Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

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


11:12 am

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I wish to share time with Deputy Barry.

I understand what Deputy Cairns meant when she said she had hoped this Bill would not be before the House and that it is not something we wish to face. Given I am a good bit older than her and been through a life of political activism, all I can say is get used to it. Every time you make one step forward, they will try to grab two steps backwards.

This is not the first time I have seen women's gains in this country being chipped away at and an attempt made to erode them. I have seen the same happen with workers' rights, water charges and very many campaigns we have fought on behalf of communities, the oppressed and, in particular, on behalf of women, because we have a horrible legacy in this country of the oppression of women.

This Bill smacks of an attempt to roll back on the gains of the repeal the eighth movement. People should not forget how earth-shattering that movement and outcome were. It was absolutely groundbreaking stuff in terms of the history of this country and the shape of the future. How it happened was through people power and, in particular, through the massive determination of young women throughout the country to see their rights attained and not to have to live in the dark atmosphere in which their mothers, sisters and all the rest had to live and grow up in, be sexually active in, and be potential mothers in or not at all. That is why I think what is happening here today is straight out of the playbook of American fundamentalism.

One of the most honest speakers here today has been Deputy Danny Healy-Rae because he mentioned the heartbeat several times. It is interesting that, not that long ago, a piece of legislation was brought in in Texas, known as the heartbeat legislation, that basically bans abortion once a heartbeat can be detected in a foetus at six weeks. Most of us would not know we were pregnant at six weeks. They have been chipping away at this for decades since the Roe v.Wade judgment, and the Texas legislation makes it possible for any citizen to sue another citizen for helping a woman procure an abortion. That is dark ages stuff, and this in a country where abortion was once upon a time available and part of the health service. Chipping away at women's rights is something we can expect over the next period.

Last night I read back on the transcript from the debate in the House when the group of Deputies who have put forward this Bill also supported an amendment when we tried to frame the regulations around the termination of pregnancy. It is carbon copy stuff; there is nothing any different.

I, for one, am not surprised this Bill is before the House. I will expect it or something similar to come before the House again whenever time allows because what it is trying to do is to row back on the rights women have won and were long fought for, as has been said by other Deputies, by spreading misinformation, doubt and hoping to create hoops, loops and jumps women will have to go through before they can access abortion. They cannot ban it outright or object to it outright but they will try to chip away at it. The kind of Ireland that would bring us back to is the kind of Ireland that saw mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries, symphysiotomy and women being absolutely ignored in terms of their medical needs.

We, as Deputies, are not in a position to pass laws that say whether medical procedures require anaesthesia. Abortion care should be a normal part of medicine in this country and treated in the same way as other procedures, so that when doctors need to administer them, they should be able to administer them.

It is precisely that type of right-wing, religiously motivated political interference we have all become familiar with through the A case, the B case, the C case, the X case and the Y case. We have known the sort of pitiless regime that was imposed on women in the past.

I welcome the defeat of the DUP Bill in Stormont last night. I welcome the fact Sinn Féin changed its position and voted against that Bill. It must be said that was a result of the pressure of people power and the activism of young women across Northern Ireland.

I want to make a very clear point about why we take up these moral attitudes about pregnancy, reproduction and women. It is shameful these attitudes are taken in a country where 2,500 children will sleep in homeless accommodation tonight and more than 2,000 children are in direct provision. We know for sure that affects their ability to live a happy life. Growing up in those circumstances affects their mental health. These are children who have been born. They are walking, thinking, breathing and living. I wish I could hear the Deputies who have brought forward this Bill kick up the same amount of fuss as regularly about children who have been born as they do, both inside and outside this House, about those who have not yet been born. The choice of the woman is involved and that is always totally ignored.

We can expect more of this. There are protests outside abortion clinics and GP centres where abortions are being delivered. That is a fundamentalist view. We need to look forward to the review of the termination of pregnancy regulations, to ensure the three-day barrier is removed and we put an end to only 10% of GPs providing services.


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