Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Vol. 862 No. 1
Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I understand Deputy Clare Daly is sharing time with Deputies Coppinger, Finian McGrath and Pringle. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Personal Autonomy and Bodily Integrity) Bill 2014 with a mixture of sadness, feeling a bit mad as well as glad. This Bill seeks to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1983 to protect women’s lives, health and choices. It is regrettable that we have to do this, that we have to acknowledge the background to this and the fact that so many women’s lives have been negatively impacted upon by the State’s decision to take women’s health and reproductive choices out of our hands and put them into the Constitution. That decision has resulted in horrendous scenarios for women, including several unnecessary deaths - casualties of a nation’s hypocrisy. It is regrettable that decades down the road it has been left to the Opposition to use this twilight slot at the end of a Dáil term to launch a last-minute plea to the Government on this issue. We are actually not begging but demanding that the Government respects women, our health and our human rights and repeals the eight amendment. It is a regrettable that, given the Government announced today it will hold several referenda in early May, it could not also include this Bill when it is such a long overdue measure. It is a poor reflection on the Government that it is not introducing this amendment.
That said, I am glad to have the opportunity to introduce the Bill. It is a significant and important issue in which I have been involved through all my adult life. It is an issue which affected ten women today, ten women yesterday and will affect ten women tomorrow. They will be forced to take the journey from these shores to access what is a routine medical treatment in many other countries. This Parliament now has an important opportunity with this Bill to do something positive. We have a chance to send a signal that we meant it when we said we were sorry to the women who were banished behind the Magdalen laundries, to the women who had their babies taken from them to be given up in forced adoptions or to those women who had their pelvises broken in symphysiotomy, as well as for the way we treated crisis pregnancies of the past. If we really meant all that, we would ensure it would not happen again. Instead, all of that has been replaced by a Ryanair ticket or a packet of pills illegally purchased over the Internet with the possibility of a criminal sanction.
If we were serious and meant it when we said this is a new era we would develop a society that supports people rather than passes judgment on them. Society should be open and should not stigmatise women, thus forcing them into secretive behaviour. We must respect women and the choices they make and trust that they know what is best for them. This Bill gives us the opportunity to do something positive at the end of this term so the Government should reconsider its attitude and include this measure among the referenda to be held in the new year.
When we consider repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution we should examine how it came about in the first place. In 1983 abortion was already illegal in Ireland. Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 the penalty for abortion was penal servitude for the woman involved and anyone who helped, including a doctor or medical practitioner. This created a serious chilling effect but in the background society was changing via the swinging 60s and the movement in the 1970s. Women demanded access to contraception and wanted to be a part of the workforce. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Roe v Wade judgment was handed down and certain elements of Irish society, particularly those in the Catholic hierarchy, felt that the abortion ban here could be undermined through the courts. In the early 1980s they began a well-funded and well-organised pro-life amendment campaign using sustained political pressure to be sure there would be no abortion in Ireland.
This unmitigated failure must be our starting point because the campaign stopped abortion in Ireland but did not stop Irish abortion. Some 160,000 women were expelled from this country in order to access treatment and every family in the State has been affected, whether they know it or not. Women were stigmatised and told not to talk about it, extending an unbroken thread from the days when we hid women in Magdalen laundries. We could call it an Irish solution to an Irish problem but it was more than that; it was an English solution to an Irish problem. Let us be clear, if it were not for the proximity of Britain, far more women would have lost their lives to this reprehensible amendment. If it were not for the proximity of Britain, there would have been a campaign to eliminate this provision before now because the eighth amendment says 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 is practicable by its laws, defend and vindicate that right. How could anyone make sense of this? The confusion was evident at the time.
It is ironic that a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government moved the referendum but used the wording put forward by Fianna Fáil. The Government at that time ended up in this position because it gave a free vote to all Deputies and, again, this is ironic as it illustrates that the democratic revolution promised by this is redundant. It is particularly sickening that much of what has happened since the passing of that referendum was forewarned. The legal problems were flagged by the Attorney General of the time who warned those seeking protection and certainty that this measure would have the opposite effect. The Government was told on moving the referendum that it would conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights, and it did, but the State pressed on and the referendum was passed by a two to one majority with only 53% of voters participating.
Some thirty years on, this referendum is referred to as the decision of the Irish people. Most of those involved in that referendum are no longer around and it is not the mandate of the Irish people. We face a peculiar scenario where everything is different but stays the same. Legislatively everything is the same but abortion is actually a normal part of everyone's reproductive life in Ireland because Ireland's abortion rate is comparable to that in every other country. The attitudes of Irish people have moved on and the Government is out of touch. The result of all this is poor women and those with a precarious immigration status in the country cannot exercise the constitutional right to abortion. That right says women can have abortions but not in Ireland and those who are too sick, disabled or impoverished pay the price.
I welcome the statements of Mr. John Douglas, general secretary of the Mandate trade union and president the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, who believes this is an important trade union issue. In welcoming this legislation he made the point that many Mandate members are low-paid and the cost of travelling for this treatment can equate to over 10% of annual income, forcing many young women into debt and causing serious mental health problems.
I know the Minister saw the tragic report in The Irish Times yesterday as it highlighted the fact that in the past 12 months some 26 asylum seekers and women facing travel restrictions came to the Irish Family Planning Association for help with an abortion. The association said those women faced insurmountable obstacles - five of them had to continue their pregnancies and four of them tried to self-induce an abortion. This is the reality and the chilling effect of the legislation that is still on our books but it is not a surprise as these issues were well-flagged by the United Nations Human Rights Committee last year. All too tragically, the predicted events came to pass in the horrific Y case. I will not go into the details of that case but it is horrendous that the young woman involved must go through the court process at the moment. It is beyond dispute that she was suicidal, that her life was in danger and that she was a rape victim; in other words, the circumstances mirrored those of the X case, the very circumstances that the Government said the new legislation would provide for. The young woman involved could not access an abortion in Ireland and while the European Court of Human Rights ruled that we have an obligation to provide for the legal right to an abortion in those circumstances this was not delivered on. Yesterday's report highlighted the fact that in the A and B cases the court ruled in favour of Ireland as the women were able to travel to other states to access treatment. The 26 women who came to the Irish Family Planning Association could take a case against the Irish State and win because they have been denied the right to travel. The Y case exposed the inadequacy of Irish legislation in this area in a horrific way. We are shackled to the eighth amendment and the words of Mr. Nigel Rodley ring true: the young woman involved in the case is nothing more than a vessel as her opinions and rights do not count.
