The section being amended contains much of the essence of the legislation and we need to spend some time considering this issue. Deputy McManus's amendment brings us to the central concerns raised in the House.
The bookLost Lives includes a list of the 3,600 people who died in Northern Ireland in the 24 years of the Troubles. If the figures cited regarding the number of abortions are correct, we would need 40 volumes of this kind of book to name each child over the next 24 years. I raise this issue because much concern has rightly been expressed regarding the 7,000 women who have abortions. We constantly mention these women but we also have to remember the 7,000 lives which have been terminated. This needs to be said because I do not think this point received enough airing during the debate. That is not to take from the cases of the 7,000 women, the trauma they experience and so on. We need to be careful as Article 40.3.3° which we are trying to amend provides for the unborn and the mother. This balanced approach must be maintained in all we do.
Fine Gael made a constructive contribution to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and instigated the proposal for a compassionate, proactive and adequately funded structure to meet the needs of women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children. Our Care of Persons Bill, 2001, published in September is evidence of our real concern to reduce the number of abortions. We must be compassionate towards women in crisis pregnancies and it will not help to be judgmental.
We must also be compassionate as regards our concerns for their children. Fine Gael's Care of Persons Bill, 2001, differs from the Minister's proposals. There are three strands to this issue - the legislative and constitutional process in which we are engaged, the Care of Persons Bill and a structured approach by the Departments of Health and Children and Social, Community and Family Affairs, and other Departments, health boards and NGOs to promote the education and prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
The Minister has rolled the second and third strands into one but I would have preferred if they had been kept separate. There are issues regarding, for example, the housing of women in crisis pregnancies which have nothing to do with awareness and education regarding the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. These are different types of issues but I will not quibble. This is a welcome step and we will see how it works. However, my preferred approach was to separate the strands.
I raise this issue because of the provisions in this section. During the summer recess I published a second Private Members' Bill, the Surgeon General Bill, 2001. The objective of this Bill is to create the office of surgeon general which would work with the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. I propose that the surgeon general should have the same relationship to that committee as the Comptroller and Auditor General has to the Committee of Public Accounts. This is particularly relevant to our considerations regarding this section of the Bill.
My proposal is that the surgeon general would report independently to the Oireachtas on the operation of the health services. Under the provisions of the legislation we are considering, the Judiciary and medical practitioners would have a role in applying the provisions of the 25th amendment to the Constitution. The Oireachtas can remove members of the Judiciary for stated misbehaviour but it has no power over medical practitioners. A surgeon general could report to the Oireachtas on any health issue, including treatment during pregnancy. This would allow the Oireachtas to receive independent advice on the implementation of the amendment, if passed, and provide a degree of transparency which would inform public opinion. This is important because the Minister's wording in relation to the loss of life is not the one the Medical Council uses in its ethical guidelines, which, presumably, it will continue to use even if the Bill is passed and incorporated in the Constitution.
The process of developing national policy in this area commenced in 1979 and continued in the Green Paper in 1999 and the report of the all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution in 2000. The Fine Gael Party recognises that people have the right to seek to amend the Constitution and provision is made for this in Article 6.1, which states:
All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.
Our party has scrutinised the Bill, about which we have concerns - I referred to some of them and will continue to do so - with a view to considering the Government's proposals. These involve an amendment to incorporate the effect of detailed legislation in the Constitution for the first time. This gives rise to strong concerns and the Minister must make the case to the committee that the balance of evidence shows that inserting this detailed legislation will achieve his desired objective.
My party has serious reservations about the Bill, as it stands. For example, any medical practitioner, even one just finished training, could decide to carry out a medical procedure referred to in section 1(2). The Minister wishes to amend this following comments made on Second Stage. However, the medical practitioner could still be a registered medical practitioner who has just finished school. Senior physicians have already questioned this provision. In contrast, a lawyer cannot decide even a minor court case until he or she has ten years post-qualification experience before becoming a judge.
In 1983 a short amendment to the Constitution appeared to be watertight, but on its first challenge, to the surprise of those who proposed and supported the amendment, the Supreme Court ruling in the X case showed that was not the case. The Government has proposed a much longer amendment and this may give even wider scope for interpretation to the Supreme Court. For example, Article 40.3.3° states: "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and . . . as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right" with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother. Those who supported the 1983 amendment, and others, believed this applied from conception.
Section 1(1) of the Government's Bill which, if passed, would be added on as Article 40.3.4° of the Constitution seeks to protect human life after implantation in the womb which is not defined. Conception is not mentioned anywhere in Article 40.3.3° and a future Supreme Court could, for example, take the whole Article, if amended, into account. It is not clear if this could reduce protection for the unborn between conception and implantation. It is important that the Minister makes a clear statement on whether the provision will reduce protection for the unborn between conception and implantation.