Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 2013

Vol. 810 No. 2

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013: Report Stage

Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 18, 33, 36, 48, 60 and 109 are related and may be discussed together. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

On a point of order, I received a letter this morning about amendment No. 3.

We are not dealing with amendment No. 3.

It is in that grouping.

No, it is not.

I know it is not.

Are there time limits for speaking on Report Stage?

Members have received a note about time limits. There are no time limits on the first contribution but there is a time limit of two minutes on the second contribution.

Does this apply to the Deputy who moves the amendment?

The Deputy who moves the amendment has a third opportunity.

On a point of order, I do not mean to be disruptive but I seek clarification. The Taoiseach said on the Order of Business that if additional time was required later in the evening, the House will facilitate it. How will that procedure take place?

It is up to the Government Chief Whip to come in with a proposal for the House. At the moment, we are finishing at midnight.

It is somewhat complicated today. Should I move all of my amendments?

The Deputy should move amendment No. 1. The fact that we are discussing the others together, because they are related, is a procedural matter. The Deputy's first amendment and each subsequent amendment will be put separately.

As a final clarification, am I speaking to the group of amendments?

Yes, they are being debated together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 5, to delete “human” and substitute “maternal”.

This Bill has become something of a sham. People expected and hoped the Bill would protect the lives of women and prevent tragedies like that of Savita Halappanavar, the tragic circumstances surrounding X, a 14-year-old child who was raped and became suicidal and the tragic circumstances surrounding the A, B and C v. Ireland and D v. Ireland cases. It failed on all counts to live up to the expectations of ordinary people that the Government would prevent such tragic circumstances from happening again. The reason the Bill has failed and the reason I am tabling this amendment, along with 40 others with other Deputies, is because we want the Bill to be what it should be and what people expect it to be, one that ensures a woman's life will never again be put at risk because of the State refusing to safeguard the lives of women and the rights of women.

It is a tragic and sad fact that the Bill, instead of preventing those sort of tragedies and protecting the lives of women, has become about the internal politics of Fine Gael, holding the Government together and preventing political defections. The Bill is a fudge and a sham and the lives of women have become secondary to the needs of the Government to protect itself and prevent a major split in its ranks. That means, with absolute certainty, that we will be here again facing the tragic circumstances that prompted the Bill to be drafted and that prompted this debate. We will be back because the Government has not vindicated the rights of women.

The problems with the Bill begin, as my amendment suggests, with its title and the objective the Bill sets itself. It fudges the key issue, which the Bill is supposed to be about, and it talks about human life when the issue is women's lives. Women's lives have been put at risk because of the legal situation in Ireland and the political cowardice of successive Governments. Women have died and suffered and have been forced to flee in the dead of night under a stigma of criminality and of doing something wrong when they simply wanted to protect their lives, their health and their rights. The Government has vindicated none of those things and instead sought to protect Fine Gael and to assure Fine Gael's political interests. That is a tragedy. After the Bill passes-----

I must interrupt Deputy Boyd Barrett. This is Report Stage of the Bill. The Deputy can only speak about the actual amendment and cannot talk about the principle of the Bill. Otherwise, we will not get through any amendments. We cannot have a general contribution. Does the Deputy understand?

The Deputy's contribution can only relate to the amendment and the effect of the amendment on the Bill. This is Report Stage, not Second Stage all over again.

I am saying, Ceann Comhairle-----

I ask Deputy Boyd Barrett to co-operate.

It will not be easy to manage but I will try to be fair to everyone.

I understand that but I am making the point about the failure to specify that the Bill is about protecting maternal life, which is at stake.

It is the thing that prompted the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar’s death. It is the thing that prompted the tragic circumstances in which a 14 year old rape victim was denied the right to an abortion. These circumstances could happen again, even if the legislation passes. Were X in the same situation again, it is likely that she would not have the right to an abortion as she would be put through such a terrible interrogation. It is almost certain that no woman in her circumstances would even attempt to put herself through the hoops the Bill requires her to jump through.

The Bill does not provide the medical certainty doctors require to intervene decisively to protect the lives of women like Savita Halappanavar and others whose lives may be endangered by the continuation of a pregnancy. The Government has made a fudge between its need to assuage dissent from those within its ranks who are opposed to abortion and the legal imperative to vindicate the lives of women. As a result, women's lives have not been vindicated. The Bill should have been referred to as a Bill to protect maternal life. That is the point of the amendment. Similarly, there is a reference in the definitions section of the Bill to the need to have due regard to the right to life of the unborn in relation to the reasonable opinion of a medical practitioner. There is no mention of the need to have due regard to the life of the mother. It is all about assuaging the opposition of the anti-abortion lobby to the Bill as a whole and to prevent defections. That is tragic. It is a recipe for further human tragedies and for putting life and health at risk. People who have suicidal thoughts because of pregnancy are having their lives put at risk. That is unacceptable.

I hope the Minister will take seriously the concerns being expressed and the amendments being tabled and change the Bill. Otherwise, we will be back here within weeks, months or years, faced with tragedies which have resulted from the political failure of the Government to deal properly with the issue.

The aim of the amendments in my name and those I am co-sponsoring in the grouping is to bring focus to the issue of the health of women in pregnancy. Unfortunately, the health of pregnant women has been downgraded in much of the debate which has taken place. It is downgraded in particular in the minds and contributions of those who oppose any movement on the right of women to safe terminations of pregnancy where their lives and health are concerned.

