Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

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


11:22 am

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I support the foetal pain relief Bill, which I was happy to co-sponsor when it was introduced in May. I continue to support its humanitarian measures completely and I encourage my colleagues to allow this Bill to progress to Committee Stage. The Bill will place an obligation to give pain relief to unborn babies before late-term abortions. Scientific evidence now suggests unborn babies can feel pain before 20 weeks' gestation. This was pointed to in a recent article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethicsin 2020. By providing pain relief to unborn babies, we are simply doing the decent thing in light of the growing medical evidence.

It is worth repeating the point that late-term abortions are happening in Ireland. Under the 2018 abortion legislation, three separate sections allow for the provision of late-term abortions under broad and vague terms. In these circumstances, unborn babies are extremely likely to feel pain. The proposals contained within this foetal pain relief Bill would ensure these babies did not have to suffer pain as their lives were being ended.

It is important to note the proposals contained within this Bill are specific and not linked to other aspects of the abortion debate. Providing unborn humans with pain relief is a measure based upon fundamental principles of human rights and ethics. I would appeal to Deputies to approach this Bill on its particulars and judge it on its merits.

The most recent guidelines from January 2020 set out by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Ireland make no reference to the provision of pain relief medication for babies in late-term abortions. By contrast, extensive protections exist in Irish law for animals to ensure they do not suffer unnecessary pain. If basic animal welfare is considered necessary and good, why is the same principle not applied to humans? This is a legitimate question which should be addressed without any side-stepping of the issue.

A similar amendment to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill was tabled in 2018 but was rejected, unfortunately, before the new abortion law came into force. I hope the passage of time and the presence of new evidence which has since come to light will impact on Deputies and encourage them to consider this Bill today with a fresh perspective. It is extremely unfortunate that pain relief was not included within the abortion legislation from the outset. That would have avoided the issue surfacing again now. The best time to rectify this issue is now rather than later.

Providing pain relief medication for unborn babies undergoing surgical procedures for spina bifida and similar ailments is widespread general practice. However, during abortions, the same measures are not applied. This is an unfair inconsistency that is not based on any ethical or scientific consideration but is based simply on whether a baby is wanted or unwanted. Irrespective of a person's views on abortion, this inconsistency should be addressed and a provision set in place to ensure unborn babies are spared the pain inflicted upon them in an abortion.

Although this Bill concerns abortion, it does nothing to impact on the operation of abortion in this country.

It simply addresses an easy fix to a problem. The problem is increasingly being considered internationally in countries such as France, where 97% of late-term abortions are provided with pain relief medication as humane measures. This can be done in Ireland as has been done abroad. In context, the current three-year review of the abortion legislation is important. The issues raised within the Bill should be taken seriously by the Minister for Health. We need this issue to be taken seriously.


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