The constitutional barrier is at the heart of this issue and must be addressed. We are debating this today because 30 years ago the State built an impossible Chinese wall between defending the right to life and the right to health. This cannot be done and is completely out of sync with the rest of Europe as some 44 of the 47 states allow abortion to protect a woman's health. The peculiar clause in the Constitution that we seek to amend has resulted in a scenario the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, highlighted well when we moved legislation here previously. He made the clear point that:
In the absence of constitutional change, there will continue to be a British solution to this Irish problem. It is also the position that a pregnancy which poses a serious risk to the health, as opposed to the life, of a woman - even where such risk could result in permanent incapacity - does not provide a basis for effecting a termination in this State.
He went on to state that this constitutional provision meant that not all our citizens are equal and women have only a qualified right to health. Anyone in favour of equality for women in this State must recognise that the eighth amendment must go. The Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral at the time of the referendum in the 1980s made a prophetic and valid point when he said that the Constitution should steer clear of controversial and moral questions. He was absolutely right.
In successive opinion polls a majority of the Irish people have said they favour a repeal of the eighth amendment.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that for Ireland to be compliant with human rights laws, we need to revisit our Constitution in respect of these matters. A considerable number of Deputies from the Government benches, including prominent Ministers, have come out and said that we need to repeal the eighth amendment. They have clarified this, however, by suggesting it should not happen on their watch and that we need to wait for someone else to do it. This is not good enough for the ten women who had to leave Ireland today or for the women who have had to risk purchasing abortion pills over the Internet. While I recognise the statement the Minister made today to the effect that he believes our abortion legislation will be different in 20 years time - I agree that it will be - it is not good enough for the Minister for Health now to say that. We need to revisit this issue immediately.
This is not about whether Deputies or individuals in the House agree with abortion or otherwise. That is a personal matter and it has nothing to do with it. If a woman does not want to have an abortion or if someone's partner does not want to have an abortion, I will spend my time defending their right to continue with a pregnancy rather than be forced to end it. Thankfully, that scenario does not arise in this State, except for some circumstances in which economic poverty, in many instances stood over by this Government, by attacking single parents and so on, has meant that some people who would like the choice of having a child cannot elect to do so because of economic reasons. The issue is not whether anyone is for or against abortion but whether the Minister respects women's right to make that decision for themselves.
There is no mystery about this. The women who have abortions are the women who have children. It is as simple as that. They include me, other female Deputies, the Minister's partner, his mother and my daughter. In women's reproductive lives, which span from the early teens sometimes into their early fifties, choices will be made. As a society we expect women to manage their fertility and when they have their family, children and so on. It is a valid expectation in a modern society. There will be many instances in the 30 to 40 years of sexual activity and possible reproduction when women will be faced with having to make this decision. None of these decisions is easy or taken lightly. All of them are valid because they are the decisions of the women themselves. It vindicates an international statistic suggesting that on a global scale one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. It is not a big deal. In most instances it is like a miscarriage. That is all it is: a little cramping and a little bleeding. It can be done relatively simply.
In previous debates the Minister made the point that human experience is not black and white. He made the point that we will never get perfect legislation to remove all of life's tragedies. I agree fully with the Minister's statement; he is absolutely right. Regret and tragedy are part and parcel of life, but the least we can do is ensure that when people experience a crisis, they are supported and helped rather than stigmatised and cast out. The role of the State in these instances should be to ease the burden of people rather than add to it. Of course the rape victim who becomes pregnant has been violated and her life has been irretrievably altered, but should we make it worse by saying she has to carry the resulting pregnancy to full-term against her will? Let us consider the family of a much-wanted pregnancy who discover that the foetus has an abnormality incompatible with life. Would they not wish for anything other than having to terminate the pregnancy? Of course they would. The least we can do is free them from the cruel and degrading treatment of carrying that pregnancy to full term, having people congratulate them or being expelled from this country away from their family and support. Is that not what a civilised society would do? What of the case of someone who perhaps faces permanent incapacity and who must make the choice to have a termination? Should that person be criminalised by that? That is all that this Bill seeks to do and that is all that we want to do.
No one currently of a reproductive age has had a chance to vote on this matter. That is absolutely ridiculous even from a basic democratic standpoint. People who can get pregnant now should have a right to a say on the matter. That is all we are asking for. The only response the Minister gave on this issue when we discussed it previously was that if we were to remove the eighth amendment, we would remove all protections for women. That is bizarre. It is as if suddenly women were going to be the victims of some rampaging murderers or whatever. In actual fact we would only be put in the same position as men and our bodily integrity would be correspondingly protected. The reality is that our Constitution does not protect women. In fact it has been interpreted to mean that women's constitutional rights have been successively subordinated to the right of the foetus to be born. Instead with this legislation we seek to replace the current provision with an explicit commitment to bodily integrity of born persons.
The Minister would do everyone a great service if he were to announce today that he will include this referendum with the others scheduled for May. It is ridiculous that we have to say it in this day and age but it would be an incredible step forward for human rights in this State, for women's health and choice and for the rights of pregnant people to make decisions about their bodies and whether to have children or otherwise.
This is not about whether people agree with abortion or otherwise. That is absolutely irrelevant. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that is a private matter. It should be decided between a woman and her doctor, with full support and backup to ensure any decision is the best decision for her. Whether the decision is to end the pregnancy or to continue it, what matters is that she gets the necessary support and backup. This is an opportunity to bring us into the modern era, to make us human rights compliant and to protect women's health. I urge the Minister to reconsider and agree.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service released figures estimating that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. It is regrettable to see no women politicians on the other side of the House. Let us suppose this figure is true. I call on the Minister to think of the number of male Government politicians whose wives, partners, daughters, sisters, aunts and even mistresses have had abortions through travelling abroad safely over the course of the lifetime of Ireland's abortion ban. The figure must be sizeable. Of course we are glad those women had the ability to travel, but they should not have had to travel. They should have been able to have it in this country. It is a sickening hypocrisy that these same politicians continue to stand over Ireland's medieval abortion ban, especially when migrant, poor and sick women are being denied the right to have an abortion.