There has been a significant emphasis in the Bill on the unborn, as it is termed. “Unborn”, according to the definitions section of the Bill, “in relation to a human life, is a reference to such a life during the period of time commencing after implantation in the womb of a woman and ending on the complete emergence of the life from the body of the woman”. That is hugely problematic for some of us. It means that an entity in the very early stages of a pregnancy, which is not even visible to the human eye, is superior or supposedly equal to the life of the adult woman in question. That creates major problems for women and is responsible for some of the tragedies which occur.

This is minimal legislation designed to cover in the most minimal fashion the situation thrown up by the Supreme Court in the X case. It is a cowardly Bill from the point of view of the Government. Serious issues of health and well-being faced by women in crisis pregnancies which have come to light and been brought out into the open in the course of the debate are completely ignored. If we leave aside the question of choice for the moment, we face the key, tragic issue of fatal foetal abnormality, where women are faced with horrendous circumstances. There are 1,500 such cases in the State each year and women and their partners are faced with very difficult decisions. Unfortunately, no advantage was taken of the fact that the Bill was going through the Oireachtas to deal with that situation. Those women are still faced with having to go abroad in the event of deciding that a termination is essential and necessary. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the issue has not been dealt with. It is also cowardly that the question of pregnancy by rape or incest has not been dealt with by the Government. My aim in the amendments in the group is to direct the focus of the Bill to the health of pregnant women. It is not acceptable that a chasm in legislation is put between the life and health of a woman. Health and life converge and it is not possible to build a Chinese wall between them. The right to life of a woman is engaged where there is a serious risk to her health.

There has been much debate on the chilling effect of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 on medical personnel, particularly when confronted with women with life-threatening pregnancies. The definition of “unborn” in the legislation will similarly have a chilling effect into the future if it is enacted in its present form. Therefore, we seek to amend the definition of “unborn”. Why should a woman be subjected to a threshold of pain and suffering and not have the ability legally in the State to have a termination of pregnancy where that is required to protect her health? Even the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is very right-wing on most issues, has referred in the Dáil to the massive inequality that exists in legislation between the health of a woman and the health of a man.

Unfortunately, that is something that is continued in this legislation.

Finally, the fact is that the Government is way behind the feelings, views, and empathy and sympathy of the vast majority of people in the State with regard to these issues. The Government itself has seen indications of people's attitudes when a RED C poll in The Sunday Business Post found that 85% were in favour of legislation where the life of the woman is threatened but 82% were in favour of taking action where the health of the woman is seriously threatened and also in the case of rape. The Government should have taken advantage of this situation in order to deal with this. Otherwise, what we will have is an ongoing situation, the English solution to the Irish problem and the total hypocrisy of women being forced out of this country and all the trauma and expense that goes with that. Unfortunately, none of that will be changed by this legislation. Therefore, I urge Deputies to think seriously about those amendments that seek to include particularly the health and well-being of a woman as a major consideration in legislation such as this.

On a point of order, I received a text stating there were problems with the microphones. Could the Leas-Cheann Comhairle check? Does anybody know if there were problems with the microphones?

We have them fine.

There have been problems.

There have been problems. Are they resolved?

We can hear the Deputy.

We will get a report back on that. It is being looked at.

I support many of these amendments. They should be supported.

Amendment No. 18 is the one that I have in this grouping and there is much with which I do not disagree in what has been stated already. It is wrong to make the distinction between the right to health and the right to life and there is 50% of the population for whom that distinction is made, but I recognise that to provide for that would require a new referendum - which I would support - to delete the Eighth Amendment. I recognise that providing for that within the context of this legislation would not be consistent with the Constitution.

This Bill does the bare minimum of what could be done. There have been sweeping misrepresentations of what this Bill is supposed to do, with all sorts of suggestions such as the floodgates opening. It is highly restrictive.

Given that some organisations have engaged in a highly visible and highly funded political campaign, I question how we manage such campaigns in a democracy and where the money has come from, particularly for the likes of Youth Defence, which states that education and awareness is its remit. Education and awareness is not driving around with large billboards and stopping in inappropriate locations, with large campaigns of delivering leaflets, etc. If there is to be a proper democratic system, one must legislate for that. I question whether, if some of these organisations have charitable status, their remit has been exceeded. That is something that needs to be looked at in its own right. I accept the decision the Irish people made with the Eighth Amendment, although I did not like it. There are many decisions that I do not like, including the one that got me chucked out in 2007. Essentially, I try to stay within the Eighth Amendment, but I think there has been an interference with democracy in the way some of this campaign has been conducted.

This is the bare minimum. We will see further tragedies. It is wrong and difficult to make the distinction between health and life. My amendment has not specifically addressed that issue but has tried to solve one particular aspect of what is provided for in the legislation.

I refer to amendment No. 60, the amendment we tabled in this grouping. It takes up the issue of the classification of "an unborn human life" and substitutes "a pregnancy". It tries to take out the worst elements of this Bill in terms of handling the situation of a woman, because that is what it should be about. The points have been made. This should be about the protection of the life of a woman who needs a termination of pregnancy in difficult circumstances.

I understand that many - it has been quite indicative - do not want termination on demand except in certain cases, such as rape and incest. It is terrible that we must discuss this in the Dáil Chamber and degrade women to the point at which we are classified so that we can seek a termination only in certain circumstances, but this Bill, in essence, makes the present position worse. There were cases in which children in care, aged 15, with one psychiatrist, were allowed to travel to Britain to access a termination. By law, under the Supreme Court judgment, they should have been able to access that termination here. From now on, they will be subjected to a panel of three medical practitioners, one of whom will be an obstetrician. This is outrageous. The European Court of Human Rights specifically made the point, in the A, B and C v. Ireland case, the D case and the X case, that there should be accessible legislation to enable terminations in those circumstances. This Bill is going in the wrong direction. That is the reason we are trying at this late stage to deal with the worst aspects of it, put in better terminology and change the nature of the Bill to make it more accessible for women who have crisis pregnancies that they cannot deal with. They need support from this State, not the British, Norwegian or French state, to deal with what is facing them in this country.

