(Limerick East): Perhaps, we can talk about it.
Second, if the right is a more general one than that, does it apply only in circumstances in which pregnancy occured as a result of a rape because, again, the exact circumstances of Miss X were that it was statutory rape? The key point of the judgment suggests that that right would be available in this State only if, in the opinion of those best able to give an opinion, her life was at risk as a result of the pregnancy. Therefore, are we saying that that right is confined to girls who have been the victims of statutory rape, who are suicidal and have been adjudicated to be suicidal, or is the right more general? Deputy O'Donnell suggested "no", that I am wrong in what I am saying. I am merely laying out the possibilities: perhaps Deputy O'Donnell is right; perhaps it applies to all women regardless of age, regardless of how the pregnancy occurred. Perhaps that right is there if there is a risk to the life of the mother on psychological but not pathological grounds, perhaps that is the position. However, to attempt to enshrine that right in a Bill in terms which say the termination of her pregnancy would be lawful within the State is extremely dangerous: I simply do not know what I would be agreeing to if I agreed to that.
I said, and Deputy O'Donnell repeated, that there are three commitments in regard to this issue in paragraph 29 of the Programme for Government. I would like to expand on them. It is known that I was involved to a limited extent in the negotiation of the programme for the new Government and I was asked to deal with certain elements of the health aspect of that programme, including this Bill. The text of the three commitments included in the Programme for Government is exactly the same as was agreed by the Progressive Democrats in its negotiations with Labour and it was a good one in my view.
The first commitment was to introduce an information Bill as soon as possible and that is what we are doing. The second commitment was to provide research, counselling and education facilities and we are in the process of doing that. On Second Stage I outlined the way I will be approaching that. The third commitment was to continue an examination of the complex difficulties arising from the X case. It would be fair of any commoner to say that that commitment will kick the ball deep into touch and that will continue to be done for some time.
I wish to draw Members' attention to another commitment in the Programme for Government which was that a group of experts will examine the Constitution. We would be interested in a review of the Constitution. Many Deputies on several occasions pointed out what they consider to be defects in our Constitution governing a modern State. A review of the Constitution will be carried out in the first instance by a group of experts. One may ask, who is an expert as we are all citizens? The word "expert" is used in the context of those who would have a particular prominence in constitutional law, legal expertise and so on that may be valuable.
The group of experts would lay out the ball park and examine the parts of the Constitution which might need, to use a non-constitutional expression, "to be refurbished". They would present a report by way of a White Paper or a document of less status which would be passed to an all-party committee of the House. That commitment in the Programme for Government has not received much attention. It states that a group of experts will review the Constitution in the course of 1995 and that their report will be passed to an all-party committee in 1996 which will examine the Constitution to decide what amendments, if necessary, should be brought forward. The only exclusions being considered by the Government are Articles 2 and 3 as they are being dealt with in the context of the Framework Document and negotiations with those with an interest in them, and the provision on divorce which will be dealt with separately in a constitutional referendum.
The remainder of the Constitution, including the personal rights Articles, comes within the terms of reference of the proposed constitutional expert committee and the proposed all-party committee. I hope that in addition to producing recommendations on various issues, it will suggest changes in the personal rights provisions of the Constitution, including the implications of the X case. I have followed the X case as close as any Deputy and anything I have heard in the Department of Health of the work carried out on it only confirms my view that it is not possible to legislate in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Court in that case in a manner which confines the availability of the termination of pregnancy in this jurisdiction to the narrow scope which arises from the Supreme Court decision.
If one must have regard to a statutory provision which allows the termination of pregnancy on suicidal or psychological grounds, who is to adjudicate on that? In other jurisdictions a tribunal of experts, including a gynaecologist, a psychologist and a general practitioner, can be established. However, if a woman appears before such a tribunal and expresses suicidal tendencies, backed up by medical evidence, what members of a tribunal will say "no" to her request for the termination of a pregnancy? The difficulty is how can statute law confined to the exact scope of the judgment in the X case be introduced? Regardless of arguments we may have as to the exact scope of that judgment we all agree it is narrow. I am not in a position to bring forward legislation arising out of the decision in the X case and I have no intention of doing so, but it will receive consideration by way of the process I described. The issue of Article 40.3.3º will be considered by way of that process also. I hope all Deputies on this side of the House in the course of 1996, through representation on an all-party committee, will give their views on this issue. In those circumstances I cannot accept this amendment today because, in simple terms, I do not know what I am buying into.