A total of 26 migrant women went for counselling to the Irish Family Planning Association in the past year and sought abortions, but they were denied the right to them. Five were forced to continue their pregnancies against their wishes. There is only one term for that, that is, barbaric. It is barbaric to force a woman to carry a pregnancy that she really does not want, not to mention the impact it will have on those children as well.
Is there any shame or embarrassment in this Government about this situation? Poor women, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence and women in State care are being denied abortions in this country. The Government likes to market Ireland as a modern country and a great place to do business and so on. However, the following countries have more liberal abortion laws than Ireland: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Zambia and South Africa, which, by the way, when it liberalised abortion, halved the number of deaths associated with abortion. Even Burkina Faso, the poorest country on the planet, allows abortion where a woman's life or health is at risk as well as in cases of rape or incest.
In India and Pakistan, a country that everyone believes is very backward, and even in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive cars, women are allowed to have abortions when their health is at risk. That is where the Government is placing Ireland with its continuing hypocrisy and the maintenance of the ban on abortion.
While there are very pressing issues in this country facing ordinary people, including working-class people, such as the housing crisis, water charges and the ongoing austerity onslaught people have faced in the past six years, the continuing existence of the eighth amendment is equally pressing for women in this country. In the past two weeks alone in my constituency and that of the Minister, I have been approached by women in absolute desperation. They are women who have children already but who just cannot afford to have any more. Therefore, there are many working-class women who must find €1,500 to try to travel to Britain or elsewhere to avail of an abortion. They cannot wait any longer for the eighth amendment to be repealed. Some 160,000 of them have had to travel.
On the last day of the Dáil session in July, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, said the Government would not revisit this issue and that the people have spoken. What people have spoken? Nobody from this generation spoke on this issue. This generation never got a say on the matter. The Tánaiste stood against the eighth amendment in 1983 but she is choosing to ignore it 31 years later. She built her reputation on women's rights.
The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, said today he knows the law will not be the same in 20 years. What is he saying, therefore? Is he saying women should sit tight and wait until he finds an opportune moment to allow them to avail of what is a human right? They cannot wait 20 years, another generation, for the Minister to do what he knows is right.
When the Minister last spoke on this matter, he said we should not bring the Catholic Church into this. It is only the Catholic Church that argued and lobbied for this amendment in 1983. No other church argued for it. It is a sectarian amendment in that respect. Now the Catholic Church does not have the hold it had in 1983 but the Minister is continuing to give it inordinate power through its control of health and education. The mantra from the Government is that it will not revisit this issue as there is no appetite for it but there is actually an appetite. Successive polls have shown a majority of people favour a repeal of the eighth amendment in the lifetime of this Government. Only 10% opposed abortion in any circumstances in the last significant poll that was carried out. The Government is legislating for the 10%. I ask the Minister to recognise that the politicians in here are way behind ordinary people. I have noted that at the ROSA stalls when talking to people. They are eager to bring this country into a progressive place, break the stranglehold of the Catholic Church and send a message to that effect.
I ask the Minister to note the trend in Spain, where a conservative Government similar to that of the Minister's party, Fine Gael, tried to withdraw freedoms that women had in terms of the abortion laws but it had to backtrack spectacularly. In 20 cities, ordinary people came out onto the streets to demand maintenance of the liberal abortion law in Spain.
It is very disappointing that the Labour Party is not here tonight. I ask the party whether it will continue to support the legacy of a Catholic Church-influenced State, the kind of State that led to the Magdalen laundries, the mother-and-baby homes, symphysiotomy, the controlling of women's bodies and the denial of their health care and rights. I call on the Labour Party to support this Bill and the repeal of the eighth amendment, and to hold a referendum at the time it should be held, that is, with the other referendums in May, as announced today. How could a decrease in the presidential voting age be more important than this issue? It is absolutely an insult to women to bring people out to vote on a range of issues and not put this to the people also.
Consider the news that 26 migrant women were effectively incarcerated in this country and denied a right to abortion. I call on the agencies that are counselling and advising these women and others not to be put in the invidious position of seeing these women suffer in the way Ms Y did. I ask them to give these poor women the information they need. They should give them the information that Women on Web is a resource available to them and that they can access safe abortion pills – pills just like those I have to hand, Mifipristone and Misoprostol, which induce miscarriages safely and which are used all over the world but not allowed to be used here. Why did that girl have to suffer? She could have been directed to use these pills, which are available through Women on Web for €90, a fraction of the cost of an abortion. These are on the list of WHO essential medicines. They are very safe and there is no reason they should not be available. I ask the Government to make them available and to hold a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. There should be no more hypocrisy and no more denial. The Minister said himself that the law will be gone in 20 years. We should not wait 20 years; the Government should do something right for a change.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation, the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Personal Autonomy and Bodily Integrity) Bill 2014. I welcome this debate and commend my colleague, Deputy Clare Daly, on bringing the legislation before the House. She made an excellent contribution and put the facts on the table. She showed the world the reality of what is going on in Ireland in 2014.
Of course, there are many views on this issue but I will always come down on the side of the health and safety of the women in question. I, too, always stress tolerance for different views and will always respect the individual consciences of all Deputies. This is another issue in respect of which we should all ignore the Whip system in this House. People should be allowed to express their views and be inclusive and respectful of other views. Difference and diversity are always good for democracy but the Dáil should decide and people should be allowed to vote on how they feel.
I feel many people in this Dáil want to support this legislation. Those of us on the liberal side of this debate should never hand over the pro-life slogan to other groups. There is nobody in this House who is anti-life, and this should be stated clearly in this debate. We want to save lives and protect women and children, and we need less hypocrisy, particularly on this issue. We need to deal with what is going on in Ireland in 2014.
