation might take, it might have been less confusing if that had been done by way of explanatory memorandum rather than by inclusion as a Schedule to the Bill. These are extremely difficult issues to reduce to a single question to be put to the people in a referendum. One only has to consider the form that question will take, with the officialese and gobbledegook with which the Referendum Commission will surround it, to see how difficult it will be to deal with. I am against its being dealt with in this way for that reason.

I am a minimalist when it comes to constitutions. I do not believe constitutions should try to prescribe for every possible future event. People might decry that as a relativistic approach to morality. However, Senator Manning may recall a remark by Kevin O'Higgins on the proposal to introduce censorship to the effect that it was a mistake to enshrine forever the moral values of certain people in a certain place at a certain time.

These are extremely difficult matters with which to deal. The 1967 Act brought in by David Steel in England went too far. I am totally opposed to abortions for social or economic reasons. Like other Members, I am concerned about the lack of a limit in the proposed Act. The British limit currently stands at 24 weeks and there was an attempt a number of years ago to increase it to 28 weeks. When one considers the advances that have been made in paediatric medicine and the extent to which even very young children can be rescued, that is obviously going too far. The selection of implantation as a starting point poses a further difficulty. One can see why this is being done because the morning after pill and the IUD would have to be outlawed, a move which would not fit with the current social reality.

I am concerned about the exclusion of suicide as a ground for abortion. What we are saying is that we will trust doctors to make decisions on this issue, but we do not trust psychiatrists to do so. Are psychiatrists not also doctors? Do they not have professional and ethical standards? What we have been told about suicide is that one never knows until someone does it. That is almost like the medieval test for witchcraft which involved throwing suspects into the water and if they sank they were innocent. Hedge it how we might, we cannot exclude the possibility that there are cases in which somebody, in a series of circumstances, might be driven to suicide. We can never totally exclude it.

I have some difficulty too with the term "designated hospital". The Minister might look at the direction practice is taking. My hunch is that obstetrics will become more and more centralised and there will be fewer large maternity hospitals because of the desire to provide anaesthetic and paediatric services and so on. There is also the very real problem, which Senator Henry referred to, that some women may not be able get to them.

My final point relates to the question of travel to England. We are told that 6,500 women travel to England each year. The number from Northern Ireland is probably between 2,000 and 2,500. That is not the total. Those figures encompass only the people who give addresses in Ireland. There is no information about the people who give accommodation addresses in England. My concern is that we appear to be exporting our problem somewhere else. I have some pangs of conscience about this because at the time when this clause was being put into the Constitution I was in Northern Ireland in a position where I might have raised this matter and did not. I regret my silence on the matter. It is strange that we simply say we see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, but we push people out and let them travel. It is a deeply discriminatory clause because the people who will go are those who know their way about or have money, and the people who are innocent, in the classic sense, and do not have connections or money are the ones who will suffer.

Having said that, I applaud any effort that is made, any procedures and programmes that are put in place to obviate the need for abortion, to help people to deal with unplanned pregnancies and avoid unwanted pregnancies. We do not in any sense want to cheapen human life, or lessen respect for life, but I do not think we respect life more by enshrining it in the Constitution in this way and boiling down extremely complex and very touching, moving and intimate circumstances for individuals to the sorts of simplistic verities that are thrown around in the tabloid press and in political argument.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is a very good debate, one of the better debates to which I have listened. In particular, the speech of Senator Maurice Hayes will not be bettered in either House. It was an extraordinarily honest, humane and wise speech. I hope it will be widely read and listened to.

Senator Dardis and I were on the same side of this issue in 1983. We are on different sides now. Senator Dardis's speech was one which I also found to be an extremely honest one. People have very different views as to what is the best way forward at this stage. He made his case very honestly, although I disagree with him.

I am sorry – and I am especially sorry to have to say it in the presence of the Minister of State – that I took exception to the remarks of Senator Hanafin. I have great respect, regard and affection for Senator Hanafin, but I thought he was patronising and offensive to my party in his opening remarks where he referred to the traditions of Fine Gael and said that he expected the decent people of Fine Gael would not listen to their leaders but would follow what he saw as the tradition. The people in Fine Gael do not have to be lectured to. We may be divided. There are different opinions. However, it is not a question of decent people or good people. We are all decent people. We are all good people. I say the same of the supporters of other parties. I thought this was unworthy of somebody for whom I have such respect.

I come to this debate today as a veteran of the earlier campaigns. I came into this House in 1981. The abortion issue was not on the agenda at that stage. Nobody was talking about it. There was no pressure group. There was no case to change the laws. Two years later, it was the biggest and most divisive issue in the country. It became so not because there was any threat to bring in legalised abortion, as Senator Dardis well knows. It came in because of a fundamental distrust of politicians and of the courts by people who had no reason, because in the previous 60 years of Irish independence these Houses had never been out of step with the wishes of the majority of the people, nor was there a threat from the courts. Despite that, there was a collective loss of trust in us and from that point on the situation has gone from bad to worse. We are as far away from a resolution of the problem today as we were 20 years ago.

I was the Fine Gael candidate in the subsequent election and I was the first member of my party to break ranks on the issue. I went on a radio programme with Gerald Barry and said I thought the referendum would not be helpful, that it would leave more problems than it resolved. I was accused of having been put up to it by Dr. Garret FitzGerald. I was not. That was my view, and my view has never changed on that question. I believed at the time, as did many others, that the words would not resolved the problems, that they would be open to challenge, that there was too much doubt about the meaning of the words. I was also conscious of much political play-acting at the time. I felt then that we would end up with serious problems. I feel the same way about the present Bill. There is so much doubt, so much possibility of subsequent challenge that I feel, like Senator Dardis but for different reasons, that it would not be wise to go to the country on this Bill. I will return to that in a moment.

I also learnt one very important thing from the debates and battles of the early 1980s and that is not to question the motives of those who disagree with one. In those days we did. We saw conspiracy theories on both sides. The language used was intemperate. At times it was vile. Appalling things were said about people. People had their character taken on all sides. It was an appalling time in Irish politics. The one thing I have learnt from that is that on an issue as difficult as this, an issue which so affects the consciences of people, we have to give each other the space and the benefit of believing that they do what they do out of conviction and for the best possible reasons.

Senator Dardis spoke well about the absolutists, about the fundamentalists, about the people on each side who do not leave space for what I believe are the vast majority of people in the centre. He is right in that. Like Senator Hayes, I am a minimalist in these matters. There is only one question here and that is what is in the best interests of women who feel they are faced with an appalling choice. Senator Hayes is right when he talks about the arrogance of a male-dominated middle-aged assembly telling young women what they can or cannot do with their lives. Contrary to what anybody may say, within the Fine Gael parliamentary party there are different opinions on this issue but there is no division. There is no way in which the party will split because we have all learnt the lesson, we have all grown up and matured. Some Members are on the committee about which Senator Dardis spoke.