The amendment states, "... where the termination of her pregnancy would be lawful within the State.". If the amendment were accepted nothing in this Bill would render unlawful any words spoken by say a practitioner or acts done in regard to the provision of "Act information." The term, "any act done by a doctor would not in any circumstances be contrary to the law", is such an imprecise formulation that I would not know what I am buying into.
On considering the Bill as a whole, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. The Bill provides that if a pregnant woman visits her family doctor and indicates she is pregnant her doctor will give her advice. If the doctor does not feel in conscience that he or she can give her "Act information" in accordance with this Bill when enacted, he or she need not do so and can counsel her on other options. If the doctor gives the patient "Act information", the process culminates when he or she gives her names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion services abroad and that process will be non-directive. A pregnant woman who is suffering from cancer may be advised by her oncologist that if she were to carry her baby to full term, necessary treatment, such as chemotherapy, would have to be deferred to a point where she could die. The oncologist may outline the patient's medical condition, the extent of her cancer, give an expert view on how it will progress and advise the patient that if she does not have treatment for her cancer she may die. Would that advice advocate or promote abortion or is it not simply a statement of the facts in a non-directive way? When that oncologist describes the nature of his or her patient's malady are the options not clear? Is the oncologist not totally within his or her rights to describe the nature of the patient's malady? To say that an oncologist giving medical advice to a woman with cancer about her condition is caught by the provisions of this Act and that advice would be deemed to be promoting or advocating a termination of pregnancy simply does not stand up.
I am glad the issue has been raised because we have been fearful of talking about issues which must be in the minds of many women. A total of 4,200 women from this jurisdiction and 1,700 or 1,800 women from Northern Ireland sought a termination of pregnancy last year and those are only the women who gave Irish addresses.
Deputy Kenneally said on Second Stage that those figures were not correct, but they are the official figures of the United Kingdom's Central Statistics Office. Deputy Kenneally had a theory that many English women having abortions in England gave fictitious Irish addresses to disguise the fact that they were seeking a termination of pregnancy. That is fantasy. There is a very simple reason why English women would not give Irish addresses. If they did, they would have to pay for the termination whereas the vast bulk of them would qualify for a free termination under the NHS in the United Kingdom if they gave an English address. Is it reasonable to think English women would give Irish addresses for some fantasy reason and have to pay for the termination of pregnancy when if they give the English address it is done under the national health service? That is by way of an aside.
In the context of so many Irish women going abroad for the termination of pregnancies, and in the context of the good, valid and compassionate arguments put forward here in terms of family planning services, counselling and advocacy of intervention to reduce this volume, we should talk about the X case. However, I do not have a solution and I cannot commit myself to bringing in a Bill based on the X case. However, we will not leave the thing just sitting there and pretend we are doing something.
We are putting it to the expert group, and all Deputies through an all-party committee will have their say in due course on the X case. It is so complex and difficult — and the previous administration had the same difficulty — there just was not a way of dealing with it. I am not blaming it in any way, as it is extraordinarily difficult.
Last night I said Supreme Court judgments do not easily come out in the form of heads of a Bill. It would be lovely if we thought the Supreme Court in its judgments would give the heads of a Bill but that is not the way it works.
I understand and share the concerns of Deputy O'Donnell. She is addressing a difficulty that is not in the Bill and putting forward a solution which has the profoundest of implications and which would drive a coach-and-four through the terms of this Bill, in effect, leaving it up to any doctor to do anything at all if he were to claim that a pregnant woman was in the same circumstances as Miss X or in analogous circumstances.
The only test then would be if someone prosecuted him and it would run the whole way up to the Supreme Court again. I want to protect the position of advisers and doctors. I do not want them to be open to litigation. I want them to have certainty in the law so that they know what they can and cannot legally do and that they are not being set up by agents provocateurs coming into their clinics. I appreciate the difficulty in the general area of the X case but the flaw being pointed out is not in the Bill and the solution proposed is so wide that I simply do not know what the circumstances would be if I included it in the Bill.