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
Kathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
I wish to add my voice to that of my colleague, the Minister for Health, in stating the Government wishes to ensure that pregnant women whose lives are at risk can access appropriate medical treatment in Ireland, including lawful termination of pregnancy. As Members are aware, termination of pregnancy already is lawful in Ireland when it meets the criteria laid out in the X case ruling, that is, if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and that this real and substantial risk can only be averted by the termination of the pregnancy. Our medical practitioners acknowledge this possibility. The Irish Medical Council's ethical guidelines clearly state that in current obstetric practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic interventions, including termination of pregnancy, are required at a stage when due to the extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. I am sure everyone present listened carefully to the details contained in the e-mail which Deputy Wallace read into the record. In the type of exceptional circumstances such as those which I have outlined, it may be necessary to terminate the pregnancy in order to protect the life of the mother while also making every effort to preserve the live of the baby. The Irish Medical Council's guidelines also make it clear that risk to life includes the risk to the life of a mother arising from a threat of suicide.
We are extremely fortunate in Ireland that we have an exceptional record in respect of maternal mortality. As the Minister indicated, according to the most up-to-date statistics from the World Health Organization, namely, those published in 2008, Ireland was second in the world in the context of its low maternal mortality rate. This would seem to indicate that pregnant women in this country receive a very high standard of care. However, in the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment, the European Court of Human Rights found that Ireland had failed to respect the applicant's private life contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as there was no accessible and effective procedure to enable her to establish whether she qualified for a lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with Irish law.
It is on foot of this judgment, and to fulfil a commitment included in the programme for Government, that on 13 January the Government established an expert group to examine the court's judgment. This group will recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment, taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area and the overriding need for speedy action. The judgment did not find that having to travel in order to access a termination of pregnancy where the pregnancy does not put a woman's life at risk is a violation of human rights. Therefore, the right of access to abortion in Ireland for medical reasons does not fall within the remit of the expert group. I have been informed that the deliberations of the group are going well and that we can look forward to its report this summer.
Like the Minister, I fully accept that this Bill was brought forward in good faith and for very good reasons. I sympathise and agree with many of the sentiments expressed on the other side of the House.