There should be no running away from this issue, and straight talk is essential. The fatal foetal abnormality issue must be dealt with in a compassionate way. What is currently going on is a scandal and, to be quite honest, it is very cruel. Compassion and care have to be at the top of our political agenda. There should be no more fudging by forcing women to travel. Just think of the circumstances if one of our daughters or sisters was affected. Have we, as a society, lost our humanity on this issue? This is where we are at in regard to this legislation tonight.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide a referendum to delete Article 40.3.3°, the eighth amendment, which equates the life of a woman with that of the foetus. This makes the foetus an independent entity whose well-being has to come before a woman's by virtue of the fact that the woman is carrying the foetus. What about the well-being of the woman? Mr. Nigel Rodley, a former UN rapporteur on torture stated in front of the UN Human Rights Committee that Ireland's laws treat women as a vessel and nothing more. That is not acceptable in the Ireland of 2014. It discriminates against women with no income and women facing pregnancy knowing the foetus has foetal abnormalities. Migrant workers need a visa and the burden falls entirely on the women. If a woman has sufficient funds and a visa, she can travel to England. If she does not have the money to travel, she must face a panel that will decide her fate. What century are we living in? The Salem witch trials come to mind in this regard.
Our current law does not stop women from terminating their pregnancies; it makes the journey more difficult. It affects only the disadvantaged and marginalised minorities. Anyone else can easily travel to England. Once more, the rich can do what they want while the poor, disadvantaged and people on lower salaries are left behind once again.
We must change the law which vindicates the rights of the unborn at the expense of the mental health of a pregnant woman. Thousands of women leave Ireland every year to have abortions in England. We are happy to make it someone else's problem. Time and again, opinion polls have shown that a large majority of voters are in favour of holding another referendum on abortion.
The most recent legislation, which promises access to abortion in a few cases, was tested in the summer when a young, vulnerable woman came to Ireland following a traumatic rape and was forced to give birth by caesarean section despite being prepared to starve herself to death. Little has changed since Savita Halappanavar died from sepsis in Galway. At a minimum, women must be allowed safe and legal access to abortion when their life or health is at risk. I respect the right of a woman to decide, as should the Government.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Personal Autonomy and Bodily Integrity) Bill 2014. Like previous speakers, I commend Deputy Clare Daly on her introduction of the Bill. Anyone who listened to the Deputy's contribution will know what needs to be done with regard to this legislation. Everything I say will appear inadequate after her speech, but it is important that we place our views on record.
We must show that society has compassion towards women who are in very difficult circumstances. As previous speakers noted, an estimated 160,000 women have travelled to Britain for an abortion since the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act was passed in 1983. Society has failed utterly on this issue. Do we want to stand over another 160,000 women having to travel to Britain for abortions - provided they can afford it - in the next 30 years? I certainly do not want to do so.
As Deputy Daly stated, the right to choose whether to have an abortion is a private decision and one that a woman should be able to make in her own right. Women should be able to rely on their community and society to give them the support they need to make the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. It is vital that we show compassion and allow women to do this in familiar surroundings with the support of their families and communities. We must ensure that, having made their decision, they are able to emerge from the experience in one piece and participate again in society.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was the source of great controversy last year. Soon after its enactment, however, we were presented with the Y case, which involved a woman who came to Ireland, having been raped in her own country, but was unable to travel abroad to obtain an abortion, which caused her to become suicidal. We continue to fail women by introducing piecemeal half measures that do enough to get us over the line politically. Politicians are behind the curve, because all recent opinion polls show that society is much more compassionate than we are on this issue. Members of the public recognise that women have difficult decisions to make and should be facilitated and supported in doing so. Despite this, the Oireachtas cannot get it together to act on the issue.
Deputies are afraid of a small minority of people who form a vocal lobby that puts pressure on them. Some of us find it difficult to deal with this issue because it involves making difficult choices and decisions. It becomes easy, however, when one realises that terminating a pregnancy is a decision that a woman should be able to make in her own right and in her own way. Women, in conjunction with their partner if they have one, can decide what is best for them. This decision should be removed from the Oireachtas and given to women to ensure they have their say.
Nothing demonstrates the need for change more than the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities. I attended a meeting at which women recounted details of the most horrific experiences that were forced on them when they were not allowed to terminate their pregnancies. Following a scan, a woman in such a case is told by a doctor that her child has no chance of life outside of the womb and nothing more can be done for it. It is an indictment of society that we rely on the authorities in Liverpool to deal with the problems we refuse to address. We heard women speak of the horrific experiences they endured as they tried to bring their babies home from Britain for burial in order that they could grieve. They spoke of how they felt on their return and their belief that they should keep quiet about having to leave the country to have a termination. It was horrific listening to the details of these cases, and if we had any compassion we would not allow such cases to happen again. We had the opportunity to do so last year when we discussed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and we now have another opportunity to do so. All that is required of the Minister is that he take the courageous decision to ensure this happens.
The pro-life side will always trot out the argument that some women decide to go through with the pregnancy in cases in which they have been informed that there is no chance of life. I pay tribute to the women who make this decision in order that they can spend some time with their child after birth. However, we must recognise that the decision in such circumstances is one for the woman to make, and not one we should impose.
The Private Members' Bill before the House proposes to do two things - namely, to delete the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and, in so doing, remove the constitutional right to life afforded both to the mother and to the unborn child, and to insert a new provision acknowledging the citizen's right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity. It also affords us another opportunity to debate our abortion laws, which I welcome.
I am hopeful that we will have a rational and measured debate tonight and tomorrow. For too long, the debate on abortion has been dominated by the extremes on both sides, who have, in turn, crowded out the middle ground. Instead of a genuine debate, there has been name calling and a corrosiveness that has damaged how we approach this most difficult and sensitive of issues. I do not believe one side is anti-life simply because it calls itself pro-choice, any more than I believe that one side is rigidly anti-choice simply because it styles itself pro-life. Medicine and the human condition are coloured in grey and cannot be reduced to binary or black and white arguments.
We need to approach this issue with compassion rather than cold certainty. Let us approach this debate in a new spirit. Let us prove to those who have become disillusioned with the extremes of both sides, even with politics, but know in their hearts what is right and just, that we can do so. I hope we can have a calm and measured debate and an exchange of views about what is right and wrong for women, the unborn, families and society. I am glad Deputies have done so thus far tonight.
