Protection of Life During Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

This is a very simple Bill that seeks to amend the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. The one sentence contained in our Bill states that:

Section 22 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is amended by the substitution of the following for subsection (2):

"(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine of not more than €1.00.".

The reason I have included this is because I strongly believe and I think there is widespread evidence that most people in this country are not aware that a 14 year sentence is contained in the 2013 legislation and can be applied to a woman or a medical practitioner who assists her in respect of obtaining an abortion in this country. That legislation also covers accessing the abortion pill. There is increasing evidence that the abortion pill is being used on a daily basis by women across this State. According to the evidence relating to Internet use, about three women per day access the abortion pill. Northern Ireland has similar legislation except that the sentence is not 14 years but a life sentence. That is the maximum sentence you can receive. Three women in Northern Ireland have been charged with accessing the abortion pill, one of whom was a mother of a 14 year old girl who found herself pregnant. The woman accessed the pill for her daughter while the other two were charged for self-aborting.

My amendment Bill seeks to do something that is fundamental to justice and equality in this State. This is to say that women should not be equated to criminals and be subject to the fear of a 14 year sentence because they tried to gain control over their fertility and lives. Whatever Deputies' views on abortion are, the criminalisation and sentencing of women to a sentence of this magnitude is totally unconscionable and unacceptable. Even after we get the result from the Citizens' Assembly and the potential for a referendum, whatever that may be, this sentence still remains on the Statute Book and can be used against women for asserting their right to something they can procure outside this State but not within it. It is a very simple Bill that tries to change that sentence to a fine of €1. One might ask why am I bothering with a fine of €1.

The reason I had to include a sort of peppercorn fine was that on the two different occasions we drafted a Bill to decriminalise the procuring of an abortion and to get rid of the 14 year sentence, the parliamentary legal advice was that one could not do this as it was unconstitutional as a result of the eighth amendment. Instead, we are reducing the penalty from a sentence of 14 years to a peppercorn fine of €1.

I hope everybody in this Chamber will consider this a serious alternative to draconian legislation which is punitive on women and on women's right. International Women's Day is coming up and we could at least make a gesture to take this extremely seriously and look at alternatives. On Tuesday next, I hope to move the Second Stage of this Bill should the Deputies here allow the First Stage to go through.

People Before Profit and other groups in this Chamber believe further delaying a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment is causing much hardship to women, particularly those who face a fatal foetal abnormality and those with crisis pregnancies who leave the State or procure the abortion pill. We need to have that referendum. Even if a referendum is held, there is a 14 year sentence for procuring an abortion in this State and women and their medical practitioners may well fall foul of future legislation.

The purpose simply is to reduce the penalty to a €1 fine. Hopefully, we will debate this on Tuesday next. As I said, what really triggered the urgency behind this is that in Northern Ireland, 80 or 90 miles up the road, three women have faced the courts because they have used the abortion pill, which is increasingly the choice women are making because it is simple and safe and if one obtains it early, it is the best way of dealing with a crisis pregnancy. I very much fear this sentence imposes a fear factor on women in this country and that it is a chill factor on medical practitioners. Reducing it to a €1 fine would be fair, decent and humane.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.