Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

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


11:32 am

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent) | Oireachtas source

The Minister said earlier the issue of foetal pain relief in the termination of pregnancy can be dealt with in the upcoming review. I would like some clarity on this. Will the terms of reference allow it? Will it be part of the review? That is an important question. The Minister determines the terms of reference, so he has the answer. We need a policy response on this issue.

To be honest, I was not even aware of this issue until a few months ago. In my ignorance I assumed a foetus, an unborn child, would automatically be provided with some form of pain relief, analgesia or anaesthetic before an abortion procedure. It never occurred to me this might not be the case. I have spoken to many others and they have the same opinion as me. I am not sure what is going on here and I will come back to that issue in a moment. In some ways I wonder what I am doing making a request in the Dáil for a foetus about to be aborted to be treated humanely. I know the vast the majority of healthcare workers are decent, humane people who dedicate their entire lives to saving lives and to ensuring quality of life.

I thought maybe it is not the role of politicians to draft primary legislation on this and that maybe we should leave this to our healthcare professionals. However, I was wrong because I looked at the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, which obliges vets to administer pain relief during any procedure carried out on animals where they are likely to feel pain. Some colleagues say guidelines are sufficient, but is this in any guidelines? Is this a choice for healthcare professionals? I very much want to hear some clarity on this situation.

I have heard other colleagues speak about what this Bill does not do. They are right. Like any amendments to legislation, it deals with a specific issue only and that does not negate its value. The abortion debate is over. The people decided. Our role is to ensure the legislation in place works for all concerned. That is why we are having a review, and the issue of foetal pain during termination needs to be part of that.

I have heard comments from colleagues that this Bill is proposed by anti-choice public representatives, by right-wing Deputies. That is divisive language. We have managed to negotiate a way forward in Ireland because many people - not all but many - were careful with their language on both sides. Many people looked at the complete picture and not just the bits and pieces they supported. That is why I believe all of these issues, such as access to services for women, compassion and care for women and for the foetus to be aborted, is all part of the picture. We do not need to revert to the debates of the past. We heard some of them here this morning. We need to move forward in the most humane way possible. As legislators, we need to look at all aspects and not leave out any aspect.

It is widely accepted that unborn babies over 20 weeks, and very possibly younger, can experience pain. Even if that is just a possibility and if it is only one in 100 cases, we cannot ignore that. In my opinion nobody loses if we require the administration of pain relief to a foetus before and during abortion. Nobody loses.


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