Individual cases often give rise to ethical and legal dilemmas that are very hard to resolve. While I do not propose to refer to any specific case, Deputies will be familiar with at least some of them. Advocates on both sides of the debate often use such cases to advance their argument, insisting that such cases should never happen again. This is a nonsense, as no law can ever eliminate all human tragedy from pregnancy. Countries such as Ireland which have very conservative laws risk putting the lives of women at risk by refusing terminations, while countries with very liberal laws do likewise in allowing the life of the unborn to be ended and exposing women to potential injury, loss of fertility and even death as a consequence of abortion. Such cases may be rare but they occur.
Dilemmas about late-term abortion, when the unborn child or foetus is at 20, 22, 24 or 26 weeks' gestation, occur in other jurisdictions, as do dilemmas about the viability of an unborn child, fatal foetal abnormalities and even disabilities that are compatible with life. This is not just an Irish problem, as every country and parliament regularly grapples with these issues.
We are not unique and there are no easy answers and, unfortunately, no social consensus on which we can all agree. We can never say "never again" and think to mean it. We need to face up to that and be honest about it. There is no perfect abortion law and never will be. We will always be challenged to amend and refine whatever law we have, and so we should.
The proposal in this Bill asks us to acknowledge the right of all citizens to bodily integrity and personal autonomy. I think this proposal is flawed. It is not clear what the author intends by providing that the State will acknowledge the rights of all citizens to autonomy and bodily integrity. The proposal is vague. It makes little sense to state that the State simply acknowledges that rights exist. Usually once rights are acknowledged, the State then indicates how it intends to protect them.
For example, Article 40.3.3° as it currently reads provides that the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, but continues by stating that with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, the State guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. In other words, the State in Article 40.3.3° is doing more than acknowledging rights; it is also protecting them.
In the same vein, Article 42 acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family, but it goes on to guarantee to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide for the education of their children. In Article 43, the State acknowledges that man has a natural right to ownership of private property, but goes on to provide that the State accordingly guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership. In other words, there is little point in acknowledging a right without adding the specifics as to what the State is going to do to protect that right.
The language employed in the Deputy's proposal is opaque and unsure as to what it actually wants the State to do. These points are all the more important in the context of the Constitution, a document laying down the fundamental legal structure and basic laws of the State. Article 40.3.1° provides that the State guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, to defend and vindicate the personal rights of citizens. Specific rights are referred to in Article 40.3.2°, namely, the right to life, person, good name and property rights.
The Judiciary has identified a number of additional personal rights arising from Article 40.3.1°. One of these is the right to bodily integrity. Another is the right to privacy, which has been recognised as an unenumerated personal right under Article 40.3.1°. Autonomy is related to privacy, and the constitutional values of autonomy and self-determination have also been accepted by the courts as recognised by the Constitution. Thus, autonomy and bodily integrity are personal rights already protected under the Constitution. Therefore, the proposed amendment contains rights that are already in our Constitution.
If there is one thing that we have learnt from the mistakes of the past, it is that ambiguity in wording can be the source of terrible problems further down the line. While I have no doubt about the Deputy's sincerity, passion and feeling in putting forward this amendment for inclusion in our Constitution, I do not believe she has given full thought or due regard to the law of unintended consequences, and I cannot support the inclusion of this wording in our Constitution. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, this Government will not be supporting this Bill.
Indeed, it seems to me that the Deputies in favour of this, in not considering the effects and outcomes that could flow from their proposal, are perhaps making a similar misjudgment to those who sought the inclusion of the eighth amendment in our Constitution in 1983. I doubt any of them thought that the effect of their actions would be, in fact, the creation of a constitutional right to a termination in certain circumstances. That is exactly what happened, and the Oireachtas legislated to codify and clarify that constitutional right only last year in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
In the early 1980s we had what Gene Kerrigan has described as a moral civil war, as two opposing sides fought over principles they genuinely believed in. There were no winners in this cultural civil war, only losers, and the result was a flawed amendment. Just as damaging, as one of the most perceptive commentators, Ann Marie Hourihane, has noted, reflecting on the events of 1983 exactly 20 years later, was the fact that, "one of the biggest results of the amendment was that parliamentary politics lost its thrust". The momentum came from outside of parliament, and she noted that as a result the Dáil never got to grips with this issue. Such criticism is deeply wounding for parliamentarians, and I would like to think that it is no longer correct. On both sides of this House, politicians care deeply about these issues and want to see them resolved, even if we may disagree about how best to do that.
In considering the eighth amendment, we should recall the words of some of the wise voices of the time. The Attorney General of the day, Peter Sutherland, was clear in his objections to the proposed wording but, unfortunately, the Dáil voted against an alternative proposal. In his 33 page memo to the Government, he predicted all the problems that came to pass and warned that, far from providing the protection and certainty which was sought by many of those who advocated its adoption, it would have a contrary effect. He recognised that the eighth amendment would confuse doctors as to their responsibilities and inhibit them from making decisions rather than assist them.
Speaking in the Seanad on 26 May 1983, Mary Robinson attacked the amendment as something "so uncertain in its scope and so potentially contradictory in its meaning" that it would be "so potentially damaging to existing practices in the area of family planning and medical treatment". How prophetic those words were and have turned out to be.
Last September, in this House, I was asked for my views on the eighth amendment. I declined to give them at the time. Ministers for Health do not just represent their own private views; they are guardians of the nation's health care and must work to protect and safeguard all of its citizens. Perhaps people may be interested in where I am coming from. I consider myself to be pro-life in that I accept that the unborn child is a human life with rights. I cannot, therefore, accept the view that it is simply a matter of choice. There are two lives involved in any pregnancy. For that reason, like most people in the country, I do not support abortion on request or on demand.
I also know that this is an issue where there are few certainties. There can be a conflict of rights and difficult decisions have to be made every day, sometimes to save a life and sometimes because the quality of the lives involved also need to be considered. I like to believe that I am a conviction politician, often definite and sometimes blunt, but this is an issue that is different. It requires compassion, subtlety and empathy, and not unshakeable certainty. That was the mistake we made as a Dáil and a society in the 1980s when we engaged in a simplification of politics to present this as a straight choice between right or wrong, when human decisions are rarely so simple.