I was very struck by the remarks of one Member, a man who had been very vocal on the pro-amendment side at an earlier time. We waited for him to speak and when he finally spoke he said that he was sick and tired of old men making decisions for young women. That may be simplistic, but there is truth in it, and I will return to that again in a moment.

As I said a moment ago, I believe, and I will put forward my reasons on Committee Stage, that this proposal is flawed. I would have been very supportive of the view of Senator Dardis that this is a matter for legislation, not for constitutional amendment. I could even have gone along with legislation underpinned by the Constitution. However, the more I have looked at this debate, and I come to it with an open mind, and the more I have listened to the arguments, the more I am filled with doubt as to the standing of the legislation at a future time. When in doubt, leave it out. Senator Dardis will remember when that phrase was used in another context. When in doubt, one should at least wait because there is no rush on this issue. Even if this amendment goes through, the situation will hardly change, as Senator Costello and Senator Hayes said.

I come to this issue with humility. I have listened consistently but I have listened only to women. I listen to my wife and to my colleagues in the Fine Gael parliamentary party. Two of the most passionate and eloquent speeches today were given by Senator Jackman and Senator Keogh. They are sensible and hard people, in the sense that one does not get elected unless one is tough. They are used to mixing it and to giving as good as they get. However, in each case they brought a dimension to this debate of which most men are not capable. To a woman they oppose this proposal.

They have outlined to the parliamentary party the many reasons that make them believe this proposal will not work and why we should go back to the drawing board and leave the situation as it is. Both Senators made a passionate case about the technical and other reasons for this, which we will explore in detail on Committee Stage. I have listened to opinion and nothing I have heard has persuaded me but that what the sisterhood within my party, if they are not offended when I call them that, have said at our meetings both privately and elsewhere is correct. I am happy to be guided by what they say.

What do people want on this issue? I believe that most people, perhaps in an Irish way, are almost happy to leave things as they are. We have been through the passion, hysteria and hatred of the debates in the 1980s. People were frightened; they had all types of vistas opened to them. The constitutional ban was inserted and nothing really changed. People still had to make their decisions and face up to them. The fact that the ban was in the Constitution probably did not stop a single person taking the lonely train and boat or plane to do what they intended to do. We did not distinguish ourselves as parliamentarians by putting in place the support services we had promised at the time. Even if they were there, however, in many cases people would still go ahead.

The ban was in place and then the X case occurred. The X case was great for the legal textbooks and caused great uncertainty but it did not change the material plight of those who had to make the decisions. We had the referendums in 1992 on the right to travel, the right to information and the substantive issue, the results of which were yes, yes and no. Again, nothing much changed.

People today do not want to hear any more about this. We are not getting the same amount of letters or telephone calls as we did in the past. The public is turned off on this issue for the very good reason that, without saying it, people have now come to the view that this is a matter of individual conscience, that people should be left to themselves to do whatever they have to do. We can provide the support services and give them information but people are making up their own minds. They do not want to be filled with guilt or preached at; they do not want to be made feel remorseful or to have other people know their business. They just want to get on with it. It may well be, as Senator Hayes said, almost a minimalist position, where there is a problem to which we have no answer apart from a fundamentalist one which is untenable. That is the reason we are not undergoing the same pressure we experienced in the past. Senator Dardis will remember the level of letters, telephone calls and the enormous pressure of the 1980s.

What will happen when this proposal goes to the country? I was interested to hear the contribution from Senator Dardis. I am not personalising the debate but I am a little baffled by the logic of his position. He supports a proposal to have a referendum but then says do not have the referendum. That does not make sense. It is a little like St. Augustine's phrase, "Dear Lord, make me pure, but not yet." I do not know what shape the purity will take in all this—

I will explain the consistency of the position on Committee Stage.

Thank you. However, I even find it difficult to outline that position. There is a logic to this – if one does not want it, one votes against it and if one wants it, one votes for it. I do not think one can vote for it and then say "but not yet". It might have worked for St. Augustine but I am not sure that it will work for the Senator and his party.

Beneath the Senator's remarks is a profound realisation that if this proposal goes to the country, it will be defeated. I have no doubt of that. I have not spoken to any single woman, although I might be speaking to the wrong ones, who has told me they are voting "Yes".

I hope the Senator spoke to married women as well.

I am catholic. There will be a referendum campaign on this matter and we saw what happened with the Nice treaty referendum when the major politicians went absent without leave and did not lead. It will be even more pronounced on this proposal.

Senator Dardis's party will have been responsible for holding that referendum but will it campaign for a "Yes" vote? Will the Government party campaign for a "Yes" vote? Will the Opposition parties campaign for a "No" vote? Perhaps some will but the one thing we have learnt about referendums over the years is that unless there is broad consensus the referendum will not pass. Even when there is broad consensus, as there was on the Nice treaty, unless the effort is made the referendum will not pass.

I am a betting man in a modest way. I will put a wager with Senator Dardis that if this proposal goes to a referendum, it will be soundly defeated. That is only one reason for stopping this process here and now. We should admit that this has been a wasted exercise and get back to issues about which people are really concerned.

Respect for the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death is an essential and non-negotiable cornerstone of civilisation. No amount of special pleading by well-intentioned, clever or even altruistic people can alter this simple fact. Although the right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, liberal atheism seems to be leaning even closer to the attitudes of Nazi Germany as the ruling élites seem prepared to accept the appalling proposition that, in certain circumstances, one human being has the right to kill another human being or, more properly, one "superior" human being has the so called right to kill another "inferior" or "unwanted" human being.

I wish to cite Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who used to be 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, except Christmas Day. He performed another 15,000 in his private practice. He now deplores this record and puts the case against abortion. He says:

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, NARAL, in the U.S. in 1968.

He goes on to say that the first key tactic was to capture the media and to give them false statistics. The second key tactic was to play the Catholic card. They systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its socially backward ideas. The third key tactic was the denigration and suppression of all scientific evidence that life begins at conception. Flying in the face of all reason, the Supreme Court of the United States reached an untenable conclusion that a human being does not exist until she is born. The present US law is so irrational and so totally repugnant to all concepts of objective truth that the concept of abortion, like that of slavery, must eventually be outlawed and consigned to the dustbin of barbaric customs.

It is clear that the basic philosophical clash in Ireland, as in the US and other countries, is between those who claim that it is a woman's right to choose to kill her unborn child and those who say that there can never be a right to kill an innocent human being, born or unborn. Those who believe it is right to kill an innocent unborn child have made great strides in influencing public opinion. They started their campaign by saying that the unborn could – then should, then must – be screened. Those who appear to be sub-standard could – then should, then must – be aborted. This phase is well established in many countries. It is phase one of our descent into ungodly barbarism. In the next phase, unsuitable or sub-standard parents could – then should, then must – be sterilised to achieve the International Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger's dream of birth control to produce a race of thoroughbreds.

