Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed)


9:45 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

There is a dispute here about whether abortion happens on the basis of gender. It is estimated that there are 100 million missing women in the world today due to gender selective abortion and infanticide. To give Deputy Chambers some of the facts in that regard, I note that in China the sex ratio for the generation born between 1985 and 1989 was 108 men for every 100 women. By the generation born between 2000 and 2004, it was 124 for every 100 women. In some provinces, it is at unprecedented levels of 130 men for every 100 women. In countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Armenia and Azerbaijan, they are also having major problems with this. In India, there is a radical gender ratio divergence because for economic, social and cultural reasons, unfortunately and shockingly, they favour sons over daughters. These facts can be seen clearly by anyone who takes a second or two to investigate them. People might think this only happens in these particular countries, but it is happening in western countries also. I am happy to let Deputy Chambers understand that a lecturer in statistics at Imperial College London says that among immigrant groups from these countries, there is clear evidence of a trend and that the only reliable available explanation consistent with a statistically significant gender shift observed in the census data is gender selective abortion.

It is shocking to me that this could or would happen, yet it is happening in western countries. It is happening in Canada, Britain and the United States of America. Deputy Chambers should realise that it is happening to such an extent that Labour Party MP Naz Shah, the shadow women and equality minister in the United Kingdom, has called for a ban on gender selective abortion in Britain. The Labour Party in Britain is no bastion of pro-life views but it knows non-invasive pregnancy testing at nine weeks makes it possible to identify the gender of the unborn child and to have an abortion on that basis. The Labour Party knows that is happening in Britain. I do not think Irish people are morally superior to British people. We live in a globalised society and there are many people from these cultures living in Ireland who share the views people have in India and China. It is clear that this is possible under the legislation. It is clear in the legislation that this is legal. All I am saying is that we should follow the advice and example of the British Labour Party and lay down a clear marker that gender selective abortion will not be allowed here.

I refer to disability in respect of which the following is very important. In an earlier contribution, the Minister, Deputy Harris, said it was important for the Government to stick with the general gist of the debate around the referendum. The Minister noted that before the referendum, people were saying "Don't trust politicians because when they legislate, what they introduce will be radically different to what they articulated in advance of the referendum." In February, the Minister said there would absolutely not be a right to have an abortion on the basis of disability in the Bill. He said that would explicitly not be allowed. Non-invasive pregnancy testing at nine weeks is available in Ireland and the results are available within three days. That will tell one what disability may be present within the pregnancy.

It is absolutely practical and feasible under the legislation as drafted for a person to have an abortion on the basis of disability. It allows for it. This is one of the issues that motivated many people on our side of the debate when the referendum was happening. I was at a public meeting in Kerry on Monday and two women who had voted "Yes" told me they had done so on the understanding that under the legislation, it would be explicitly illegal to have an abortion on disability grounds. It is not. It is explicitly allowed because an abortion without indication is allowed up to 12 weeks. By definition, that allows it to happen.

People will say this will not happen in Ireland. However, we need only look at our nearest neighbour where there is an organisation called Don't Screen Us Out. I ask Members to think about that for a second. In the 21st century, people with disabilities in Britain have come together to create an organisation with that name to ask able-bodied people not to select out people with disabilities before birth. To quote the statistics from a government health body in Britain, the birth rates for children with Down's syndrome are falling by approximately 13% because 90% of children diagnosed in the womb with Down's syndrome are, unfortunately, aborted. It would be a very strong message for us to send if we say we will protect people with disabilities 100% under this legislation. We should simply provide in the Bill for the promise the Minister made before the referendum took place.

If Members are looking for another example from a European country, the minister for health in the Netherlands was asked what would happen if the right to choose led to a situation in which no more children with disabilities were born. The Minister said "Well that is something we would have to get used to." That is a startling situation. Anyone who believes a gap should be left in the legislation in this regard must look into his or her own heart and ask whether that is fair. There are people on the other side who are decent and who want abortion rights. There are decent people whose instinct is not to restrict those in any way at all because they believe access is so important. However, all I say is that in these two situations, we should be able to take a step towards each other to provide some protection.


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