There has been an unbelievable disconnect between the real lives of citizens in this State and the discussion that has been conducted here in this House and in many elements of the media. It demonstrates how disconnected this House is from society. The reality is that the Bill and the discussion that has been held over the past while represent little more than substantial grandstanding, posturing and abstract debate which is out of sync with the real lives of citizens in this State.

It is fair to say never has so much been said by so many about so little. The Minister could not have made the Bill any more restrictive and limited than it is. Not only that, but it has deviated from what it should have been and it is shifting the emphasis away from the protection of women's lives which was the basis of this issue being looked at to a sort of fudge.

I agree with other Deputies who have said the root of this inequity lies in the appalling constitutional provision which equates the life of a woman with the life of an unborn. This is ludicrous and it has put a Chinese wall between women's lives and their health and means that the medical profession is faced with a choice in waiting until a woman is almost at death's door before doctors can intervene to save her life. That will continue, a situation which was so eloquently described by the Minister for Justice and Equality when we introduced our Private Members' Bill the second time around, and will still be the case after today. It can truly be said the right of pregnant women to have their health protected under our constitutional framework is a qualified right, as is their right to bodily integrity and that will remain the position. This is a republic in which we proclaim the equality of all citizens, but in reality some citizens are more equal than others. The rancid hypocrisy of exporting women from this country in their thousands will continue, as will the intolerable cruelty of people being forced to carry to full term or travel to England in cases in which there is a fatal foetal abnormality. That is the root of this issue and what we want tackled. We are adamant that it will be tackled and that there should be a repeal of the eighth amendment.

Like any other civilised society, we should deal with this issue of women's health and human rights as a matter which is not even for legislation because regulation would be sufficient, as is the case in other countries. The fact that the provision is included in the Constitution is ridiculous. The Supreme Court interpreted that constitutional provision as indicating that abortion was permissible where the life, as distinct from the health, of a woman was in danger. That is a false distinction and the Bill perpetuates it and, in our opinion, ensures a case like that of Savita Halappanavar will happen again. It does nothing to address that issue. The Government heaping rights on the unborn and defining it in a manner which was not done previously actually means the medical profession will be curtailed and most definitely will have to wait until a woman is essentially at death's door and demonstrably her life is in danger before it can take action. That is regrettable. The legislation fails to take into account what the Supreme Court said, that the threat to a woman's life did not have to be immediate or inevitable. Nowhere is that factored in to the Bill.

I fully respect people's private views; everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion and there are many very different views. However, there has been a concerted effort to enforce a Catholic ideology and viewpoint on all citizens of the State which is out of kilter with the opinions of people in our society. We received communications from religious leaders of other religions supporting the idea of wider provision of abortion services but also from people who, like me, are of no religion and many Catholics who do not agree with their church's teaching on these issues. I fully respect the rights of all Catholics. I would go out of my way to defend their right to practise their religion and stay true to their beliefs, but people who do not want access to abortion services are already looked after. Thankfully, we do not live in a country which compels people to have an abortion against their will. We are not talking about such persons. If because of an ideological viewpoint, some people do not want to have an abortion, frankly, it is great that they are not forced into having one. We are talking about people who need access to abortion services for a whole number of other reasons.

Not only are those victims impregnated in rape or incest case or those cases involving a fatal foetal abnormality not being addressed in the Bill, but the very limited provisions of what the Minister could do are not being catered for. It is ironic that when we introduced our Private Members' Bill previously, Labour Party Deputies, in particular, told us that they could not support it because it did not go far enough. We were apologetic about our Bill because it was so limited, but it now looks like a positive, brilliantly progressive Bill by comparison with this narrow vehicle. It is highly questionable whether anyone will gain any protection from it. All of the motions we have tabled have tried to elevate and put this discussion back to where it was supposed to be, a discussion on protecting women's lives. That is what it was about and that is why we were here. That is what the Supreme Court said and that was the problem in the Savita Halappanavar case - the lack of clarity. This Bill provides no more clarity. In that sense, it is really regrettable that the Government has chosen to pander to some people who have mysteriously discovered a conscience and an interest in the consequences of their decisions here. They do not care about the lives of born citizens and who have unleashed almighty cutbacks and terrible conditions on people's living standards. They have reinvented themselves as some sort of saviour which is completely out of kilter with the real world.

The amendments we have tabled attempt to address within the constitutional limits some of the worst aspects of this very narrow Bill. We also signal our intent - like most citizens of the State - that we will not stop until we have the issue of abortion fully addressed for all of the other important reasons mentioned.

I understand there is a problem with the microphone system.

It has been a problem since the beginning of the debate.

I am advised that the ambient microphones are recording everything that is said. Nothing said in the debate is being lost.

It is impacting on the broadcast sound. I have received a text from a radio station that the debate cannot be broadcast. This is an important public debate. Is there any guidance on how long it will take to fix the problem? It is problematic to continue with the debate when it cannot be broadcast.

I appreciate that. I am waiting for a report from the digital company engineers.

On a point of order, I think our eminent friends in the Press Gallery can do a good job in relaying to the public what we are saying. We depended on them years ago before there was any broadcasting.

In my two and a half years in the House, this has certainly been the most talked about issue. Nothing else has garnered quite so much speaking time in here. The most striking point at this stage is that we seem to be no closer to clarity than we ever were. Confusion seems to abound. So much work has gone into the new legislation, yet we do not even know whether the life of Savita Halappanavar would have been saved had this legislation been in place before her death. This is incredible.