This phase is only starting but already the European Parliament, including three Irish MEPs, has accepted the sterilisation of certain mental patients. On 28 November 2001, a French appeal court decided that children suffering from Down's syndrome have a legal right never to have been born. Obviously, the judges believe that it is better to be dead than handicapped. If Members do not believe these examples, I will take them to the establishment where I have worked for nearly 30 years with the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God. I will show these children to them. I will show Members the parents who love them and I will show them the innocence, happiness and the light in the faces of these children. I defy Members to say that they should have been aborted.

The next phase moves on to euthanasia and so-called "mercy killing". It must – then should, then could – become voluntary. Later, who knows? The Belgian and Dutch parliaments have legalised it, as did the Australians for a while. We should remember that before turning on the gypsies and Jews, Hitler had already killed 300,000 so-called "sub-standard" Germans, describing these handicapped people asnutzlose Brotfresser or useless bread gobblers. A key European banker who was an adviser to President Mitterrand proclaimed the economic necessity of compulsory euthanasia as soon as people are no longer of use to society.

Those subscribing to the pro-choice ethos subscribe to an ethos that explicitly accepts a pragmatic right to solve social problems by killing unwanted or troublesome human beings, whether handicapped, senile or unborn. That is why those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life must fight the pro-abortionists with every fibre of our being. In 1982, the then Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, said, "No Government of which I am a member will ever vote to legalise abortion." I know him to be a sincere and honest man and I hope that he still feels the same way. I am not sure where his party stands at the moment, or any of the Opposition parties opposed to this legislation. I am not saying that they are not sincere in their convictions but they need to think again about this matter.

I want particularly to compliment the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, for having the courage to fulfil the promise he made when elected to have a referendum on abortion.

Some promise.

With this Bill and referendum, we now have the opportunity to make Ireland one of the safest places in the world to be pregnant or to be conceived. Dr. Nathanson says:

As a scientist I know, not believe,know that human life begins at conception. Although I am not a formal religionist, I believe with all my heart that there is a divinity of existence which commands us to declare a final and irreversible halt to this infinitely sad and shameful crime against humanity.

As a practising Roman Catholic, it might be asked how I can vote for this Bill if it does not accept that life begins at the moment of conception. I will quote a passage given to me by Senator Des Hanafin which is fromEvangelium Vitae by Pope John Paul II written in 1995:

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it."

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorised abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organisations, in other nations – particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation – there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit co-operation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. That is what this law does.

TheIrish Catholic editorial of Thursday, 29 November of this year states:

In the Dáil last week John Bruton challenged those who reject the Government proposal on abortion to come up with a workable alternative of their own. . . . . His challenge to those in his own party to come up with a workable alternative to what is on offer might as easily be put to those pro-lifers who also reject the Bill. What can they offer that is (1) morally acceptable; (2) legally viable; (3) can be sold to the legislature; and (4) will be acceptable to the electorate? The current Bill fulfils conditions one and two – despite protestations to the contrary, seems set to fulfil condition three, and has a good chance of being acceptable to the electorate. Nothing else that has been suggested by anyone comes even remotely close to fulfilling those four criteria. What is being offered by liberal critics of the Bill is certainly unacceptable from a moral point of view and what is being offered by conservative critics is either unworkable, or simply incoherent. It is time for a little common sense.

I agree with the editorial that it is time for common sense.

Bills and philosophical arguments are easily made. When one is confronted with a woman who has been raped by some crazed psychopath, or is about to be delivered of a very deformed or handicapped child, it is not that easy to have philosophical concepts in one's mind. There needs to be compassion. Nevertheless, there are always two lives involved – the unborn and the mother. Unless the mother's life is terribly endangered, then the unborn has a right to be born. It is for this reason that I support this legislation and I hope that others will do likewise.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Hanafin, to the House. I join with others in congratulating Deputy Brian Lenihan and his all-party Oireachtas committee on the way they have tackled this subject. I also congratulate the Government for facing up to this matter and their efforts to find a solution.

I have been impressed by the debate today and the House is worthy of respect because of the standard of this debate. Senator Henry spoke earlier from her great medical experience and I was very impressed by the contribution of Senator Maurice Hayes. Senator Manning referred to Senator Hayes's humility when he spoke.

I have difficulty with the argument, which I have heard on several occasions, that this is not a subject that men should get actively involved in as it does not actively involve them. I do not accept that argument. The voice of the unborn will not have been heard if only women speak.

I have decided to vote against this Bill for four main reasons. I do not like the shape of the solution that is proposed to deal with what is a very complex problem. To entrench law into our Constitution destroys a distinction that is fundamental to our system, that between a framework for law-making and the laws that are made within that framework. To mix up the two in the way proposed here is highly dangerous. My objection is not so much that the solution is messy or inelegant, although it is certainly both, but that it risks leaving us in a situation that would be virtually impossible to undo if, at some future stage, we find things do not work out the way we expect. Our sad history with this problem in the past is that over a period of time unexpected problems have arisen and what at one time seemed a perfect way out no longer seems perfect when that occurs. By taking this route of entrenching a complicated law into the body of our Constitution, we risk driving down a cul-de-sac while at the same time we are tearing up the road behind us.

Any solution to this problem will be messy no matter what it is but we do not have to mess up our Constitution at the same time. Any way forward will be messy because of the way public opinion on this issue is structured. At one end of the spectrum, as has been said here today, are people who are absolutely against abortion in any shape or form, while at the other end are people who accept the principle of abortion and start from that point. These two viewpoints added together account for only a small proportion of the people as a whole. In between these two extremes is the majority of citizens. These people are against abortion but feel there are rare cases in which it should be permitted.

One of the things that makes any solution messy is that there are wide differences among people who feel this way about what are the exceptions that should be allowed. Let me give an example. Some people feel only medical exceptions should be allowed – in other words, where a choice must be made between the life of the unborn child and that of the mother. There is another group which feels abortion should be allowed where conception has come about as a result of rape or incest. Senator Lydon has just spoken about the emotions which arise when that occurs. Others feel abortion should be allowed when there is a danger of the mother committing suicide, and that has arisen in recent times.

The present effort at a solution by consensus was not an attempt to find common ground between the people at either end of this spectrum of public opinion because that, by definition, is impossible. The two groups on either side are acting on principle. There can be no common ground between those who oppose abortion on principle and those who approve of abortion on principle. The search for consensus was aimed at this middle ground. The task was to find a solution that would unite a majority of the people who are against abortion but who want to allow for some exceptions. If there could be agreement on what exceptions to allow for, then consensus would be possible on that basis but, unfortunately, it has now become clear that the proposed solution is unlikely to create such a consensus.

