Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Private Members' Business: Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012: Second Stage


8:00 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)

I am very proud to be part of the introduction of this Bill put forward by the United Left Alliance and Deputy Mick Wallace, the Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012. The Bill is very specific. It is based on the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. The girl was only 14 years of age at the time and is now a woman, somewhere in this country or elsewhere. I wish her well.

It is very robust legislation, which Deputy Clare Daly has outlined well. It has been checked with the international centre for reproductive rights and we have had legal advice on it. It is definitely a Bill that can be worked on with the support of the Dáil, if we get agreement on it today, which should happen.

I want to bring us back in time. We must think back to 1992, although some in the Chamber might not remember what happened. On 30 January 1992 a rape was reported to the Garda. On 4 February the parents of the child sought advice from the Garda about the admissibility of foetal DNA evidence. On 6 February X and her parents travelled to England and arranged an abortion for the following day. On the same day an application was made to the High Court for a temporary injunction, which was granted by Mr. Justice Costello. X and her parents returned to Ireland that night. On 10 and 11 February the High Court heard in camera the application for a permanent injunction. On 12 February the story appeared on the front page of The Irish Times and was released into the psyche of the country. On 17 February Mr. Justice Costello granted a permanent High Court injunction. On 20 February the parents lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court and applied for an early hearing. That hearing took place on 24 February, again in camera. On 25 February the Supreme Court hearing continued. On 26 February the Supreme Court listed the injunction, with reasons to be given at a later date.

In that period of time, as Deputy Daly said, thousands of people came out on the streets demanding that this child had the right to go to Britain for an abortion. I remember distinctly seeing placards where the country was depicted as being surrounded by barbed wire, expressing the point that women were chained into this country and not allowed to go to Britain for abortions. The Supreme Court in Attorney General v. X case ruled that a 14 year old girl pregnant as a result of rape faced a real and substantial risk to her life due to the threat of suicide and that this threat could be averted by the termination of her pregnancy. Therefore, X was entitled to an abortion in Ireland under Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution, which requires the State to have due regard to the equal right of the life of the mother and the unborn.

It was very important for me to go through that history and reflect that period because it was a very emotional period. It was not an abstract discussion or debate but a very real situation where people in this country saw that this child needed and had a right to go to Britain for an abortion in that serious circumstance. It is very important in this debate to dispel the myth that this legislation is opening the door to abortion on demand. Article 40.3.3° denies a woman's rights where her health is in danger through a pregnancy with foetal abnormalities, or a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, and denies a woman's right to choose on social or economic grounds.

It was a very sad occasion today for me and many others who met the women who have had to face the tragic circumstance of foetal abnormalities. It was a turning point in that women came out to say this is not acceptable. They were faced with a situation where they were grieving because the pregnancy would be over and then they had to face travelling out of the country on boats and airplanes like criminals. This was the main point put across today in outlining the experiences of these women. I salute Arleth, Amanda, Ruth, Jenny and Siobhán as well as the hundreds of women who are obliged to travel from this country every year and who take the serious decision to terminate their pregnancies. It is an outrage that this is occurring and that these women are faced with these circumstances. In many cases these women have been informed that if they gave birth, the child would not survive. One woman in particular explained that the condition of her pregnancy meant she was crushing the baby. She did not wish to continue the pregnancy and she believed the best decision would be for her to terminate it. That was her decision and her choice. The options were to carry through with the pregnancy or to go to England, a terrible situation to be in. I cannot imagine having to face such an experience.

The point was made clearly at today's meeting that the issue of money is serious. It costs between €2,000 and €3,000 to terminate a pregnancy in Britain. The grief and criminality of the experience of these women should not be accepted by any right-minded person in the country. What kind of society are we living in when we cannot discuss providing abortion for women in these circumstances without anti-abortionists claiming that we are opening the door to abortion up to the last week of pregnancy without any qualification?

I would welcome a debate on the broader circumstances in which women find themselves, including such issues as rape, incest, health and foetal abnormalities and the right for women to chose to have an abortion. Deputy Clare Daly made some poignant comments earlier on which I wish to elaborate. They related to how these issues affect women now that we are in a recession. Women cannot access abortion if they do not have the money to travel. Working women, women on low pay and migrant women cannot leave the country and cannot seek an abortion outside the country. It is accepted in this country that abortion exists but the view is that it simply does not happen on our doorstep. We sweep it under the carpet and suggest it can be dealt with elsewhere. This is outrageous.

There have been six successive Governments since 1992. The Labour Party was in power during this period from 1992 to 1997. Two referendums were held in which the people endorsed the X case rulings. There have been three related Government committees and a fourth Government committee has been formed. Following the outcome of the A, B and C case, the European Court of Human Rights instructed the Government to present an action plan for legislation to allow abortion in Ireland where a woman's life could be in danger because of a pregnancy. The particular point made related to how the lack of legislation adversely affects a woman who does not have the financial means to seek medical services outside the country and how such women are particularly vulnerable.