Of the 47 countries in Europe, 44 have more progressive legislation in this area. It is hard to credit the fact that, although such a large proportion of the population agrees with addressing the considerable problem in this area, an incredible fight is being put up by a small minority who have the money. The influence and power that this minority has exercised in the State has been highlighted so much in recent months.

In April 2012, a Bill to address the issue of the X case was introduced. We considered the matter again in November. At the time, the idea was that we should try to address the issue of Ireland exporting its problems. We are not doing anything about that, however. After the Bill before us is passed, will there be a decrease in the number of women going to England for abortions from Ireland? I do not believe there will be.

There are so many aspects to this legislation that really change so little. I understand that the eighth amendment will have to be tackled before this issue can be dealt with in a really substantial way. This Bill could do so much more. It is plain to all that it was difficult for the leadership of the coalition to carry everybody with it. It has had to water down the legislation so much to try to keep as many people as possible on board.

There are ten amendments grouped and I ask the Deputy to address them. There are four or five speakers.

I will not speak all day. There will be others who will speak for a lot longer than I will.

It is deemed acceptable for 4,000 women to go to England every year but if a woman imports an abortion pill and it is discovered, she will be thrown in jail for 14 years. How can one rationalise that? I do not understand how rational people could come up with such a provision. I have one daughter. If she is ever pregnant and suicidal, I will not be helping her to hop through the system because she would be dead before she would get an answer. She will be going outside the country.

I have no intention of elaborating further and will address the amendments as they arise.

I wish to refer to amendment No. 18, which seeks to delete "which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable” and substitute “which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable and with due regard to the right to life of the woman". I sat through the hearings and heard all the contributions with my own ears; there were no problems with the microphones. All the contributors, each of whom is eminent in his or her field, be it gynaecology or psychiatry, told us that in spite of the 1851 Act and everything else, it has always been their motivation, under Hippocratic oath or otherwise, to protect the life of the mother and human life. How can we play around with the words “which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable"? Unborn life is unborn life and should be regarded as such. We cannot play around with words and make it less palatable or more palatable to decide that we should have terminations or not.

While it is fine to stand up here and criticise people for putting up billboards, holding marches and issuing communications – that is our job and we are here every day of the week – I am sure some of the critics would have no problem putting up billboards and sticking information in people's faces when seeking to get elected. We all do that and we often irritate people, with the consequence that we have to shift the billboards. There are laws, rules and guidelines. It is fine to dismiss Youth Defence and others, but it must be borne in mind that while they have gone over the top on certain occasions, they and the young people of Ireland should not be tarred with the same brush. I was proud to walk down O'Connell Street on Sunday morning and I saw some Members of this House. We were met with some awful taunts. I do not refer to myself alone – I am used to it – but also to ordinary men, women and children. They were taunted by people proclaiming to be great liberators and to be pro-choice. If they had their way, we would not have been there at all. We would have been running to the Garda as we would have been attacked. Is that what they call modern-day democracy, the object of which is to shake us all, bring us into the new world and liberalise the whole country? Any country that has introduced abortion to account for suicidal ideation has regretted it.

I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the various amendments. That the microphones are not working today is an omen. One might call me superstitious but I believe I am actually right.

I was very upset earlier when I heard the Taoiseach responding to Deputy Adams and Deputy Martin regarding the legislation. He said we will get rid of it this evening. In other words, he was implying it would be rushed through this evening. Today is a momentous day in the history of Dáil Éireann and the country. It is with a heavy heart that I hear what is being discussed today, but this is a democracy and everybody is entitled to table his or her amendments. I agree with some and have serious trouble with others. The first amendment that should have been dealt with is amendment No. 3, in the name of Deputy Mattie McGrath, which seeks to change the name of the Bill.

We are not on that amendment. Ten amendments have been grouped.

We will get to that because it is the most important. I look forward to discussing it at the appropriate time.

We need to remind ourselves of the Bill’s scope and intent, which I welcome. We in Sinn Féin will support its passage through Report and Final Stages today, but the address of the Bill is the protection of life during pregnancy. As party spokesperson on health, throughout the long discourse on this Bill when first mooted at the end of last year, the hearings in January, the heads of the Bill hearings, Second and Committee Stages to today, I have always believed the address of the Bill is the protection of both the life of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. I have never at any time believed the address of the scope of the Bill was other than this.

I reject the amendments that seek to limit the address and scope of the Bill to maternal life only. The address in which I have been involved throughout has been in the context of protecting both lives. While Sinn Féin reflects in its policy some of the measures addressed in the grouping of amendments, including the threat to the health of the woman, the Bill is specific in its address, the threat to the life of the woman. I am anxious that we get in the course to the debate to the amendments that can make a difference to the Bill as they address its scope. They can be accepted and the Minister’s response will come in its own course, but I believe some of the amendments have no potential because they are outside the scope of the stated intent and address of the legislation.

I support amendment No. 18. I fully understand and appreciate that the Bill seeks to ensure due regard for the life of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. That is the context in which we must measure the Bill and its subsequent outworking on its passage against the backdrop of the constitutional protections. However, I have no difficulty because what is involved in this amendment is the addition of the phrase, “and with due regard to the life of the woman”. There cannot be any substantive objection to the inclusion of that additional reference to what I understand is reflected and central to the Bill’s intent.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle may indicate that I am out of order, but with regard to amendment No. 128, I will only abuse the moment briefly. On Committee Stage the Minister indicated to me that he would come back with an amendment that would address the issue of after care. I have retabled my amendment. The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that as an Opposition Member, I could not progress such an amendment regarding optional therapeutic after care for women who had had terminations of pregnancy because it could constitute a charge on the Exchequer but that he would come back, accepting the validity of the points I had made. However, I regret that he has not tabled such an amendment. I appeal to him at this early stage in the deliberations to please recall his commitment and consider what he might do before the day’s end.