What is more, the discussion we have had so far underlines one thing – it was confirmed, I think, by today's discussions and by the deeply felt debate taking place here – that this approach is very unlikely to be the last word on the matter. Far from putting the question to bed once and for all, the divisions created by this solution will prolong the issue. Whatever the outcome of a referendum, it seems likely that the problem will continue to fester. As such, I do not believe it should be approached by way of constitutional amendment – at least not at this stage.

Another item worth reading, which arrived on my desk this morning, is the sixth progress report dealing with the question of referendums by that same all-party Oireachtas committee. This should not be approached by way of an amendment which will lock us into a situation and, having done so, will throw away the key – a key that we may well need in the future and may need sooner than we think because it has happened in the past. That is the first and most fundamental reason I oppose the Bill – that is, the method of putting it into the Constitution is difficult.

My three other reasons are of a much more practical nature and some of them have been touched on already. The second reason I am against this referendum is the possibility it will fail. It is clear from the way the two sides are lining up that winning this referendum is by no means certain. We have seen before how opinion on a referendum issue can shift from one side to the other quite quickly and fairly unpredictably. When we think back to how divisive previous referendums on this subject have been, it is hard not to agree with the Tánaiste, whom Senator Dardis quoted today. She said she would not be in favour of going ahead with a referendum unless there was a clear consensus in favour of a "Yes" vote. I doubt if that consensus is there.

Failure in this referendum would be a bad thing in that the country would be embittered and divided at the end of it. Such a failure – this is my third reason for voting against the Bill – could surely have a knock-on effect. I understand the Government intends to hold a second referendum on the Nice treaty, although I believe it might be unwise to take that particular route. If it holds a second referendum on Nice, the risk of a second "No" vote will increase if, in the meantime, this referendum fails. When people get into a "No" frame of mind, they tend to stick with it. The Government would be very unwise to treat these two referendums as totally separate. When people begin to vote "No" and, to a certain extent, win against the establishment, they tend to do so again. In the public mind, which is where it counts, the two are connected at least to the extent that a "No" vote on one occasion makes a "No" vote much more likely on the second occasion.

The fourth reason I am against the Bill is that I am against holding a referendum on any subject until we rethink our attitude to holding referendums and, in particular, how we campaign for referendums. For many years I have made the point in this House that the Referendum Commission approach was fatally flawed. The outcome of the Nice referendum showed the truth of what many of us had been saying for some time. Some people are now saying we should try to roll back the McKenna judgment either in the courts or by way of a constitutional amendment. I am not sure that is the best way to go forward. I am not sure the McKenna judgment was wrong but I am sure the way we chose to respond to it – by setting up a Referendum Commission with an almost impossible task – was certainly wrong. That approach is not only totally ineffective as a way of informing the public, it may even be systematically biased in favour of what I call "madcap views". We had an example of that in the past.

What we should be discussing today is not the referendum Bill before us but a way of putting questions to the people in a way that is fair, democratic and ensures that the majority will become engaged in the fundamental act of choice – in other words, that people will become involved in deciding whether to vote "Yes" or "No". That did not happen in the Nice referendum. Senator Manning, who spoke earlier, asked if we were sure the Government parties would go out and campaign for a "Yes" vote and that all the non-Government parties would go out and campaign for a "No" vote.

On the question of how we handle referendums and whether we are in a position to hold referendums that work as intended and as we hope, particularly after the McKenna judgment, I am not sure we are capable of doing that. The challenge of facing up to how we handle referendums in the future is a far more urgent task than passing the Bill we are discussing.

I, too, welcome the Minister of State. I have had the opportunity to listen to the debate and I accept what previous speakers have said. There has been a very genuine effort to speak in a less emotional way and to try to contribute to what is a very important subject. The Seanad can play a very central role in ensuring that emotions will be kept in check throughout this campaign and that people will be given all the information that can possibly be given, without any element of confusion. We can act as true legislators and leaders in providing that information and guidance.

We have had referenda on lesser issues than that of human life. We have had referenda that could possibly be described as divisive. By divisive, I presume we mean that more than one opinion is being expressed and that people feel strongly enough about those opinions to express them. On many occasions, I have seen people in the Houses of the Oireachtas becoming quite emotional and divisive over issues. If their good names were brought into question, it became a divisive issue of major national significance.

The exercise of democracy should not sideline the possibility that one may have to disagree to arrive at a consensus. I always understood that to be the basis of democracy. I also understood that the lifeblood of democracy was our regard for human life and that it dictated all our activities as legislators and helped us to enact legislation that respected all the children of the nation equally, even those who may seem less equal than others. No distinction was ever made in the concept of the sacredness of human life. It behoves us all, in ensuring that we have a balanced debate, that we state quite clearly whether we are saying that one human life is less sacred than another. If that be one's view, let us debate it.

There is no doubt that our aspirations and values have changed immensely since the foundation of the State. The founders of the State would not have visualised that this debate could ever have taken place in the Houses of Parliament. So be it – life has changed. We must be prepared to confront the changes in whatever way we think right.

I believe that the people who have contributed to this debate today are all pro-life, although they may be basing their arguments on a different premise. In being pro-life, we sometimes have to decide that we are balancing one life against another. That is a terrible human responsibility for any individual. Therefore, we try to act as the servants of the people. The people have spoken on many occasions on the issue of unborn life. I do not think anybody has ever said the people did not state quite clearly that they were opposed to the unlawful or "lawful" termination of human life. I think they have made their position clear in the referenda, irrespective of what might have happened subsequently in the interpretation of the outcome of those referenda. Also, the vast majority of the people have stated clearly in many polls that have been taken in recent times that they want a referendum on this issue.

If we are the servants of the people, are we going to deny them the opportunity to mould their own lives in the way they believe is best for them and their children and, in a magnanimous way, for future generations as well? It is very difficult to find fault with the people if that is their will. They would question us – as legislators – if we suggested in some way, as was suggested in some of the presentations in the House today, that they may lack the intelligence or understanding to make a proper decision. They would not be happy with us as their representatives. Given that I have listened to the debate very closely, I know the record will show quite clearly that this point was coming across.

If there is a danger that the people will not receive all the necessary information or that the matter will not be debated in a manner that will help them make up their minds, then we must look into our hearts and ask if we are making the argument on the basis on which we say we are making it, or if we are thinking one thing and, in some way, presenting a case that provides another answer. That is why we should speak clearly and frankly without any recriminations whatsoever because we have been given an august responsibility in this matter. Each of us will speak for his own conscience in that regard.

The suggestion that this is a rushed exercise does not stand up to any kind of examination. We have had the widest, most transparent consultative process on this matter that one could possibly have. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution made sure that every citizen and group was aware of what was happening and that they would have an opportunity to present their cases. I applaud that committee, its chairman and its members from all political parties because they have set the tone for all of us. We should continue to reflect that tone. The committee's findings are published and available.

I compliment the Taoiseach on deciding to go ahead with this measure. There are some who have attributed some type of peripheral motivation to what he has been doing. He genuinely believed that, as leader of this country, he was responding to the wishes of the people that they be given the opportunity to make a decision so we might be able to establish a consensus.

