Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

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


11:42 am

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

I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this Bill. I questioned the Government Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, yesterday to find out what was happening with regard to this Bill and I was disappointed the Government decided at such a late hour to oppose it. It would not even give it an airing to be read a Second Time. I am very sad this Bill is even necessary but today’s debate is not about opening a wider discussion. It is about trying to find some common ground and ensuring, at a minimum, no baby is ever forced to die from abortion while suffering excruciating pain. The Minister did not reassure me of that in any make, shape or form. He said pain relief can be included in the review. It is not a matter of "can”. We have it for animals. It should and must be included in the review.

Regardless of where colleagues in the House stand on the issue of abortion, I call on them to treat this Bill separately, to look at the scientific evidence coming to light with regard to foetal pain and to support this small but compassionate proposal that will achieve one thing and one thing only, namely, it will ensure unborn babies do not have to endure unnecessary pain and distress during late-term abortions. That is all it is about. I will not even reply to other Deputies’ attacks about it. I do not mind being called right-wing or anything else if it means we get humanity and pain relief for a human being. If we cannot stand for that, where is our moral fibre?

Since the abortion legislation was passed in 2018, new research has been published confirming the reality of foetal pain from 20 weeks' gestation and suggesting unborn babies likely feel pain even much earlier than that, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said. As legislators, we cannot ignore what the scientific research is saying. The evidence is becoming clearer each day that unborn babies feel pain, but even if some colleagues remain to be convinced of that, that is not a reason to oppose the Bill. If there is even the slightest possibility an unborn baby could suffer pain and distress during a late-term abortion, that should be a sufficient reason to back this Bill in terms of humanity.

The truth, however, is that the situation is not as vague or unclear as some might suggest. The facts are clear that unborn babies do feel pain and we should act to alleviate it wherever possible. I would strongly urge colleagues to look at the expert testimonies from medical consultants and sonographers before congressional hearings in the US on the issue. The testimonies of women and parents at the same hearings whose babies were aborted without receiving pain relief make for particularly difficult viewing, but they tell a story that cannot be ignored if we want to face the truth and act in a humanitarian way. In one of the Senate hearings in the US, Dr. Gary George, a senior radiologist at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio told the hearings:

While doing my first ultrasound rotation, I observed my first "selective reduction" procedure, of one of the triplets at about 14-18 weeks. I observed while the ultrasonographer scanned the three babies and provided live images so that the obstetrician could aim a long needle through the mom’s uterus into the chest of one of the baby’s hearts in order to make the lethal injection. As the sharp needle touched the baby’s chest, the baby immediately withdrew and started to rapidly move his arms and legs. The needle was unable to penetrate the chest. The mother started crying when she saw the horrific live images on the screen. Her husband told her not to look and the obstetrician instructed our ... [technical team] to turn the screen away from the mother’s view to hide the reality of what was happening.

Dr. George’s testimony continued in that way. I will refrain from giving the House any more of the graphic details of what he went on to describe, but it is awful stuff.Over and over again, similar testimonies have been given to various public hearings. We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening. We must acknowledge the reality of foetal pain and do something about it. I salute Deputy Nolan, my colleagues and other Deputies who put their name to our legislation and will support it.

In England right now, a woman who had an abortion at 23 weeks is pursuing a legal challenge on the grounds she was not informed her baby could potentially feel pain at the stage in pregnancy the abortion took place. Are we going to wait for that to have to happen here?

In addition to ensuring unborn babies are given pain relief before late-term abortions, those considering late-term abortions are entitled to be informed about what the science says with regard to fatal foetal pain.

When we shroud the whole issue in secrecy, we do an enormous disservice to women and unborn babies. I would add that 100 healthcare professionals have recently issued a statement in support of this Bill. We are not alone in our concern and we know that there is compassion among those working in the health service as well. It would be much better to be open and honest about this. Why can we not be open and honest about what is happening? We know it is happening and there is no point in hiding it.

It is now routine practice for unborn babies receiving spina bifida operations in the womb to be given pain relief. The Dáil passed legislation in 2013 placing an obligation on vets to administer pain relief to animals, even during minor procedures, to ensure no animal has to suffer unnecessary pain or distress. How can we possibly treat unborn babies less humanely than animals? I remind the House that in Northern Ireland last year, a vet was prosecuted under similar legislation for not administering pain relief. Have we lost our humanity completely? Where is our moral compass? We have it for animals but not for babies.

We got lectures here about the homeless. The Independent Deputies and other colleagues who signed this legislation care deeply about the homeless and we will not be lectured by Deputies Cairns and Bríd Smith. They will argue that they have compassion. They are also interested in animal rights but they are opposing the most basic humane, medical treatment for unborn babies. We are talking about lives, not foetuses as they like to describe them.

The suggestion that the issue of administering pain relief should be left to clinical guidelines is not satisfactory by any yardstick. We introduced primary legislation in Ireland in 2013 to ensure that animals are given pain relief. Why should the provision of pain relief for unborn babies not be given the same recognition in law? A child in kindergarten could answer that question because it is a no-brainer. Leaving it to the guidelines that will be introduced is a sure-fire way of guaranteeing that nothing will happen. Guidelines were promised three years ago when the Government introduced the abortion legislation. Three years on, there are still no guidelines which is scandalous. Ensuring that babies receive pain relief before late-term abortions is not something that can be left to chance. We have to guarantee that it happens. It belongs in primary legislation, despite what others might say. Deputy Pringle accused those bringing forward this compassionate Bill of time wasting but one must ask where is his moral compass and that of other Deputies. This debate belongs in this House and we are entitled to propose legislation when the Government has not issued guidelines.

This is not a medical issue and it is most certainly not a political issue. It is a humanitarian issue. It would be terrible to acknowledge the need for pain relief to be given in every situation involving animals and humans, except for unborn babies. Why would we single out unborn babies and deny them the right to basic pain relief before their lives are ended by abortion? I cannot get my mind around it. We have an opportunity with this Bill to ensure that unborn babies enduring late-term abortion are shown at least a modicum of respect and are not made to suffer unnecessary pain and distress during the abortion.

I urge my fellow Oireachtas colleagues, particularly members of the Government, not to engage in delaying tactics on this issue. Let us, for once, do something that needs to be done. We want to do nothing more than alleviate unnecessary pain and suffering. That is all we are asking for. In other jurisdictions they have found a way to administer pain relief to unborn babies. Why not in Ireland? If we come together on this issue we can find a way. This House brought in abortion legislation that some of us opposed. We accept that legislation but we want to make it humane and to cut out distress for unborn babies. What this Bill seeks to achieve, and manages to achieve, is a compassionate, humane and practical response to a very tragic situation. It deserves the full support of this House and I wholeheartedly urge colleagues to vote in its favour today.

There were 6,666 abortions in the first year. What a figure. We know what 666 signifies. Now the total is over 20,000 and is growing, with approximately 128 per week. My goodness, our future doctors, scholars, politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs are being denied the right to life but worst of all, they are being denied any bit of dignity or pain relief before the horrific procedure that takes place. I appeal to the compassion of the Government. I am very disappointed that the Government has proposed an amendment referring to the review. The terms of the review have not been finalised and everybody is arguing over them. The Minister said this morning that this might be included in the review. Pain relief for unborn babies must be in the review. It should be the top priority for all of us in every review but three years later, there is no sign of it. Where is our compassion?


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