Like all Members present, I believe in every single case where people’s lives are threatened, they should receive every medical treatment necessary to save their lives and that there should never be any confusion whatsoever about this within the system and that where there is confusion, the necessary guidelines should be put in place to ensure the medical professionals have all the information necessary to do what they are trained to do.

It is shocking that the debate on the Bill is being guillotined. The opportunity to engage in debate in this process has been front-ended, yet, at the end of the process, when Members have a genuine opportunity to contribute to the detail of the legislation, it is being guillotined. I have no doubt that this legislation will end up before the Supreme Court. Members present who are overpaid for the job they do will not have an opportunity to bring their experience, knowledge and understanding to the content of the Bill.

With regard to the campaigning on the legislation, any organisation that has campaigned disrespectfully in any regard should be condemned, but anybody who seeks to demonise campaigns that have campaigned respectfully should also be condemned.

Will the Deputy move on to the amendments?

There is so little time that many of the amendments under discussion will have no opportunity for success owing to the fact that they are outside the constitutional limits. I have a worry that there may be an effort to filibuster affecting the opportunity to have the amendments that have an opportunity under the Constitution discussed.

It is important to realise that this is a human rights issue and that is the way I look at it. With respect to all religions and none, this is immaterial. In many respects, these amendments go to the heart of the differences people have because, with the exception of Deputy McGrath’s amendment, there is a failure to recognise the position of the unborn human life. That failure causes a difficulty for me.

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by Deputy Peadar Tóibín. Whatever medical assistance and so on is available should be made available, about which there should not be any doubt. However, with regard to the amendments, I did not hear at the hearing a demand from the medical profession - perhaps with the exception of one gynaecologist subliminally - for such an action. The amendments demonstrate a lack of recognition for the existence of unborn human life. They probably are also contrary to Article 40.3.3°, which is why they will probably be ruled out of order. One can argue about the pros and cons of this article, but it is difficult to interpret and history has shown this to be so. I read Mr. Justice Flaherty’s contribution in the Supreme Court over the weekend. Perhaps we might seek to legislate for that article as opposed to legislating for the X case judgment. That is the false premise on which the Government is operating. There seems to be a liberating concept of legislating for the X case judgment when it is anything but. One of the reasons the Government has drawn my wrath, that of others close to me and that of some on the Opposition benches is the mixed message that has come from it.

I agree with one aspect of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett’s contribution. This legislation will do nothing to address the situation in the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and to maintain that it will does an injustice to everybody involved in the process. The gynaecologist – I do not whether it was an expert opinion or a personal opinion – Peter Boylan stated if there had been an intervention on the Monday or the Tuesday, her life could have been saved, but at that stage the diagnosis was there was just a threat to her health. That goes to the kernel of why thee amendments have been tabled. The threat was to her health, not to her life.

It would not have made one iota of difference to her tragic situation. For Members of Government to seek to endorse the emotion of that case to support the legislation they are bringing in, which I believe to be flawed for other reasons, is disingenuous.

I disagree with the point raised by Deputy Higgins about opinion polls, and the public being ahead of us. It would be a poor Parliament or Government that would legislate on the basis of opinion polls which, in respect of social issues, are highly unreliable, as evidenced by the poll on the children's referendum.

I thank the vast majority of speakers for the tone they have adopted but I regret that of Deputy Boyd Barrett, and also the fact that he would deliberately seek to omit the right to life of the unborn, which is implicit in this Bill on the protection of the life in pregnancy of both mother and unborn child.

As the last speaker noted, what was lacking in legislation would not have been what led to the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. Unlike him, however, I disagree that the Bill would not have had some impact because it would have brought clarity to her and her husband as to what care they were entitled to, and clarity to the doctors as to what were their responsibilities. That was a specific report by the HSE and anybody who has read it realises this is not what was at the root of the problem.

To all those Deputies who raised the issue of "reasonable opinion", I point out that this has gone from section 2 but has been clearly defined in sections 7, 8, 9 and 13, all of which are primarily focused on saving the woman's life. The need to add the extra language was not deemed appropriate by the Attorney General.

Deputy Higgins mentioned the issue of life or health, which was also raised by several other Deputies. The Supreme Court is clear on this and has stated bluntly it is the life as opposed to the health of the woman.

Deputy Catherine Murphy acknowledges the equal right to life of the unborn which is mentioned in the eighth amendment to the Constitution, as she noted. That equal right is very clear and the people have spoken.

Deputy Clare Daly stated the Bill was very restrictive and she is right. I believe, however, that she wants me to ignore the Constitution and the Supreme Court case decision in the X case, which I cannot and will not do. She mentioned a republic which values life. I believe it is a republic that values all life, including that of the unborn, and I am proud to be a citizen of such a republic. It is not true to state that a woman has to be at death's door. The Deputy herself mentioned that the risk need not be immediate or inevitable.

I must disagree with Deputy Wallace. I believe this Bill brings clarity for doctors and, most important, clarity for women on what they are entitled to and how they can access it.

I note Deputy Mattie McGrath's comments and what Deputy Healy-Rae had to say, but must point out that people have waited 21 years for this legislation. Hearings were held before and after the heads of the Bill were published. We had a long debate in this Chamber on Second Stage to which virtually every Deputy contributed, and we had an extensive Committee Stage where many of the issues before us were teased out. I do not believe there has been another Bill in the history of this State that has received so much attention and so much time.