The Green Paper was published and we all had the opportunity to examine and discuss it. The issues that arose in previous debates, divisive though they may have been, also alerted legislators to the fact that there may have been some issues which were not brought into the debate on the substantive issue, particularly the question of the life of the mother. As one might have expected in the heat of the argument, there was a good deal of scare-mongering. It did no justice to any party in this debate, particularly the most vulnerable. I speak of both the mother and the unborn child. The debate helped to focus us quite clearly.

For some strange reason, Deputy John Bruton's comment in the Dáil has been largely ignored. I believe that he, like the rest of us in both Houses of the Oireachtas, is endeavouring to offer what he believes is a genuine, generous and just opinion. He asks what the alternative is. Many people have told us about the drawbacks and shortcomings of this Bill. Considerable time was allowed for debate, which led to increased insight, but nobody has offered an alternative.

What I hear coming across clearly is that the inadequacy of thestatus quo, as presented by the Supreme Court interpretation of what the people decided, should in some way remain ad infinitum. That cannot be acceptable to any legislator. It does not matter what difficulties we might encounter or if at times we might have to hurt someone's feelings. Is there a day that goes by when one's feelings are not hurt because when one puts forward one's viewpoint, somebody else's viewpoint does not coincide with it? We had the time, opportunity and counsel to put forward an alternative but that was not done. I have heard legislators demanding that alternative or some action, but, because of seeming inaction, the Government was criticised. It has now taken action, but it has done so in a way that respects the will of the people and the rights of all legislators. It goes down the road of extensive transparent consultation, taking the best medical advice on board as well as reservations and human stories. That is all taken on board to provide a framework for us, which is a good one.

Reference has been made to the male-female division. This is sad and I am glad Senator Quinn referred to it. I was genuinely hurt when that suggestion was made because if one accepts that is legitimate, one should bear in mind that it can apply to every other aspect of our legislation. It need not be just a male-female division but a victim-perpetrator division. If one takes that route, there is no doubt we will have created immeasurable difficulty for ourselves in the future. It is vital we bring this point into the open. Women obviously have a central role in this matter, which is fully and generously recognised, but Senator Quinn put it well when he said that to suggest we cannot speak for those who cannot speak, the unborn, is an idea that does not only chip away at the foundation of our society and our acceptance of the sacredness of human life, but fragments that society down the middle.

We must also ask ourselves if we are making an argument or putting forward a viewpoint with one eye on the electorate in terms of voting power. I hope that is not true of any of us. It would be a sad day if there were a sacrificial conclusion to this debate or if we considered sacrificing the rights of the unborn because we believed there was a constituency of voters from which we might benefit.

No doubt we will speak about this Bill again and get the chance to expand on our views. I support the Bill because I go further than most in extending my views to capital punishment. I do not believe any human being has the right to deliberately take the life of another human being – unborn, deprived or whatever the case may be. Once one agrees to change that concept in some way, no matter how small or how pressing the issue, the floodgates are opened. We have seen it with euthanasia and people who are not regarded as valuable in society. We have seen it under many headings even if we believed 20 years ago that such debates would never take place.

I compliment Senator Hanafin, who left his hospital bed to come to the House for this debate. I listened to his contribution and I did not think he was being patronising. He reflected the tone of the committee on the Constitution and endeavoured, like all of us, to put forward his views so that we can be at rest with our consciences while, at the same time, being aware of the rights of every individual. The Seanad has taken the right road in setting that tone and the electorate will thank us for the responsible manner in which every contributor has helped to move the debate forward.

This Bill is a cynical exercise on the part of the Government and particularly on the part of the Attorney General. It is, in effect, two separate Bills that should be dealt with separately. The Attorney General, in his legal wisdom, has chosen to engage in this despicable, cynical exercise in order to get around what he and the Government deem a political problem.

The current law is clear and it is enshrined in our Constitution in Article 40.3.3º, which states:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, and guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state. 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 history of that subsection and how it became part of our Constitution can be traced in political debates in these Houses over the last 20 years. Abortion in Ireland is a criminal offence under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and in 1983 we had a referendum which gave the unborn an equal right to life as a pregnant woman. We know what the law is because the 1983 result was contested in the X case, as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992. That defined the constitutional amendment of 1983 when a decision was made in the sad case of the suicidal 14 year old girl who was pregnant as a result of rape.

The Bill attempts to go backwards and to restrict something that was already decided over a decade ago by the people. It is a regressive and unfortunate step. It is unfortunate the Government feels that a woman who is physically ill has superior rights to a woman who is psychiatrically ill. What is being suggested is that one woman has stronger rights than another woman and this is very dangerous, irresponsible and unfortunate. When the people are requested to address this fundamental issue, they will recognise the seriousness of the matter and vote accordingly.

We have a responsibility as legislators to highlight the difficulties that arise. It is our responsibility to vote for the overall good, but also to vote in a way that is workable. The legislation that passes through this House should be operable. It is clear that this Bill, in its current form, will be impracticable and possibly unconstitutional. If the Bill is signed into law, no sooner will the ink have dried than its constitutionality will be challenged on a number of fronts. The Government is leaving itself open to a series of legal challenges in the next few years if this measure is passed, but I do not believe that will happen.

The Taoiseach said, in a Dáil reply, said that the Second Schedule to this Bill is not a constitutional amendment and does not have legal effect. If it is not a constitutional amendment, what is being proposed here is very serious. This Bill will be addressed in this House, including on Committee Stage, but it will not take effect until the First Schedule is passed under the constitutional amendment. Only then will it become law. The Attorney General is leaving the State wide open to challenge with this unprecedented legislative mechanism whereby neither the Legislature nor the people will be able to amend the Bill in the future.

As far as I am concerned, the only way in which the Oireachtas is precluded from considering or amending a Bill is under Article 20 of the Constitution which states that "Every Bill initiated in and passed by Dáil Éireann shall be sent to Seanad Éireann and may, unless it be a Money Bill, be amended in Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann shall consider any such amendment". The Government is attempting to supersede the Constitution by putting things into reverse. The proposed mechanism is contrary, in my view, to the operation of the Oireachtas under Article 20 of the Constitution and can be challenged on that basis.

The Second Schedule of this Bill, headed "An Act to protect human life in pregnancy, to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and to provide for related matters", will not go through the legislative process on a stand-alone basis. It can only be considered as it is currently and subsequently it will only be considered in that fashion. The Government is hypocritical, however, as it will have 180 days to introduce the legislation into the House. If the provisions of the Second Schedule have not been enacted within 180 days of the referendum, they will not become law. It is a cynical and insincere exercise, catering to a certain group of people who have pressurised the Government which believes it may increase its share of the vote by a percentage point or two as a result of this measure.

