I wish to respond to a couple of the points raised as Committee Stage draws to a close. Many of those who argued against the Bill called for clarity. I appeal to them to be clear on what their proposal entails. We heard, for example, a suggestion that regulations could be made to deal with hard cases. If we retain Article 40.3.3°, regulations will not be introduced to deal with many hard cases because it will remain constitutionally prohibited to do so. Senator Michael McDowell eloquently cited the possibility that the Director of Public Prosecutions could show mercy. Leaving aside that women need rights, rather than charity, and that the mother and baby homes were considered mercy in their time, this is not at the discretion of the policing service in many cases. If we think about the difficult cases, including cases of child abuse and rape, if we retain Article 40.3.3°, nothing can be done to assist women, girls or children in such circumstances. Furthermore, the existing provision may well prove a deterrent to pregnant women and girls who have experienced rape or suffered child abuse because the very fact of placing themselves in the legal sphere could potentially bring them under threat of criminality. We can speak about cases of fatal foetal abnormality and real, concrete cases of women who face phenomenal and catastrophic health consequences, including permanent disability, blindness which has been discussed, a risk of brain haemorrhage and complications in their cancer treatment. Doctors and medics have made it clear that such cases cannot currently be addressed.
If we vote to retain Article 40.3.3° and vote to say we should not have a referendum on it, and Members can choose to do so, I ask them to be honest. I ask them, please, not to have conversations with people and talk about hard cases and how in certain circumstances they would feel differently, because they will have sacrificed any possibility of engaging with those situations.
What we have seen in the committee and in what is put forward by the legislation is those who are willing to grapple and engage with the realities. To be very clear, when we again talk about clarity, caution, concerns and reassurance, what we will vote on is not the legislation. We will vote on the possibility of having a way to act in these circumstances and situations. It is important to note, however, that the proposals put forward through the Oireachtas have been carefully moderated and considered. The proposals put forward by the Citizens' Assembly were moderated by the committee. More conservative proposals were put forward by the committee than by the Citizens' Assembly. The proposals put forward in the draft legislation by the Minister are in fact more constrained and more limited again than the proposals put forward by the committee. The political body, elected by the people, responsible and answering to the people, has had a say in the nuance of this legislation. It has been reflected and people have stepped up to their responsibility, recognising that since women and doctors are making hard decisions, we as legislators need to make hard, careful and considered decisions.
Many measures that have been introduced in the legislation by the Government indicate a very high degree of caution and address the concerns that have been raised by the other side. Examples include the introduction of viability testing and specific protections for a viable foetus, the particular constraints in terms of health issues, and the fact that the committee disagreed with the Citizens' Assembly and explicitly excluded health grounds alone in terms of access to terminations. I may not like some of those decisions, but I respect them and recognise that there is a mandate for them and that they have moved through these Houses in that way. That is the real work of putting things forward.
If some Members do not like the proposal for 12 weeks, despite the clear evidence that has been put forward about how it engages with the issue of medical abortion and tablets, how it deals with the important issue of addressing situations of rape - we have seen again how hard it is to prove rape in Ireland - abuse or incest, and despite the fact that it has been shown to lower the number of terminations in other countries, then those Members are free to put forward their own legislative proposals. They can go to the people and ask them to vote for them and elect them to put forward their legislative proposals, because that is the proper process. It is very disingenuous of those to have been saying this is the last chance, this is the only protection, and this is the only measure. They, as legislators, are in a position to put forward more conservative proposals and to test the public's will on that if they so wish. That is their prerogative.
Not only is there legislative space to do these other things that have been discussed, to have more nuanced or detailed proposals, if that is what some Senators claim that they want, there is another thing that they can do which would show that the repeal of the eighth amendment would not be the end of any discussion or protection. They can also talk to women. That is an option that will remain open to them. They can have conversations with women. They can talk about how they can better support women in their choices, how they can give them more options, and how can they make sure there are better lone parent supports. As I have said before, there has often been an absence in this House when we have debated those issues of child care and support for lone parents or for those with a disability. Those Senators should be willing and show that they are willing to do the work in conversation with women around their options and choices. That is an option that remains to them, and the Constitution is neither the only nor even the most appropriate way to communicate with women on the decisions they have to make.
We have heard that a vote in favour of this Bill to repeal the eighth amendment is a vote for the unknown. I respectfully suggest that a vote to retain the eighth amendment, or Article 40.3.3°, is a vote for the unknown, the conveniently unknown, where we do not have to know about what is happening to women, where we silence them, and where we ensure that we are not given inconvenient information about the hard and difficult circumstances people face. One of the most striking posters I saw on a march relating to this issue was a young woman who had a sign that read, "My silence, your comfort." If we retain Article 40.3.3°, we tell women to be quiet, that we do not want to hear about these circumstances anymore, and that they are potentially criminals, and we silence them and go right back into the invisibility, the silence and the unknown which we have relied on as a country for far too many decades.