I believe I have addressed the issues raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin in regard to amendment No. 18. He stated that I had committed to an amendment in respect of services for women. I did not do so; what I stated was that I will return to that point in later amendments.

I know Deputy Tóibín has concerns around a filibuster. It is certainly not this Government's intention to shorten this debate in any way but there has to be a time limit at some point. We will sit until midnight and given the way the day evolves I would have no problem staying here all night and all morning on this subject.

To reiterate, and subsequent to comments I have made, I cannot accept these amendments as I believe they are unnecessary. The main purpose of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 is to restate the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland in line with Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution, while regulating access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgment of the European Court of Human Right in the A, B, and C v. Ireland case. Its purpose is to confer procedural rights on a woman who believes she has a life-threatening condition so that she can have certainty as to whether she requires this treatment. I reiterate that the Bill provides for existing rights only, namely, within the constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. It specifically does not confer any new rights to a termination of pregnancy.

I thank the Minister. As we are on Report Stage, the second contribution of Members is limited to two minutes. I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, to be followed by Deputy Peter Mathews.

In response to what the Minister said, the point of these amendments is to state the key imperative is to protect women's lives because they have not been protected. Of course the Minister is right to say that the Constitution as it currently stands, reinforced by the X case judgment, provides protection for what is called the "unborn child" although it did not define what that is. This is something the Minister has done, in such a way as to expand that definition to a point that is very problematic. As we will see when we return to it, it is extremely problematic particularly in the tragic circumstance of fatal foetal abnormalities. It may preclude any future effort by the Minister's Government or any other to allow for terminations in those tragic circumstances.

The substantive point of these amendments is to state that although legal protections have existed and continue to exist for what is termed the unborn child no protections have existed for the lives of women which is what we are trying to address. That is what most people believe this Bill was supposed to do, to prevent tragic circumstances such as those of the X case, where a 14 year old child was raped and became suicidal, was threatened with incarceration and denied the right to have an abortion in this country, or the case of a woman like Savita whose life might be put at risk because of the legal situation surrounding abortion.

Thank you, Deputy.

That is what we are trying to address in these amendments. As it stands, and in the way the Minister has structured this Bill, including the extra amendments he has introduced on this Stage, the matter is further confused. The Bill does not provide the clarity the Minister claims it will provide but will again leave open the likelihood that any woman subjected to this process would have her life put at risk. We would be back to the same tragic circumstances we saw in Savita's case, the X case and the cases of A, B, C and D. That is the point. We are trying to shift the focus of this Bill to where it should be, on the protection of women's lives which have not been protected until now.

I will pick up a point mentioned by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

I wish that this Bill was indeed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, to protect what is set out in the Constitution explicitly, that the value of life once it comes into being, whether born or unborn, is of equal value. To call this Bill restrictive is not enough. The Bill should be protective of both lives. As Deputies Mattie McGrath and Tóibín said, of course we do everything, and medicine is duty bound at every level to do everything, to save the life of a mother.

To use an analogy, the important part of a ship for safety on the seas is the hull. Section 9 of this Bill is a fault-line across its hull. The psychiatrists and obstetricians pointed that out at the hearings in May, which regrettably no Minister attended. That was a shocking chasm in the discussion and exploration of this Bill. In France, 25% of pregnancies end in abortion and in Britain, 30%. That is the reality. We have heard other Members talk about realities. That is a shocking reality, the gift of life being snuffed out at a rate of 30% for every time it starts. Bad law is not good for a society. As a very experienced obstetrician pointed out, wars and famines come and go but abortion stays with a society and eats out its heart.

I said to the Minister earlier today that in the United States, which is the paragon of medicine, and Deputy Shortall is aware of this, 25% of medicine is iatrogenic, that means tidying up the mistakes and misdiagnoses of other doctors dealing with patients. A total of 25% is tidy-up, correction work by doctors. Just because a doctor holds certificates and degrees does not mean that they carry out the vocational work to which Deputy Mattie McGrath referred, or that they are on the look-out for the best interests of their patients, whether mothers, fathers, babies, teenagers or elderly people. Where does the respect for life come and go, begin and end? We talk about the foetus. Life begins at conception and ends in natural death. People who have lived their lives, whether powerful or powerless lives, deserve respect because they carry the gift of life by their very existence. I do not want to be party to any Dáil, or parliament or party that does not understand that.

My younger colleagues in our party are under a shocking stress at the moment. It is visible. They say they are going to vote with the party because they signed a pledge against their conscience. They have said that. That is absolutely perverse.

I hope that before this debate is out that the leadership of our party wakes up to the truth of the situation.

I want to reiterate that with the key amendments in this tranche we want to end the invidious distinction made in legislation between the health and the life of a woman. We seek to include health as a key factor in legislation that provides the right to a termination of pregnancy. There is no chasm in real life between life and health. To insist on a threat to life as the only justification for a termination of a pregnancy can put women in a dangerous situation and it is certainly a highly invidious situation because an issue in pregnancy that presents purely as a health issue at the beginning, can go over to a life-threatening situation. As we have seen in tragic instances life was lost because it was not possible to meet the threat to health with a termination at an earlier stage in the process. The Minister cites the constitutional prohibition against us on this issue. I say go to the people with a constitutional amendment to remove the absolute prohibition except in the very narrow circumstances that have been laid down by the Supreme Court. My point about the opinion polls, which show huge majorities in support of the right to a termination in crucial areas of foetal abnormalities, rape and so on, was to show that the opinion of our people has moved on hugely in this regard and therefore to do justice to that. There should in fact be not just an extension in this legislation but a constitutional amendment to cater for this opinion.