While I believe the Government is motivated by political concerns, I think Senator Ó Murchú was sincere when he said he thinks all Senators are pro-life, but we are merely coming from different premises. I respect the fact that he put that on the record but I also believe the Government has presented the Bill in a cynical manner, which is most unfortunate. This measure can be questioned under Article 26 of the Constitution which is very clear regarding the powers of the President. Similarly, the Bill may be challenged under Article 24.3 of the Constitution. It is unfortunate that the Government has chosen this method, as there are inconsistencies throughout the Bill.

The Taoiseach's comments on this issue of life and death have been quite interesting as it is obvious that he speaks from a male perspective. On 2 October he spoke of the "Government's package of proposals" rather then stressing the fact that we need to try to balance rights. He engaged in the normal political clap-trap:

The risk of suicide will no longer be a ground for legal abortion in the State. I know that this is a difficult issue for many people but I must point out that the suicide risk has only been advanced as a ground for abortion in cases where the State, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, was attempting to restrict the freedom of a woman to travel. The terms of the new law will protect that freedom and will not compromise it in any way. The Government believes that the evidence, analysis and conclusions in the Report of the All-Party Committee do not support the maintenance of suicide risk as a ground for abortion in Ireland and would not justify the enactment of a legal basis for abortion to avoid such a risk.

What is the point of establishing an all-party committee to reach a specific conclusion if the Government decides to take a different approach? Members of Fianna Fáil came to a conclusion which is not reflected in the Government's proposals. Such behaviour makes a farce of the notion of all-party consensus.

I was appalled by another despicable comment made by the Taoiseach on 2 October when he said that "to legislate for the decision in the X case and, in particular, to make complex legal provision and control for the suicide risk as a ground for abortion, would commence an inevitable slide to freely available social abortion in Ireland". I ask the Taoiseach to explain the term "social abortion" to the women of Ireland. It is the most despicable expression used in the abortion debate. It is extreme for anyone to suggest that there was a social element to the decision of almost 7,000 Irish women to go to England last year for abortions. It shows a lack of understand ing, sensitivity and appreciation of the problems faced by those who go to England.

If the Taoiseach was a woman and knew what it was to have a miscarriage, he would recognise the emotional trauma and difficulties that follow, even in normal circumstances where nature has followed its course. There can only be further trauma in the case of a woman who is forced, for whatever reason, to choose to have an abortion. Can one imagine the increasing impact of an abortion for many years after it has happened? It is appallingly insulting to the women of Ireland, 7,000 of whom went to England for an abortion last year, for the Taoiseach to suggest that a woman would have an abortion for social reasons. It is very serious that approximately one in ten Irish pregnancies ends in abortion and it would be useful for this House to address the issue of why people are forced to leave the country. It is an extremely serious matter. This Bill means that those women who do not have money, who are on the lower socio-economic strata and who need State assistance will face greater difficulties than ever before. This legislation will cause greater difficulties and hardship for women at the lower end of the economic scale.

If the daughter of a Member of this House became pregnant as a result of rape, if her condition was giving rise to serious concern and if she was suicidal, that Member would be in a position to take adequate care of his or her daughter. However, our responsibility as legislators is to the less well off, to the deprived and to those who need State support. When passing legislation we must consider the young woman in Roscommon, Dublin, Clare, Cork, Limerick or wherever who is ill, who may have been raped and is suicidal as a result, but who will not be able to receive State assistance if this Bill is passed. That is the reality.

We must also recognise that there is little evidence that the ground of suicide has been used irresponsibly over the past decade. It has not been used in such a manner. The Government's approach is an indictment of the psychiatric profession as it suggests that it would facilitate social abortions using suicide as an excuse.

I listened to the debate on this Bill in both Houses and I agree with many of the comments from all sides. I would prefer if we were not returning to the people on this matter and that we did not need to do so. Regardless of what proposal we put to the people, the choice to have an abortion is for the individual and her conscience. The word "patronising" was used earlier in the debate, but it would be patronising of me to state that I am against abortion and to condemn anyone who chooses that route. No one can understand a woman's feelings and fears and the problems she faces, not just regarding a pregnancy, but all aspects of her life which lead her to decide to have an abortion.

We are dealing with unfinished business from 1992. The present Government gave a commit ment to the people before the last election that it would return to them on this issue. This may be a contentious and divisive issue but the people are entitled to their say. Like other Senators and Deputies, I have concerns regarding this matter. I am particularly concerned about how it will be dealt with in the coming months. The Referendum Commission has been more of a hindrance than a help during all recent referenda and few would suggest it is the best option available.

Prior to the publication of this Bill, the Government initiated a long consultative process to try to achieve consensus on this issue. Individuals and organisations on both sides of the argument contributed to the debate and other Senators referred to the number of submissions made to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. The public and politicians heard the legal and medical practitioners' views.

Today represents the birth of this Bill. We have probably had the longest pregnancy in the history of the State in coming to this stage. We have also had the longest labour given the deliberations of the Oireachtas committee. However, we are now ready to present the people with what they deserve, namely, the most balanced, reasonable and moderate option available. Some of the contributions to the Bill have been particularly passionate. One cannot make a right from a wrong, but one has to deal with, and do the best one can with, what is available. That is what we are doing.

It would be nice to be able to leave matters as they are but if we did, there is a possibility, given the interpretation of existing legislation, that an abortion could take place at any time during a pregnancy, including on the grounds of a threat of suicide. However, the threat of suicide should not be acceptable grounds for an abortion. Many of those opposed to the Bill have stated that the floodgates have not opened regarding abortion since 1992. The reason for this is the ethical stance taken by medical practitioners and the Medical Council. They are the people at the coalface and they are satisfied that this Bill will give them clear guidelines as to their position in the future.

The threat of suicide should not be acceptable grounds for an abortion because a pregnant woman who feels suicidal will be in no healthier a state of mind after an abortion. If a pregnant woman claims she is suicidal, what emotions will she experience after an abortion? There has been no mention of this issue which is the crux of the problem. We can eliminate the immediate problem of the pregnancy, but the years of guilt and emotional trauma, never mind the years of gynaecological problems which may follow, will come to the fore as a result of an abortion.

I am not a psychiatrist, but I would imagine that the threat of suicide cannot be attributed solely to the problem of a pregnancy. Senator Taylor-Quinn referred to social abortions, but I do not like the term. In the case of a woman who chooses to have an abortion, whether or not she feels suicidal, I would imagine that a further investigation of her condition would highlight a multitude of other problems, including finance, fear of an inability to be a good parent, feelings that the pregnancy will end her educational and job opportunities and adversely affect other aspects of her life. One may not wish to use the term "social abortion", but all of these problems combine to give rise to such fears and the threat of suicide and make a woman feel that she has to go down the route of having an abortion.