Speaking today as Minister for Health and as a medical doctor, and knowing all that I do now, it is my considered view that the eighth amendment is too restrictive. While it protects the right to life of the mother, it has no regard for her long-term health. If a stroke, heart attack or epileptic seizure happens, perhaps resulting in permanent disability as a result, then that is acceptable under our laws. I do not think that is right.
Similarly, it forces couples to bring to term a child that has no chance of survival for long outside the womb, if at all. It forces them, against their own judgment, to explain for weeks and months to all enquirers that their baby is dead. I have been present at stillbirths. I know they can be handled well and sensitively, by giving parents a lock of hair, a footprint and the chance to cradle a child, but I do not believe anything is served by requiring women or couples to continue with such pregnancies should they not wish to do so when there is no chance of the baby surviving for long.
The eighth amendment continues to exert a chilling effect on doctors. Difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple or the next-of-kin where there is no capacity, and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now often made on foot of legal advice. That is not how it should be and is not how it used to be.
It is not my right to impose my own views on others, and the current Government has no electoral mandate to do so. This is not a decision that should be rushed. We are told that Civil War politics is now behind us. Perhaps we need to ensure that the politics of the moral civil war are consigned to history as well. I oppose this motion because, although it is well-intended, it repeats the mistakes of the past, and replaces some old errors with some new ones.
Instead, I propose that we have a considered and careful debate, and not attempt a rushed referendum in the spring. We need a real debate and a genuine attempt to find a consensus. The solution is not to create further moral and legal confusion, but rather to try to come together to find a consensus, and in doing so we must first replace our old convictions with renewed compassion.
There is no denying the prevalence of terminations in Irish society today. Many hundreds of thousands of women in the country have travelled to the United Kingdom and elsewhere to have a termination carried out. There is also no denying that there is still a lot of fear and secrecy around travelling for and returning from a termination. I would not be even slightly dismissive or blasé about the medical complications which can occur with a termination.
Numerous complications have been dealt with by doctors and hospitals here when women have returned from the United Kingdom, but regrettably some women do not go straight to the doctor when they suffer complications because of the fear they could be considered criminals and rejected by society. We need to get rid of this attitude in society. We must be very compassionate towards women who have had a termination and must assure them that they will always receive the optimum care from our doctors and hospitals and that nobody will ring the Garda the minute they turn up in accident and emergency units and say they have had a termination.
We must be careful not to be casual about the drug the Deputy mentioned, RU486. This is not a drug that should be taken casually as it can lead to catastrophic bleeding. If such bleeding was to occur outside of a medical facility, where the patient could not get medical care quickly, this could destroy that person's life or quality of life.
In the context of this discussion on termination, I do not believe Irish society is ready for any variation of abortion on demand. There is no doubt there is strong public support in the case of foetal abnormalities, incest and rape, but I do not believe the support is strong enough to ensure that if we had a referendum next spring that it would succeed. Given the inflammatory language used in debates on this emotional issue, I believe we would lose any referendum on this issue. The Deputy may shake her head, but that is my opinion. If such a referendum was defeated, because of being badly thought out, poorly put together and poor quality debate, this would serve no purpose for the women concerned. For that reason, I support the Minister's position that when dealing with a highly emotional issue - we saw how emotional the issue is last summer - we must be careful in how we approach this debate.
I believe we should stay away from the type of language that has been used on this issue suggesting it is somehow an issue of rich versus poor. Those types of sound-bytes are already being used in this Chamber and this is being set up as an issue of whether people have money or not. This is a hugely emotional issue and if we want to win the argument with the public, we must make it a women's health issue and an issue of what women want. We must stay away from the emotional type language that boxes people into corners of being pro-life or pro-choice, forgetting the people in the middle who want to be rational and reasonable on this issue.
I have seen this happen. I saw how Deputies were bullied into one position or another when we discussed legislation here just over a year ago. The same sort of thing will happen again unless we approach the issue in a cool, calm and compassionate way. We should not confuse the issues. What happened to Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway was tragic, but it had nothing to do with our abortion laws. Deputies should read the reports rather than blind themselves to what happened. It was a shocking event where a young woman developed sepsis when having a miscarriage and lost her life. The accusation may well be made that there was a delay in treatment, but that had nothing to do with our abortion laws.
We must move forward on this issue. We will move on by talking about the issues, such as about foetal abnormalities, incest and rape, because there is consensus on those issues, not just between political parties and politicians, but within the public. However, I do not see the consensus the Deputy believes exists for a type of abortion on demand. I do not believe Deputy Daly is calling for abortion on demand, but for some liberal variation of our abortion law. However, I do not believe we have support for that at this point in time.
I would support a referendum on this issue. I am a pro-life legislator, but I do not feel the need to deny the placing of pro-choice legislation on our Statute Book. I know we are not in the right space now to put this type of referendum to the people because no matter how well we word it or put it together or what consensus we reach in regard to who it should provide for, our debate would break down into the same tribal debate we have seen so often when this issue has been discussed over the past 50 years.
We have a long road to travel to reach consensus on this issue in this House before we go to the people. The Deputy has her view and the issue is easy for her because in her mind her view is absolutely right and she does not countenance any other. However, other people in this House who are members of political parties would have to bring their political parties with them before we could bring this legislation to the people. Within those political parties, there are Deputies with difficulties. It is only when we have reached consensus here and have managed to bring everybody in this Chamber together that we will manage to bring forward this legislation.
The Deputy is right that we are usually way behind the curve when it comes to what the general public thinks or will accept, but we go to the trouble of thinking out these issues. This one is very important. The day will come when a referendum on this issue will be put to the people. I hope that when this happens, individuals or political parties do not see it as a niche opportunity for them to use the issue to seek political favour for themselves. This would be to the detriment of the women Deputy Daly speaks about representing here.