I have serious concerns about what is being proposed in amendments Nos. 72 and 109 and I would not like to see them going through.

To which amendments is the Deputy speaking?

Amendments Nos. 109 and 72.

Only amendment No. 109 is in this group. The Deputy may speak to amendment No. 109.

I compliment Deputy Mathews on what he said to the Minister with regard to allowing people vote with their conscience and not under the party Whip. Every person who was elected to this Chamber should be allowed today and tonight to vote with their own minds, hearts and souls and the party Whip should not be imposed on them. What the Government is doing to people who are unwilling to break ranks with their political parties and vote with their conscience is a disgrace.

Will the Deputy return to amendment No. 109 please?

I have a serious problem with amendment No. 109 which seeks to insert "or health" after "life". I hope that there will be a vote on amendments such as this because this is about people's lives. It concerns the unborn life, which, to me, starts at the moment of conception and finishes the day that God takes that person out of this world. Nobody else should take away a person's right to life.

We start out in life looking at things in a very black and white way and as we go through life we discover that things are not quite as we saw them at earlier times in our lives. Most of our life is lived in a grey zone. We would not be legislating for something like this if every pregnancy was guaranteed a safe delivery or if every pregnancy produced a live and healthy baby. We need legislation to set out parameters. The citizens of this State voted on three separate occasions on this matter. Not only should we legislate but we have a duty to legislate if we call ourselves democrats. We might not like what people decided but we have a duty to respect what they decided.

Deputy Mathews talked about the gift of life. Savita Halappanavar also had the gift of life and in her case it was cut short in a very tragic way because we failed to provide certainty. We need to provide certainty. My criticism of this Bill is that it is the bare minimum. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a distinction between life and health. That is why I feel that the way the Bill has been framed is very limited.

We are well aware of the deficiencies in this as a result of the eighth amendment. It was important for us to point that out in our contributions. Even within that restrictive basis, this Bill could have gone further than the Minister has allowed. He talks about there being no new rights in it on which he is absolutely correct. The point we are making is that not only are there no new rights but some of the provisions, particularly those defining “the unborn”, could be a worsening of the situation or make it more difficult to deal with the complicated and tragic cases such as fatal foetal abnormalities or inevitable miscarriage. The overwhelming majority feel this must be legislated for, should be provided for and, according to a significant legal viewpoint, could be provided for within the realms of our deficient Constitution. When one puts a private health matter into the Constitution involving potentially half of the population, then one will have a problem.

I take issue with Deputy Mathews. This is not about whether there will be Irish abortion or not. There is Irish abortion; there has always been. Unfortunately, some very sick or suicidal women will have to leave this country to avail of that medical treatment. The Constitution allows them to travel but does not allow them to avail of it at home.

I do not know why Members are under shocking stress. Some reprehensible decisions have been made in this Chamber like cutting special needs assistants to young people with disabilities. Deputies on the other side did not seem to be in any stress over that. I cannot see why they are so stressed on this. Everyone has a conscience, particularly the mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who, for various reasons, decide they need to have an abortion in the interests of their health or overall well-being. I respect their decision. I respect the ability of the medical profession to treat them on this health matter, as in others. The issue is whether this Bill assists women and their doctors and gives clarity. Unfortunately, it does not.

I have listened to this debate with interest. It is fair to say that various Members have radically different views on the status of unborn human life. There is no absolutist view. If one believes that unborn human life is human life and that, as is done in the Constitution, that human life should be protected, then one must approach this from the point that one has to protect unborn human life and that it is not just a matter of personal choice, just as many other issues in this State are not matters of personal choice if they inflict harm on others, no matter how close. Accordingly, this debate will not finish today because there is a fundamental philosophical difference between people on that issue.

There are some issues spoken about here today that fly in the face of well-established fact. The one I find totally objectionable is an insinuation, sometimes directly, other times indirectly made, that Members do not believe that a woman’s life should be protected at all times. Allegations have been made against some of us that we have a cavalier attitude towards protecting women’s lives. Such an attitude cannot be found when the facts are analysed. A false impression is created that some Members do not care. I care, as every other Member does, about protecting all human life.

I want to address the issue of Savita Halappanavar and maternal care. The Minister said on Committee Stage in reply to an issue I raised, that this country has one of the best records of maternal care of any country in the world. In its simplest terms, we are the fifth best place for a woman who is expecting a child. I want to see that improved and for Ireland to be number one. The everlasting challenge is to maintain these high standards in our hospitals. Unfortunately, people, not only women expecting babies, die in our hospitals who should not have because at times the care in our hospitals was not optimum. All of us know about the tragedy when that happens.

In the case of Savita Halappanavar, from any objective reading of the report into her death, it is fair to say there are issues which need to be addressed immediately and have nothing to do with legislation. Instead, they have to do with procedures in the hospital. In fairness to the Health Service Executive, it has recognised that and it has moved forward to put in protocols to ensure this is never repeated. Accordingly, the charge that in some way by protecting the life of the unborn, we are putting at risk the life of the mother is wrong.

Those of us who believe that the unborn are human, just as the rest of us, are trying to ensure the highest standard of maternal care for the mother. We do not believe these are competing but complementary rights. In looking to give the highest protection to the life of the unborn, one does not do that at the expense of the mother. If sections 7 and 8 improve this and there are issues which the legislation can make clearer, then I have no philosophical difficulty with them.

In this House we know how important the meaning of words is. We must ensure what the words convey in law is what we and the Constitution put there by the people intended to convey. However, one cannot be over-prescriptive because one has to allow doctors clinical flexibilities to make correct decisions in real-life situations which vary enormously. In such situations I am sure a doctor would have to make swift decisions which became very clear in the Savita Halappanavar case regarding delays and so forth.