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency Act which was passed by the House earlier this year was more important legislation than the Bill before the House. We do not know the exact number of women who choose to have an abortion every year. Regardless of this legislation, women will continue to have abortions. That is the reason the Crisis Pregnancy Agency is more important for all women.

Senator Taylor-Quinn outlined what we are failing to do for those in the lower socio-economic class who will be most affected by this Bill. This legislation is no more applicable to that class than to anyone else. However, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency Act which affects the lower socio-economic class was opposed by the Opposition. That legislation proposed to put in place all the elements which could help individuals who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy.

The objectives of the crisis pregnancy Bill were to educate young people and provide them with supports during and after pregnancy. Many of the problems of pregnant women who are suicidal are economic, social and emotional. These are the problems which will be dealt with by the agency. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency Bill is much more important legislation than the Bill we are discussing today. I hope the proper resources will be put in place to protect women who find themselves in a crisis and I wish Olive Braiden every success with it in the future. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency Bill is most important for mothers and children, before and after birth.

Today's Bill is the result of the longest pregnancy to date. It reminds me of someone who has gone through pre-conceptual and pregnancy care and labour, but has now decided that she is not ready for parenthood. The baby has been born and the people who have been involved in the long process of giving birth suddenly decide they do not want it. We all knew it was just a matter of time before we would come to this stage, yet the only constructive alternative proposal I have heard from the Opposition is to delay the legislation for three months to allow for a more open debate. If we waited three months I have no doubt we would be asked to wait a further three months. This would indeed be an Irish solution to an Irish problem with the difficulty swept once again under the carpet. We are faced with this problem and we must deal with it.

I congratulate the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Lenihan and the All-Party Committee on the Constitution for bringing us to this day. The Bill may not be what everyone wants. It cannot be all things to all people. A balance must be struck between the views of pro-choice and pro-life advocates. The Bill may not represent a perfect solution, but it is a balance.

For the past four years we have tried to achieve a consensus view and to avoid divisive debate. A recent newspaper referred to the hypocrisy in the debate on this issue. It said: "One of the sadder ironies in Irish politics at the moment must surely be that some of the politicians who wrung their hands at the prospect of another divisive abortion referendum are now being as divisive as possible to prevent the people voting." We have a duty to relay to the electorate in clear and concise language the need to have a clear law regarding the right to life while striving to put in place the proper structures and supports for women who find themselves in the position of having an unwanted and unexpected pregnancy.

Fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Díospóireacht an-thábhachtach é seo agus taispeánann an méid daoine atá tar éis cainte go bhfuil an-suim ins an ábhar seo ar gach taobh den Teach.

This is a very important debate on a very important issue which will soon be decided by the people.

I reflect on the way our State and society treat people who make different choices, whether to have a child, a decision I support, or not to do so. The education of young people in proper mature sexual behaviour and relationships is a key issue. A considerable number of teenage parents come to my constituency clinics with housing difficulties. A 16 year old who has a baby cannot go on the housing list until she is 18 and she must then go through an absolutely disgraceful emotional and physical trial in an effort to be allocated a house by the local authority to look after her child. At 12.30 a.m. this morning I received a call from a single parent who had found a rat in her bedroom and who had no one else to turn to for help at that hour of the night. That incident indicates the callousness with which society treats single parents. The Government's record on housing and caring for single mothers, the most disadvantaged in society, is utterly unacceptable and I condemn that record.

Housing lists have grown to unacceptable lengths. Thousands of people face great difficulty in buying a home, but single parents or very young couples, the category which concerns me most, have no hope. If all our fine talk means anything it must mean that we will allocate resources to young mothers and their children. We must provide the physical resources of care and protection.

When a single mother reaches the age of 18 the health board no longer has a function in her care. A social worker cannot help a young girl who has had a baby unless she is under 18. Many fathers have an antediluvian attitude to their daughters if they become pregnant. There is an absolute lack of support services for single parents who are over 18, and it is time the Government did something about that.

Single mothers suffer enormous trauma while they are pregnant and after their children are born. I am pro-life and I stand over my conviction on that issue. However, the pro-life people are doing nothing to help young single mothers, and that deeply offends me.

Hear, hear.

In the past our views have been dominated by religious people. Many young people have few religious beliefs. When a mother decides to have a child, given her poverty, her lack of a permanent relationship and the dreadful situation in which she finds herself, that is when the State helps least and that is when this Government stands most condemned.

How are our children educated in sexual matters? There has been much progress in this area in primary and post-primary schools. However, the entertainment business could do more to help. Young people look to pop stars for example. Unfortunately they do not look to politicians for their mores any more – perhaps that is a good thing. Their idols are often people who do not give the most helpful views in terms of how to have a good relationship. Programmes on the popular TV channels are all about sex with very little about having a relationship which means something outside of sexual activity. We need to educate people and I ask the Government, which has been in power for over five years, to set up a consensus or view to place much more emphasis on responsible relationships within the entertainment industry. Every day we hear a Minister, be it Deputy Dermot Ahern, or the Taoiseach, announcing different things with full page colour advertisements in newspapers showing our wonderful Ministers. Why not have advertisements using some of our fine pop stars talking about things such as responsible relationships and responsible parenthood? Let us use money more wisely.

The road to England for an abortion undertaken by expectant mothers can be very lonely. We have made some progress and I acknowledge the work of organisations such as CURA, who provide counselling, guidance and help for expectant mothers. Mothers returning after an abortion can suffer from deep trauma and need much more help. The Government should have advertisements on radio, television, etc., encouraging people who have gone through this trauma to contact a 1800 number so they can talk about their problems and the issues they face. They keep much of the trauma and problems to themselves and I am very concerned about such women who have no help.

We have a most uncaring society in many ways. We really do not care about single mothers who decide to have their child and we do not have the infrastructure or support services for women who return from the UK following an abortion to help them get their lives together. Our Government must do much more if we are to have a really caring society. We have a view on the referendum and will campaign accordingly, but if it brings about more care, support and help for people, and more education and knowledge, then even if the referendum is defeated as I hope it is, it will have been constructive in creating a new momentum. It is shameful the way in which the Government is treating single parents in particular, and I condemn it on behalf of all single parents with whom I and I am sure every politician in the House deals. It takes four or five years for these people to get a house and they receive no support. It is time the Government woke up and looked at the real issue.

I do not believe this is an appropriate measure to put into the Constitution.

Neither do I. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The proposal smacks of a hypocritical approach because we all know in our hearts and souls that nobody can take the decision to make the lonely journey for an abortion in Ireland or England other than the woman who is pregnant. It is amazing that an eminent psychiatrist can decide there are no real grounds for worrying about the issue of suicide. We all know people whom we never thought would commit suicide and have been shocked and amazed when they have taken their own lives. I cannot see the need to remove such a provision in the context of young women who find themselves in what we euphemistically refer to as a crisis pregnancy.

