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
Regina Doherty (Meath East, Fine Gael)
I thank Deputy Clare Daly for introducing this Bill and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on it. The Bill relates to a matter which none of us likes to discuss. However, discuss it obviously we must. In the 20 years since the Supreme Court decision in the X case, dramatic changes have taken place in Irish society. However, the debate on abortion remains fraught. Following a public outpouring of sympathy and outrage in respect of the original injunction in the X case, the Supreme Court subsequently ruled that abortion is legal where there is a real and substantial threat - including suicide - to the life of a pregnant woman or girl. Ireland is now a very different place from what it was in 1992. The Irish public continues to support the right to life of the unborn when it is reassured that women continue to receive the medical treatment they require during pregnancy.
Deputy Clare Daly's Bill seeks to provide for the termination of pregnancy where a real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman exists and for the prevention of any curtailment, hindrance or preclusion of such treatment that may arise as a result of the pregnancy of that woman. If passed, the Bill would allow a medical practitioner to provide any form of medical treatment to a woman, despite its consequences for the life of the foetus, once two medical practitioners agree that there is a threat to the life of the woman or a psychiatrist or a psychologist and a medical practitioner agree there is a risk of her committing suicide.
The Government is acutely aware of the sensitive nature of this complex issue and is currently taking steps to deal with it. It was on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government that the expert group was established in order that it might consider the judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. This group, which is chaired by Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, has been requested to report to the Government within six months of its establishment. The Government believes that this is the appropriate forum in which to examine this complex and very sensitive matter. It is on foot of the fact that the work of the expert group is ongoing that I will be opposing the Bill before the House. The expert group is due to report back to the Government by means of a written document and within six months of establishment. As the group was established in mid-January, the report will be due in mid-July. The group meets regularly and may consult interested parties and additional relevant experts and professionals.
Meanwhile, Ireland remains the safest place in the world for women to give birth, with UN figures showing Ireland as a world leader in protecting pregnant women. The latest UN study on maternal mortality, published in 2010, shows that from 172 countries for which estimates were given, Ireland remains a world leader in safety for pregnant women. Time and again, international statistics show that Ireland has the lowest number of maternal deaths in the world. On the other hand, increasing evidence suggests there are serious mental health risks associated with abortion. A Finnish study in the European Journal of Public Health recently showed that women who had abortions were six times more likely to commit suicide compared with women who had their babies.
Abortion is often presented as being pro-woman but what abortion advocates refuse to confront is the devastating impact abortion has on many women. In 1997 we were convulsed by the C case involving the young girl made pregnant through rape. The courts again decided that the compassionate solution was to send the girl to the UK for an abortion, but 12 years later the woman at the centre of the case spoke of her devastation and deep regret at having the abortion. Current Irish medical practice is pro-woman and pro-child and we should keep it that way. All rights come with responsibilities and these should be explored as we openly and honestly approach abortion from the legal, medical and human rights perspectives of all parties involved. That includes all of us and especially the mother, father and the child.