For those who believe that the constitutional position is correct, which is that we seek to preserve at all times both the life of the mother and the life of the unborn, the amendments being put forward by the Deputies are fundamentally trying to shift the goalposts to a place that neither the Constitution nor, I believe, Irish society wants to go.

I would also like to refer to amendments Nos. 48 and 72. The Minister is here today, although that he was held up and arrived late. He was not held up the morning of the committee hearings. He arrived in and we expected to have a robust debate with him that morning, as we had with the other contributors who had given honest speeches. The Minister read out a script and he fled out of the committee. He left us.

Can we stick to the amendments?

Of course I will, but the Minister referred to the committee himself when he spoke, and I am referring to the hearings as well. The Minister looks surprised. He fled from the hearing that morning.

What has this got to do with the amendments?

It has to do with the sabotage of the whole Bill. A person resigned from the expert group, but we never found out why. Did the Minister meet the person or brief him or her?

To which amendment is the Deputy referring?

I am referring to amendments Nos. 48 and 72. The Minister referred-----

Amendment No. 72 is not in the group.

I am sorry. I am talking about amendment No. 48. Others are well able to stray from the amendments, so I can stray a small bit as well. The Minister's script was 13 minutes long. He mentioned that he was willing to stay all night tonight, but he could not stay that day. What was the big hurry that day? Why did he not stay to listen to the specialists? They came in from all faculties and gave their opinion freely and were questioned robustly.

We are rated as the fifth safest country in this area. One would not think that if one was to listen to people in here and people outside, but we are. God help us, it was so sad what happened to Savita, but it has been proven that what happened was due to simple neglect and mismanagement. The people in that hospital have been subjected to awful abuse. The issue has been hijacked to further the aims of I do not know what in these amendments. Amendment No. 72, as I said-----

Amendment No. 72 is not in this group.

I apologise. I was referring to amendment No. 48.

I would like to call the next speaker.

I am not finished. The amendment proposes to delete "an unborn human life" and substitute "a pregnancy". All the words put in here are there for one reason, which is to make this Bill more liberal. They will use any means, foul or fair, as if the Savita issue was not bad enough, to hijack it for personal gain and support a push for this liberal law. The Minister said he could stay here until the morning, yet he could not stay in the committee.

We will come back to that. I call on Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Some of the earlier contributions would even question the purpose of the Bill. I am absolutely of the view that the Bill addresses the protection of life both of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. There are other battle lines within political groupings and they are not unique to any one party in this Chamber, but they are there. The fact is that a significant body of opinion in this House believes what I have said and accepts the veracity of the case made by the Minister in support of the Bill's passage.

Amendment No. 18, in the name of Deputies Catherine Murphy, Boyd Barrett and Higgins, is in no way in conflict with the purpose and intent of the Bill. It is a reaffirmation, in its own way, of what is already understood and enshrined within the legislation. It is therefore not a proposition that should either challenge or test the Minister's acceptance levels. I would encourage its acceptance because it has a purpose. There are other amendments that provide that reiteration. Some believe that is important. I do not need it. I can accept that it is there and that is given. However, if it helps, I think that it should be given due and favourable consideration.

In his response, the Minister said that I had misrepresented whatever commitment I understood he gave on Committee Stage regarding after-care. That was my clear understanding of his response to me at that time, and I do not propose to put words in his mouth. That was my understanding and I hope at some point that he will clarify the matter. I hope he will live up to what I had expected him to do.

I do not understand how the right to life of the unborn and the right to life of the mother can be separate items at the point when the unborn cannot survive outside the womb. How can they be separate? We all like to think that we cherish the gift of life. It is an awful pity we were not as worried about the million people that have died in Iraq in the last 20 years, which we facilitated by allowing the Americans to use Shannon Airport.

I would like to remind the Minister what the UN special rapporteur, Anand Grover, said on the issue of the right to health:

Criminal laws and other legal restrictions on sexual and reproductive health may have a negative impact on the right to health in many ways, including by interfering with human dignity. Respect for dignity is fundamental to the realisation of all human rights. Dignity requires that individuals are free to make personal decisions without interference from the state, especially in an area as important and intimate as sexual and reproductive health.

Criminalisation generates and perpetrates stigma. Criminal laws and other legal restrictions disempower women, who may be deterred from taking steps to protect their health to avoid liability and out of fear of stigmatisation. The likely effects of the criminal penalties in the legislation is that they will make women afraid to disclose information to their doctors about previous abortions and to seek medical assistance in the event of complications arising from an illegal abortion.

The definition of the unborn is from the Attorney General, and it is for the purposes of this Act alone. Deputies Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly raised that issue.

I accept that everybody has a conscience and strongly held views and beliefs, but I believe the Bill gives clarity to women on their legal entitlements and how to access them, and to doctors and nurses who must deliver that service.

I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív that we have one of the safest maternity services in the world, but it can always be improved and there is no question about that. We know that to err is human, so the challenge for us is to create good systems that protect patients against those human errors. We have done much of that. Even before the report was completed, things had changed at University College Hospital, Galway. HIQA will bring us a new report in the next few weeks which will have wider implications for our service.

Two new things will be done this year that have never been done before. There will be a national early warning system under which clinicians, nurses and doctors will assess patients in respect of their clinical well-being and determine whether they are deteriorating. This will be done in the same way whether they are in Letterkenny or Cork, Dublin or Galway. We now have a maternity early warning score as well, because the parameters are slightly different.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for his statement of support.

Amendment declared lost.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Debate adjourned.