The time will come for a referendum. I do not know when it will take place, but it is a lot closer than 20 years away. However, the debate on the where and when and how soon we can have a referendum depends on how we as politicians and members of political parties handle the issue in the meantime. I was not filled with encouragement when I saw how the pre-legislative hearings were handled in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that it will happen in the foreseeable future. However, if we approach the matter in the right way and engage with the wider society, which is further along than us, it might drag us along rather than the other way around.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been debated quite a lot in recent years. More recently, the issue was debated in the context of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill which was debated last year and enacted. The Minister has referred to some issues and fall-out from that debate, such as the Ms Y case which may come before the courts. We are also waiting for a reporting system to be put in place that will inform us of the numbers of people who have been treated in the context of that legislation.
We must accept this is a divisive issue, but there are also many people who take the middle ground. Deputies on the other side mentioned those who favour provisions in the context of fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape. A broad body is of the view that these should have been accommodated in the context of the legislation we discussed previously, but that could not be done because of the constitutional barriers arising from the 1992 Supreme Court judgment and interpretation in the X case and on foot of the eighth amendment of the Constitution.
Most people in the country on either side, if they had their time back, would not have campaigned or advocated for the inclusion of this measure in the Constitution in the first place. Reference has been made to many of the eminent minds at the time in the 1980s when this referendum was put to the people who said it was the wrong decision. They could foresee where we would end up and many of their views came to pass, including that at some stage there would have to be an adjudication by a court on the vindication of the right to life of the pregnant woman versus the right to life of the unborn.
I will quote from my Second Stage contribution on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013:
I do not like to stereotype people or to put them in boxes but I am pro-life in the sense that I believe we should do everything possible to vindicate the life of the unborn. It is something I hold personally dear. I am not a member of any organisation that espouses that view but as a Deputy I believe it is something we should do. It is the fundamental right of the unborn to be brought into this world. However, we face conflicting difficulties when we must provide for complicated medical procedures. I find it difficult to oppose this Bill because I would not like our clinicians and those who deal with this issue every day of the week to have their hands tied because there is not clarity or certainty in the law in terms of clear and definitive guidelines on when they can intervene to save the life of the woman without facing the prospect of a criminal sanction.
That was the purpose of the Bill but the debate has moved on for a number of reasons. There are advocates who express the view that we should have abortion on demand in this country, but on the other side of the equation there are people who believe a pregnancy should not be terminated in any event. Some people have gone so far as to say that this should not happen even in the context of a threat to the life of the mother. There are many people in between who believe the eighth amendment to the Constitution places onerous restrictions on clinicians in making decisions. A number of people continue to argue that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is onerous and restrictive and the health of a woman could be damaged because of it. Some argue that the threat to the life of a woman is dealt with in this legislation but the health of the woman is put at risk in the context of the restrictions it provides for. The reason it is restrictive is the public have been consulted twice in the 1994 and 2002 referenda on the substantive issue and there are conflicting opinions in the sense that the people said women had the right to information and the right to travel but abortions could not be carried out in this country.
A total of 150,000 women have travelled to England since 1983 for a termination and that fact is indisputable. I refer again to my contribution to the previous legislation:
Every year, 5,000 Irish women travel to Britain for terminations. We should not pretend this is not the case. We should show moderation in our use of language when discussing this issue to avoid offending others and be conscious of the need to avoid being judgmental about the 5,000 women who travel abroad for terminations each year. I do not want to make their decision any more difficult by using inflammatory language or making them feel bad. They are our mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and neighbours. I feel very strongly that people should not use nasty, inflammatory language to try to vindicate an argument, because these women are living among us. We should not be judgmental and our language and tone should reflect the fact that at least 150,000 Irish women have travelled overseas for terminations in the past 30 years and they are among us. I welcome the fact that Members of the Oireachtas and people outside the House have, by and large, been responsible and moderate in the language they have used when expressing their views on this issue.
The language used during that debate was moderate but if a broader consultation is conducted with the public, there will be two extreme views and a significant middle ground. I am not sure which Members can claim to speak on behalf of the majority, the minorities or the middle ground. The only way that can be tested is to have a referendum because no Member can claim to be the absolute guarantor of one side or the other. We have varying views. There is a facility in place to provide for a consultative referendum on whether people are satisfied with the present legislation or whether they want it to go further.
Reference has been made to the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities and, as Deputy Twomey said, there is a strong view that this should be addressed. Many people hold strong views on the notion that we would force a woman to carry to full term a baby that will die. I refer to the issue of incest and rape. As a father, I cannot say what I would do if my 14 year old daughter was raped and became pregnant or how I would react. Some people would react by booking a Ryanair flight and taking their daughter to England. There are also cases of foetuses not being compatible with life outside the womb. This happens regularly. Up to 5,000 women a year go abroad for terminations for various reasons.
Many people are not of the view that we should have abortion on demand in this State but there is a strong body of opinion that the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape should be addressed within the State. Nobody in this House can claim that he or she definitively knows the answer to that question. The only way that can be addressed is by having the debate with the public and allowing them to adjudicate. The wording proposed by Deputy Daly has flaws. It advocates regarding one particular area and there are concerns that there would be a liberalisation of the current regime. It is proposed to replace the eighth amendment to the Constitution with the thirty-fourth which would have repercussions. However, a consultative referendum could be held to ask people whether they are satisfied with the status quo or whether they believe the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities, incest and rape should be legislated for. There are people who think we should have abortion on demand but nobody in the House can claim that he or she knows definitively what the public is thinking.
The Minister said the law will be different in 20 years. Why will that be the case? Is it his view that society will become more liberal on this issue or that people will be dragged along screaming and kicking in the context of further court challenges with the Government of the day consistently having to amend legislation? The one way we can definitively find out what the public is thinking now is to have a consultative discussion with them. I do not advocate that the eighth amendment should be amended but we could ask the public what they think as opposed to reading polls in the Sunday newspapers every now and again on the issue.
I might not necessarily agree with everything that was said but the contributions to the debate have been interesting and good. Before I come to the substantive issue, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is wrong in the sanctions it provides against women and I believe that the Government parties were totally wrong in the provisions it put in the Act in respect of women who procure abortions. They are draconian. Whatever my personal beliefs, we have to show tolerance and the Act does not do that.