Apparently, the Labour Party will not support the Bill on the grounds that it does not go far enough. In our view, there is no contradiction in supporting this Bill or any further legislation to provide for abortion on health or social grounds. The Labour Party should not hide behind the Minister's expert group and cause further delays in legislation which could help vulnerable women and doctors who wish to help them by providing a legal framework for abortion in Ireland according to the limited circumstances of the X case.

I refer to some of the related issues raised in recent days. Some people claim to represent the majority of people in the country. However, times have changed and moved on dramatically in the past 20 years. Independent research into Irish women's and men's attitudes towards abortion was conducted by YouGov plc in 2010. The research revealed that approximately 87% agreed that termination of a pregnancy should be permitted if the pregnancy seriously endangered the life of the woman. Some 78% agreed that termination of a pregnancy should be permitted if a woman's health is at risk. Some 78% agreed that termination of a pregnancy should be permitted if the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse, rape or incest. Some 62% agreed that termination of a pregnancy should be permitted if there is evidence of profound foetal abnormality. Some 41% agreed that termination of a pregnancy should be permitted if the woman believes it is in her or her family's best interests. Only 3% of respondents believed that abortion in Ireland is not acceptable under any circumstances. However, this 3% appears to be holding this Government to ransom and has done the same for previous Governments.

Another study was carried out on 25 November 2011 dealing with doctor's opinions of abortion. Under this survey somewhat more than 50% of Irish general practitioners believe abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it. A study earlier this year of 500 established GPs along with 250 GPs in training revealed that 48% of respondents had held a consultation in the previous six months involving a woman either before or after she had travelled abroad for termination of a pregnancy. The study, carried out by Dr. Mark Murphy, a GP with the Sligo general practice training scheme, is understood to be the first research to examine the attitudes of GPs toward abortion and their clinical experiences of termination. The study was based on a postal and e-mail survey of randomly chosen family doctors. It also highlighted health problems for woman related to the issue. Some four out of ten respondents believed a woman's health care suffered because of the requirement to travel to have a termination. GPs reported difficulty with after-care for women affected. One respondent noted that many women do not attend their Irish GP for after-care because they are ashamed or embarrassed and that often they present too late with infection or bleeding. Respondents also noted the psychological stress involved. One respondent commented on how the illegality of the action and having to travel abroad added to the traumatic effects of what was already a complex situation and a decision not taken lightly by women. Of the established GPs surveyed, some 52% stated that abortion should be available to any woman who chose it and 24% said it should be allowed only in very limited circumstances such as a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. Other specific examples cited by respondents included cases of rape or sexual abuse, maternal cancer and cases involving major foetal abnormalities. Some 11% stated that abortion should never be available while 13% expressed no definite opinion. This is an important reflection of the thinking of the medical profession on the issue. Things have moved on in recent years and people have accepted the reality rather than the abstract of women's decisions in this country.

It is interesting to note some of the statements sent by e-mail about medical treatments and others to the effect that the Bill represents an attack on vulnerable children. Many of the same people who sent these will vote for the Social Welfare Bill which will reduce the age for eligibility for children of lone parent payments from 14 to seven years. This will put more children and families into the poverty trap. In certain circumstances a person who is not working must sign for jobseeker's allowance and present for work. What is such a person to do and where will they leave their seven year old child? They will not leave their seven year old child because that would be wrong. These people will be in conflict with the State in respect of the jobseeker's allowance. The other side of the coin involves cases where women are working. The €60 per week reduction will put them in a difficult situation since affordable child care is not available in this country and there is no after-school care. Will the same people referred to earlier come out against the Bill to be brought forward by the Labour Party later tonight? Where is the condemnation of that Bill from throughout society?

The CSO survey on income and living conditions in Ireland 2010 showed that the inequality ratio has increased with the top 20% of earners bringing home an income 5.5 times greater than the lowest income group. The survey also confirmed that children remain the most exposed group with a consistent poverty rate of 8.1% in 2010. Social Justice Ireland has produced figures to show that 200,000 children are living in poverty, an increase of 92,000 in two years, during one of which the current Government has presided in the Dáil.

Another argument is put forward to the effect that dressing up abortion on medical grounds is wrong. However, this is a medical treatment. We should debate the issue properly rather than the chaotic debate that has taken place in recent years. A further argument is to the effect that not permitting abortion in Ireland leads Ireland to be one of the safest countries in which to be pregnant and give birth. This is not related to the issue under debate tonight and cannot be taken as part of it. We call on all parties to support the Bill. The party Whip should be removed and Members should be allowed to support the legislation with a free vote.


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