Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution: Statements (Resumed)
Can we have a civilised debate and not interrupt each other?
The committee did a huge volume of work and produced a cross-party report with recommendations. I thank them, from all parties and none, for their work and dedication to that difficult task. The draft legal framework being prepared by the Department is based on these recommendations. It is very important to say that if the people of Ireland do not repeal Article 40.3.3°, this legislation becomes hypothetical because we cannot make any further changes on any aspect, be it fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest, women's health or any other issue, as long as the constitutional ban remains. However, I intend to publish a policy paper at the beginning of March which will outline what that legislation would include so that public and political debate can be informed. I want to say now that what this entails is a proposal to make termination of pregnancy safely and legally available in this country in more circumstances than it is now, but it will remain restricted to certain circumstances. It will propose to make terminations lawful up to 12 weeks in order to provide care to those women in crisis pregnancy who might otherwise be forced to travel, to take the abortion pill unsupervised, or who have been the victims of rape. There will be restrictions, such as the involvement of a medical practitioner, a restriction that does not exist today with regard to the abortion pill. Beyond the first trimester, terminations will only be available in the exceptional circumstances set out in the committee's recommendations and following the assessment of two medical professionals. In all other circumstances abortion will remain unlawful.
The Government's response to the committee's report will not just be confined to regulating termination. What are termed the ancillary recommendations in the report are also important. These are with regard to access to contraception, sex education in our schools, support for women in crisis pregnancies and perinatal care. The Government's response will look at all of these issues and not just the issue of regulation of terminations in this country.
I acknowledge again the way this particular issue challenges us. It causes us to ask difficult questions of ourselves and makes us uncomfortable as we collectively wrestle with what is, at its core, a very personal, private matter. We all know the joyous thing that news of a pregnancy is for so many, but we also know it is a terrifying thing for some and a tragic thing for others. Right now, Irish women are driven to find their own solutions and sometimes they put themselves at risk in doing so. We cannot ignore this reality. They are left without help, advice or support at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. I genuinely hope that as a country we can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our wives. I know I can no longer tolerate it.
I hope that as we continue to debate ahead of the forthcoming referendum we will continue to be guided by two fundamental principles, namely, trusting women and trusting doctors. In doing so, and in listening to each other with respect, I believe we as a people can make the momentous decision ahead of us with clarity, compassion and care. I look forward to returning to the House in the coming weeks with a constitutional amendment Bill which, if passed by the Houses, will facilitate a referendum on this very important issue by the end of May.