I heard the word "consensus", and Deputies spoke about arriving at one. I do not think we will ever arrive at a consensus on this issue because there are legitimately different views and those views fundamentally arise from one's belief as to whether or not an unborn child has any fundamental, inherent rights of its own. I think I heard the Minister say that he believed it had but that there were certain limitations on it. I think other people believe, genuinely and absolutely, that an unborn child does not deserve the protection of human rights and does not fundamentally have any rights and that, therefore, abortion is purely an issue for the mother. Of course, the awkward decision that then arises is how late in the pregnancy would one say this goes. One will never reconcile the views of those who believe fundamentally that an unborn human being is a person and, therefore, has rights - which the Constitution tries to protect, regardless of whether people, in some sense or other, modify those rights - and those who believe that the unborn has no independent rights whatsoever and that the matter is totally an issue for the mother. However, there needs to be a debate. No more than with other issues that show up here for a quick stand-up debate for an hour and a half, I do not believe this is the parliamentary forum to tease out the very complicated issues that arise.
One thing that was very interesting, coming from the two doctors on the other side, was how the fear of litigation has become such a factor in medicine. I think the two doctors would agree that no matter how one draws the line and how one draws up legislation, if one lives in a very litigious society, as we now do, one will always watch one's back in respect of the decisions one makes. That is good in certain ways, but it does have its drawbacks, because no matter what way one goes at this, one will have a law, there will be a line in that law and one must make judgments in real human circumstances. I have always taken the view that if I believe a doctor acted in good faith, he or she should not be convicted of any wrongdoing. Then there is the question of the definition of good faith. I always recognised that if one is in a real-life situation and making real-life decisions, one must make them there and then in the moment; one cannot have a three-week discussion about what one will do. This must be taken into account.
There is common ground. Unfortunately, I have only another half a minute. I would like to make one suggestion, which is that all of these issues be thrashed out in all their complexity, and there are massive complexities, in a committee. Could I start with the one on which we can all find common ground - something that is of deep concern to me, not only because of what happened in my constituency but because of what I read in newspapers-----
The Deputy's time has expired.
Could the Acting Chairman give me some more time?
I will give the Deputy ten seconds.
The number one item on the agenda should be to examine maternal mortality rates in childbirth or its immediate aftermath in our hospitals in recent times. Perhaps it just gets more publicity now, but it seems to be at a higher level than previously. Surely we should always start where we can get agreement and work on that issue? It is now acknowledged in the Savita Halappanavar case that if proper medical practice had been followed, there would not have been what was an unnecessary death. That is a starting place from which we could begin to discuss this issue, and then we can move on to the other issues on which there might not be the same consensus.
We are once again addressing the very complex and sensitive issues surrounding abortion. Ireland sees these issues brought into stark relief from time to time, often due to tragic cases, and they evoke a mixture of deep emotions. These tragic cases represent only the tip of the iceberg. We must ensure the very best legal framework for all our people. Too often, either of the absolutes in this debate have tried to shout each other down. I am of the view that it is best to address such complex issues in a calm and considered way based on evidence and reasoned argument, and always in an endeavour to understand and to be compassionate. I appreciate that there are very strongly and sincerely held views on all sides on this most difficult issue.
For many, and I include myself, this is always a very challenging subject. I have always been, as others have already declared, and remain, pro-life. I recognise too that the lives of women can be placed at a substantial risk due to their pregnancy and that only a termination of the pregnancy - as distinct from a termination of the life of the unborn, although this might occur - might save a woman's life. This is the accepted practice in Ireland and it is also the legal position, as is an intervention where the woman's life is at real and substantial risk due to a threat of suicide.
Sinn Féin's current policy would require an amendment to the eighth amendment to the Constitution. We believe that the issue of amending Article 40.3.3° should be considered by a second Constitutional Convention.
Recently, we again heard calls for the repeal of the eighth amendment. Reports in August stated that a woman was forced to undergo a caesarean section following the refusal of an abortion.
The proposed amendment to the Constitution before us this evening is not in line with Sinn Féin party policy and, therefore, we cannot support it. We have a policy that is democratically decided and we as elected voices of Sinn Féin have a duty to articulate and uphold party policy irrespective of our own personal positions. We in Sinn Féin have stated previously that the woman's voice must be at the centre of the process and that no undue obstacles or delays should be put in the way of necessary treatment.
Over many Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna, we have debated this issue and reached an agreed policy position. It is the members of our party, as democratically delegated, who decide policy. We believe that all possible means of education and support services should be put in place to prevent crisis pregnancies. We believe that Irish society has a responsibility to not only address the issue of abortion but to also address the fact that 5,000 Irish women travel to the UK each year for abortions. Sinn Féin believes that the way to reduce the number of women seeking abortions is by way of State provision of comprehensive sex education, full access to safe birth control options and full access to child care and comprehensive support services, including appropriate financial support for single parents. Sinn Féin believes that full information and non-directive pregnancy counselling should be freely available. Sinn Féin is opposed to the attitudes and forces in society that compel women to have abortions and that criminalise those who make that decision. We accept the right of a woman to seek a termination of a pregnancy where her life is at risk or in grave danger and in cases of rape or incest. The issue of fatal foetal abnormalities is a very serious and complex aspect of the abortion issue and one that requires the most careful and compassionate consideration. This consideration is a matter for our members to undertake democratically and is currently under address.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was necessary due to the lack of clarity around when terminations were allowed. In this respect it was necessary, but that is not to say it is without its flaws in practice. It undoubtedly has them. Sinn Féin cannot support Deputy Clare Daly's Bill. That does not mean we do not hold this question in importance and address it on a regular basis. The opposite is the case. We address this issue annually, and not only at Ard-Fheiseanna but in preparation for same. We are doing that once again. We must ensure that our policies are truly representative of our members - ones that they have a say in determining. We recognise that our policy position does require a re-visitation of Article 40.3.3°.
That is something we will develop and articulate in the future. We accept the right of a woman to seek a termination of a pregnancy where her life is at risk or in grave danger and in cases of rape or incest. Any development of that position will only be determined through thorough consideration and debate within our structures.