For whom is it a crisis? It might be a crisis for the good name and respectability of the person's family, though much of that attitude is gone by the board. To introduce a criminal element is returning us to the days when we were all supposed to be holy and happy and dancing at the crossroads, when Ireland exported pregnant young women, when men were never blamed or held responsible and when many poor misfortunate females who did not even know an act of intercourse had taken place – I suppose there is no real excuse in that regard these days – because they had no access to sex education. Those women left the country in droves and some had lonely deaths. Others found a lonely job and never returned. We are criminalising what is the result of an act which takes place between a man and a woman. Once again we are mostly criminalising young females and I do not understand the need to do so. Why are we not honest in our hypocrisy? People will take the boat or aeroplane to England as they have always done.

Regarding the agency for crisis pregnancy, the country is full of agencies which deal with crisis pregnancies. We have adoption agencies, and I acknowledge the good work they have done and continue to do. We are talking about a crisis for one person and an added crisis for their family. We are stepping backwards and condemning young women in general. We are not condemning society, which has not made them responsible enough for their own actions, and I do not see a word about fathers. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. I cannot believe we are going back to a 19th century attitude while very smartly including a liberal element.

Prior to this if one suggested the use of the morning after pill to some sections of the pro-life movement they would consider it an outrage and a sin against society. Suddenly the morning after pill is all right and we are including that liberal element which will be accepted while we are taking out the risk of suicide and are criminalising it. I do not know where we are going.

No sane person is anti-life; we are all pro-life. I have a certain sympathy for some of the things said by Senator O'Dowd. I represent an area where 14 and 15 year old children have children, and I never see any support other than from their immediate families. Some of the more militant pro-life groups are very pro-life while the child is possibly in the womb, about to be in the womb or about to be delivered, but the minute the baby is born they do not want to know. They do not have the faintest interest. I have never seen anything other than a few voluntary agencies – who were always supposed to be slightly suspect and maybe not quite as good as the pro-life people – coming to the aid of girls who have had abortions and offering counselling after such a traumatic experience. To underestimate the fear and dread and the possibility of pain and the knowledge of future self-loathing of young women, and to further stigmatise them by including this Act in the Constitution, is abominable and I am shocked to the core.

I cannot understand the reason for it. In the long run, given the hypocrites we are in this country, what difference will it make? If a young woman says she will commit suicide if she does not have an abortion, what will we do with her? I never heard anything so ridiculous. She would obviously be on the first available boat or plane – at least, I think we still have the right to travel. I am ashamed it has come to this and I do not know whom we are trying to please. We should always be pro life, but we should be pro-truth and justice and we should not be hypocrites.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí a labhair sa díospóireacht seo. The tone of this debate was marked by a great understanding and sensitivity to all the issues involved. There was a sensitivity to the difficulties faced by women with a crisis pregnancy and a genuine compassion was demonstrated by all speakers for women in that situation. It is always noteworthy in the Seanad, and more especially today, that Senators speak from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise. The speeches during this debate are a major contribution, not just to the proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas but also to public understanding. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to listen to the contributions here. As in the Dáil, a wide range of issues has been addressed during the debate and I believe these are grounded in genuine concern about the possible impact of the Government's proposals on the health of women and their unborn children.

The proposal before the House is a genuine effort, in a reasonable and balanced way, to provide a solution to an existing problem. The Bill and the mechanisms for which it provides represent the first legislative response to the legal issues which remain unresolved since the X case in 1992. It will protect best medical practice, while providing for a legislative prohibition on abortion and underpinning such legislation with an amendment to the Constitution. The Government is satisfied, on the basis of all the expert medical evidence which has been presented and discussed, that there are rare life-threatening conditions or illnesses, either associated with pregnancy or exacerbated by pregnancy, in which, to save the woman's life, it may be necessary for doctors to consider taking action in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended. Under the proposed Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill, a threat of suicide will not constitute a real and substantial risk to a woman's life.

I will comment briefly on some of the main issues raised today during this Second Stage debate. It has been suggested that a possible risk to the life of a pregnant woman is measurable and capable of assessment in the same way as a life-threatening physical condition. The evidence heard by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution shows that psychiatrists who are expert in this field have highlighted the great difficulty of assessing whether a threat of suicide will actually be carried out. The Government, having considered the testimony and other research in this area, considers that it would not be appropriate to provide for a regime where abortion would be permissible on grounds of threatened suicide.

Questions have been raised about why the envisaged legislation will protect unborn life only from the time of implantation in the womb, rather than from fertilisation. In the first place, this legislation is concerned with the protection of human life in the womb and ensuring an effective prohibition of abortion. At the same time the Government wants to ensure that there is no doubt about the legality of a medical procedure necessary to save a woman's life. Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution will of course remain in place also. This Bill does not seek to define when life begins. I recognise that, as a matter of personal conscience, there are people who believe that human life begins as soon as the ovum is ferti lised. Medically, however, it is only possible to diagnose pregnancy some days after implantation. Accordingly, implantation is used for the legal purposes of defining abortion in this Bill. In relation to issues such asin vitro fertilisation and embryo research, the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction has been established and has been asked to consider and prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction. The Government will consider these issues when the Commission makes its report.

Any concerns that, by introducing safeguards, the way may be opened to a so-called "liberal" abortion regime are unfounded. It must be remembered that the key test in any case is whether the medical procedure is, in the reasonable opinion of the medical practitioner involved, necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of the loss of the woman's life, other than by self-destruction. Furthermore, the medical practitioner must have regard to the need to preserve unborn human life where practicable.

Issues that have been raised regarding crisis pregnancy generally are largely outside the scope of what the Government seeks to achieve through this Bill. They will, however, come under the remit of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency which has recently been established and which will play a major role in putting in place a range of realistic options for women faced with crisis pregnancies.

As many Senators contributed to the debate today, it would be inappropriate for me to mention one rather than another. It is evident from the debate in this House and the general discussion outside that this is not a debate for women only. This is a major human rights and constitutional issue and each of us, as legislators, has a duty to address it. Members of the public also have the right to their say in the matter and that is why the Government is taking this road. The Government's proposal follows a very long consultation process, a long debate in the Dáil and a long debate today in the Seanad. It is in no way a rushed proposal and the Seanad has yet to consider the Bill on Committee and Report Stages.

Again, I thank Senators for thoughtful, understanding and compassionate contributions to the debate today and I look forward to further discussion in detail on Committee Stage.

Cuireadh an cheist.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 18.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Bonner, Enda.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Cregan, John
  • Dardis, John.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Gibbons, Jim.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kiely, Daniel.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Leonard, Ann.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Ó Fearghail, Seán.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Walsh, Jim.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Coogan, Fintan.
  • Cosgrave, Liam T.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ridge, Thérèse.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and Ridge.
Question declared carried.
Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis glacadh leis an gceist.
Céim an Choiste ordaithe don Mháirt, 11 Nollaig 2001.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 11 December 2001.

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 December.