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
James Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
I will begin by thanking the Members opposite for raising this important issue. I acknowledge they do so from the best of motivations and for the right reasons. This is an area that touches the lives of many Irish people. It is an area of real concern to Irish women and despite the many considerable complexities involved, it is a matter about which most Irish people have strong views and beliefs. Members will agree on certain matters in this Chamber but must disagree on others. I am sure that everyone present in the Chamber shares my view that, as public representatives, Members have a task to perform. They must take action to deal with a long-overdue responsibility. While I note Deputy Wallace's comment that no action has been taken by six successive Governments, I assure Members this will not be the seventh. Members will have time to consider the many technical issues involved but to first put it in human terms, they must ensure they take the necessary action to protect the lives of women. They must consider the required action, based on clear information of a clinical, legal, scientific and personal nature that tries to understand the medical and human issues involved. On a technical level, the pressing responsibility is to take action to deal with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in respect of the A, B and C v. Ireland case. The Government already has moved in a direction that can give confidence that the action it takes will be well thought-out on all the necessary levels.
Members will be aware that the court ruling places obligations on Ireland and, on 16 June 2011, an action plan was submitted by Ireland to the committee of members of the Council of Europe. As part of that plan, Ireland is committed to ensuring the judgment in this case is implemented as expeditiously as possible. The Government has established an expert group that draws on appropriate medical and legal expertise with a view to making recommendations on how this matter should be addressed properly. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the report of the aforementioned expert group before its proposals are to hand. However, I can state I am confident the group will produce proposals that are sensible, practical and implementable. I remind Members of the quality of the membership of this group, which is chaired by Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, who in the past has authored the Ryan report. Moreover, the group comprises many doctors, legal people and other experts. Notwithstanding this, the Government will do what is the right thing to do, as advised by the expert group, to make progress in this regard as quickly as possible.
While this Bill as drafted goes some way towards addressing the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment, the Government is clear that in its current form it cannot be accepted because it is lacking in certain legal respects. While I am not, of course, a lawyer, the Government has been advised that, in particular, a serious issue exists in respect of the consent provisions in section 6 with regard to Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. Issues of presumed consent are among those being examined by the expert group and require the most careful scrutiny to ensure they are compatible with the Constitution. Moreover, the offences provisions found in section 7 also require greater specificity than is provided in the current draft to ensure legal certainty and their compatibility with Article 40.6.1°.ii of the Constitution. This is another matter that is being considered by the expert group. Apart from the fundamental constitutional issues, it is clear that the proposals as drafted require detailed consultation with medical organisations and in particular with the Medical Council. The Government therefore opposes the Bill before the House.
I again thank the Members opposite for having afforded me an opportunity to remind people the Government is moving to deal with the issue. I give the House an assurance that the expert group is clear on the need to deal expeditiously with the highly complex issues involved and people can be sure that Ireland will live up to its obligations in this regard. This group will make its report in the coming months and it does not make sense to pre-empt its advice.
I wish to meet our obligations, not simply to the European Union but more importantly to our citizens. The Government will take the correct action, based on the best advice available to it, to ensure no woman's life is ever put in danger. The Government will do this based on information, both scientific and personal, but above all to inform the process and outcome with compassion and respect for the women who must face and endure the reality of the current position.