Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Foetal Pain Relief) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:02 am

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

This Bill is deeply troubling and morally wrong. It is an attempt to undermine the will of the Irish people. It is trying to legislate on medical best practice. This is not only inappropriate, but also incredibly disrespectful to women and doctors. Ultimately, it is a move to control women’s bodies. We are not going to return to those days. The eighth amendment and all it represented was decisively dismissed by the Irish people. The only question for this House now is how we can ensure best medical and caring practice for women and families.

This Bill is cloaked in language of compassion when in reality it is trying to drag us backwards and to have the debate all over again. All we can say to that is “No”. The people of Ireland, especially the women who have had to endure patriarchal control for generations, will not put up with it. The days of middle-aged men trying to control the bodies of young women are over. We have won our bodily autonomy and we are not giving it up. This Bill is straight from the playbook of anti-choice Americans. It is a commonly used barrier on behalf of those who believe in forced pregnancies. It makes it more difficult for women in traumatic situations to access healthcare. I would have hoped that no one would think of putting forward such a Bill, especially given how clearly the Irish people spoke on this issue. The majority of people voted for free, safe and legal abortion. In my constituency almost 65% of people voted in its favour. I trust women, families, doctors and nurses.

It is highly inappropriate for legislators to intervene in medical practices. Despite our under-funded health service, we have some of the most dedicated and caring medical staff in the world and this Bill is acutely insulting to the care they provide every day. Patients and healthcare professionals should have the freedom to make decisions based on medical science and the best interests of the patients themselves, nothing else. Legislation on particular medical procedures is not just highly inappropriate but it serves to confuse and restrict options available to women and families, often in the most tragic circumstances. Abortions are healthcare and girls and women are entitled to reproductive health. The Irish people have guaranteed those rights.

This Bill is part of a larger anti-choice strategy to treat abortion care as exceptional. Where are the laws on anaesthetics for orthopaedic surgery, or the Bills regulating colorectal procedures or prostate cancer care? They are not up for debate in this House because we trust medical professionals. It appears that the Rural Independent Group believes that healthcare for girls and women needs legislation. This Bill is especially callous and upsetting for women and families who have experienced terminations after 20 weeks. The fact that we are standing here debating this and the inevitable coverage it will receive will no doubt be very distressing to them, and my heart goes out to every individual and family affected. Cases of foetal anomaly are rare, sensitive, clinically complex and altogether heartbreaking.

It is astonishingly disrespectful to try to sensationalise later abortions. They are the most difficult and emotional decisions a woman or family will ever have to make.

The exceptionally courageous individuals and couples involved in terminations for medical reasons were forced to share their personal stories of pain and sorrow during the referendum. Anyone who is willing to listen will know the hurt and agony they endured in situations with no good options. Their choice for termination is always based on love. They are motivated to end or prevent suffering. To suggest these people and their medical professionals need a law to consider foetal pain is particularly cruel. We should be discussing the support we can put in place for these women and their families. Many, mainly those who need terminations for medical reasons, still have to travel abroad to get care that should be available at home.

I will clarify the reality that has been greatly distorted by earlier contributions. Foetal anomaly terminations are carried out in line with best medical practice as part of a larger care plan in ways that are humane and minimise distress. Healthcare practitioners are highly trained and obviously already follow the highest ethical duties of care. These complicated and sensitive cases have to be guided by medical science and ethics, not dictated by anti-choice Deputies or external groups. This Bill is unnecessary, inappropriate and hurtful. Instead, we should be discussing the ways we can ensure compassionate abortion care. Our legislation still falls very far short of international human rights law and medical standards.

Before I move on to the review, which is what we should all be talking about and how we can better the legislation, I wish to refer to Deputy Cullinane's comment and Sinn Féin being determined to ensure women in Northern Ireland can access abortion case, we would all like to believe that. Perhaps the Deputy can explain why Sinn Féin keeps abstaining when it comes to Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, Bills in the North that seek to limit that.

Regrettably, it seems the Minister for Health has chosen to review the operation of the current law rather than the legislation itself. The experiences of women over the past three years cannot be disregarded by the State. The glaring issues, which were identified early on, remain and will remain for years if the Minister remains committed to the status quo. I think we all hope that will not happen.

We must ask the following. Have the Government parties learned nothing from the referendum? Do they still think of this as a subject to be avoided rather than accept the people are clearly in favour of safe and supportive abortion care? The current law does not represent this. It is a shame the Government has not yet been clear on whether it will provide the necessary review.

As I have mentioned, people in the most heartbreaking situations are still forced to travel due to the restrictions under the current law. These restrictions have no basis in medical science. Instead of women, their partners and doctors making decisions based on best practice and compassion, they must get legal advice. This needs to stop. This was a key issue for many voters in the referendum. Never again should a family enduring a traumatic situation be forced onto a plane or a boat.

Similarly, the mandatory three-day waiting period, which is not evidence-based, has a negative impact on those seeking abortion care, especially in rural areas where access to transport and providers is limited. This delay is medically unnecessary and only serves as an additional barrier. It must be removed.

Abortions need to be decriminalised. This is another oppressive tool that creates uncertainty, forcing medical practitioners to make legal rather than medical decisions.

Ireland still does not provide proper maternity and pregnancy care. Earlier routine prenatal screening and perinatal genetic services are still not available. Maternity units are understaffed.

The current law is restrictive and harmful. It puts in place arbitrary barriers, creates uncertainty for medical professionals, and forces women and couples to continue to travel for terminations. It is within the Government's power to change all of this and it must act. The Bill before us needs to be voted down today. I welcome the Government's position to help achieve that, but I will still push for the real review we so desperately need.

This Bill is upsetting for the women and families who have had later abortions. It is also insulting to our healthcare practictioners. Anybody who canvassed during the referendum will remember that when they knocked on doors and talked to people, many of them were voting yes for the people who needed to travel for terminations for medical reasons, and they are still forced to do that.

This Bill represents sensationalism that has no place in any humane system concerned with best medical practice. It definitely has no place in a republic that voted overwhelmingly for free, safe and legal abortion care. The days of this House controlling the bodies of women and girls has passed whether the sponsors of the Bill realise it or not.


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