Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018

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


5:50 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 11, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

“Protection of Infants born alive

16. (1) In this section, “born alive” means the complete emergence of a foetus from the body of the woman, regardless of the state of gestational development, who, after emergence, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached, and regardless of whether the emergence occurs as a result of natural or induced labour, caesarean section, termination of pregnancy or otherwise, shows any evidence of life including, but not limited to, one or more of the following: (a) breathing;

(b) a heartbeat;

(c) umbilical cord pulsation; or

(d) definite movement of voluntary muscles. (2) In this section, “infant” means a foetus who has been born alive as a result of the carrying out or attempted carrying out of a termination of pregnancy under this Act.

(3) A medical practitioner shall take all steps as may be appropriate and practicable to preserve the life of an infant.

(4) For the avoidance of doubt, the fact that the infant has been born alive as a result of the carrying out or attempted carrying out of a termination of pregnancy under this Act shall not be a relevant consideration for a medical practitioner when determining what constitutes an appropriate and/or practicable step under subsection (3).”.

The amendment requires that a doctor take all appropriate and practical steps to preserve the life of an infant who is born alive as a result of the carrying out, or attempted carrying out, of a termination of pregnancy. It provides for a basic humanity that should have been included in the Bill from the outset, and it is strange and perverse that it was not. It gives clarity and certainty to doctors on how to proceed where an abortion does not result in the death of a baby. It makes clear that where there are indications of life after birth there is a duty to act to save that life. It does not dictate to medical practitioners what steps are appropriate in any given case.

This will vary in the circumstances, particularly the stage of gestation. Different considerations will apply, such as if the infant is born alive after the point of viability. That will be a matter for clinicians at each delivery.

Abortion survivors being left without care is not a theoretical problem Official figures show in a ten year period starting in 2000, 491 babies who survived botched abortions were abandoned by medical staff and left to die alone without care in Canadian hospitals. In the UK the confidential inquiry into maternal and child health revealed that in 2005, 66 babies in England and Wales were born alive and left, unaided, to die after failed abortions. The amendment, if accepted by the Minister and his colleagues, would ensure that such a scandal will not happen here. It will do nothing to prevent access to abortion but it will avoid the gross human rights abuse that happens when a law does not protect babies who survive abortions. It is unimaginable and unthinkable that such a thing can happen in any right-thinking hospital or care situation where there are medics who have taken the Hippocratic oath and love what they do and do it well and where what they do 99% of the time is save lives.

The Minister used the word "compassion" often during the referendum campaign and since. The amendment is all about compassion and care to one of the most vulnerable in our society, the tiny vulnerable baby who just survived the trauma of an abortion. There is no justification for a cold conclusion that the baby does not deserve compassion.

Amárach Research conducted polling in the wake of the referendum which showed that 69% of respondents believed that where an unborn baby survives an abortion procedure and is born alive that doctors should be obliged to give it medical care to preserve his or her life; only 9% disagreed and the others said they did not know. These and the figures from Canada and the UK inquiry shine a light on the chilling reality of legalised abortion without protection against practices which are rarely discussed in public. However, it is a conversation that we must have.

It is no good for the Minister to say that this will not happen in Irish hospitals when we all know that abortion clinics will inevitably become the main providers. It is happening across the water and in many other jurisdictions. Any mealy-mouthed assurances from the Minister will cut no cloth with any of us or with most right-thinking people, including the 69% in the Amárach poll.

I have stood outside the gates of this House and heard a very brave woman in her 40s tell her story of her botched abortion. Thankfully, she survived and is able to talk about it all over the world. She has a family of her own and is expecting grandchildren. As I said last night, I have heard about more than one case and I have heard many others give testimony. We know there are countless numbers of people. Anything can go wrong in a safe delivery but when one is out to destroy life, one might not always succeed. I have seen the evidence. It was a pity that when that woman came to Dublin during the summer and hotels were booked for her to tell her story, they were forced to cancel the bookings. That was not the case in Cork, however, where we held the event in the hotel without a problem. In Dublin, it had to be held in candlelight, where she gave her testimony on the street in front of a hotel. We talk about democracy and about choice, but what of the choice adults might make to go and listen to this woman whose name, which I should have read into the record, eludes me? I salute her telling her story about the trauma she went through for days, after saline material was injected into her. A caring nurse was passing and heard her squeals for protection, like any infant born, or animal, for that matter, and had compassion and took her into her care and gave her heat and liquids. Now she has life to tell the tale. What a wonderful story. To think that after meetings were booked, arranged and deposits paid, hotels in this city were bulldozed and intimidated and staff followed home to ensure that woman could not deliver her story in three different quasi-public places and that the meeting had to be held in candle light. It was more powerful in candlelight by the Liffey in Dublin, where hundreds of people with compassion and humanity listened to the story. We are asking for nothing more than some shred of humanity to be put into this barbaric legislation. All we are asking with these amendments is for some shred of humanity. We will not be ridiculed for doing so as we do so honestly and respectfully.


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