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Dáil debates

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An Bille um an gCeathrú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Féinriarachta Pearsanta agus Sláine Colainne) 2014: An Dara Céim (Atógáil) [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Personal Autonomy and Bodily Integrity) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

 

Atairgeadh an cheist: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will Members please clear the Chamber as we now are on Private Members' business? Deputy McDonald has ten minutes.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity that Deputy Clare Daly's Bill has provided to Members to discuss the remaining constitutional barriers to the equal rights of women in this State. Given that equality before the law is generally protected at Article 40.1, that the equal right of women to citizenship is protected at Article 9.1.3°, and the equal right to vote and to stand for election is expressly protected at Article 16.1, it is something of a contradiction that the 1937 Constitution continues to treat women as second-class citizens by virtue of several other specific provisions and by the archaic gendered language of the Constitution as a whole. Nearly two years ago, a strong majority of the Constitutional Convention called for the amendment of the notorious and odious "women in the home clause" at Article 41.2. It also called for the insertion of an express gender equality clause into Article 40 and the introduction of gender-inclusive language throughout. The last Members heard, a working group due to report its findings in October was still prevaricating and Members continue to await a governmental commitment to a referendum. At this stage, I can see no good reason for such an excessive delay in deciding whether and how to amend a provision that has been so widely impugned for decades.

Article 40.3.3°, which is the subject of the eighth amendment that this Bill seeks to annul, is another provision that acts as a barrier to women's equality and, specifically, the equal right to bodily integrity currently afforded a degree of protection as an unenumerated right pursuant to Ryan v.the Attorney General.

Sinn Féin has a long-standing policy of support for the humanitarian extension of therapeutic abortion in cases of rape or incest, or where the pregnancy poses a risk to the life or mental health of the pregnant woman. As it stands, Article 40.3.3° does not permit lawful provision of abortion in this State unless there is a risk to the life of the woman. In other words, pregnancy by rape or incest in and of itself is considered irrelevant. Sinn Féin, therefore, recognises that address of this situation would require constitutional change. We believe that the issue of amendment of Article 40.3.3° is one that should be considered by a second Constitutional Convention, which we have previously called on the Government to establish and empower to deliberate on a comprehensive range of necessary constitutional reforms. We are open to the suggestion that any legislative proposal put to the people should take the form of a pre-referendum and believe that a second Constitutional Convention should consider this option.

It is fair to say that there is among Sinn Féin members a diversity of opinion as to what form the amendment to Article 40.3.3° should take. I should advise the House that this matter is currently under consideration. Current Sinn Féin policy does not extend to the provision of therapeutic termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, risk to the health of the pregnant woman or as a matter of pure choice in the equal right to exercise of personal autonomy, the equal right to privacy and the equal right to health care. Modification of party policy on this issue is a matter for our membership to decide democratically, and this is also currently under active consideration. I am advised that Deputy Daly's well-intentioned proposal goes beyond the democratic mandate afforded me by virtue of my party's long-standing compromise position, clearly stated and well known to the electorate. I am, therefore, unable to support this legislation. I acknowledge Deputy Daly and thank her for bringing forth this Bill.

All of us are conscious of the fact that in matters surrounding the issue of abortion, strong feelings on either side of the argument can arise. In my view, we need to regard these matters with tolerance, compassion and a level of understanding of the complexities involved. As I said, Sinn Féin is not in a position to support this legislative proposal, but we do recognise that there is a need for change to protect women and to acknowledge their fundamental rights.

7:05 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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That is very backward. Welcome to the 21st century.

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
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Two years ago on this date we were debating the report of the expert group on the judgments in the A, B and C case. I contributed to that debate at the time. Nothing I have to say now will differ from what I said then.

We can offer our own personal feelings on this issue. People's personal viewpoints are important. However, do I have a right to force my views on another person, be that as a legislator or not, and do I have the right to tell a woman what she must do with her body? Does the State have that right? I do not believe it does. The State has a responsibility to all our lives and it has a responsibility to the unborn life. I believe that the developing foetus is human life but I do not believe that the State's responsibility in this regard is superior or equal to the life of the mother or woman, or her mental health or health generally.

The State has a responsibility to provide for the lawful termination of pregnancy in certain circumstances which are not permitted today. These circumstances require a change to the Constitution. They require a change to the eighth amendment or its removal from the Constitution. Current abortion laws are too restrictive, and we are failing our citizens as a result, in my opinion. I believe Deputy Daly is right to bring this issue to the House this evening. She is right to continue to raise it, because persistence in politics is key. We have seen this across so many issues recently in Irish political and public life. When change is needed one must keep pushing for it because it will not happen automatically, as we know. It takes courage to push against the status quoand to continue to raise this issue, as Deputy Daly has done.

This change will not happen tonight, but it will, I believe, happen soon. The Government does have a mandate to hold a referendum on this issue prior to the next election. We put people in positions of leadership to lead. However, it is worth considering whether it is in fact wise or best to hold a referendum when the atmosphere is so politically charged ahead of the forthcoming general election, because the type of debate we need and want and that will bring about the changes that are in the best interests of all of our citizens and meet the responsibilities of the State to all of our citizens may not be possible in such a charged climate.

I commend Deputy Daly on initiating this legislation and on the debate this evening.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is important that Deputy Daly had the opportunity to introduce the Bill this evening. On reading the opening statement by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, on this Private Members' Bill, I was struck by his wisdom and sincerity as a Minister and a medical doctor. In that statement, the Minister said:

Medicine and the human condition are coloured in grey and cannot be reduced to binary or black and white arguments. We need to approach this issue with compassion rather than cold certainty.
He went on to say:
Let us prove to those who have become disillusioned with the extremes of both sides, even with politics, but know in their hearts what is right and just, that we can ... have a calm and measured debate and an exchange of views about what is right and wrong for women, the unborn, families and society.
Like many Members of this House, I attended the hearings on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Like all who attended, I listened to the views and opinions of doctors, religious, political parties, agencies and members of the Judiciary. As a mother and woman who experienced pregnancy complications many times during my life, the hearings had a profound effect on me. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was signed into law in July 2014 and commenced on 1 January 2014. The main purpose of the Act was to restate the general prohibition on abortion in Ireland while regulating access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v.Ireland case. The Act provides for existing rights within the constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court judgment in the X case and does not confer any new substantive rights to termination of pregnancy. The Act achieves this objective by providing a clear prohibition on abortion, to which the sole exception is a case in which there is a real and substantive risk to the life of the mother which can only be averted by termination of pregnancy. In this way, the Act upholds the right to life of the unborn and the right of life of a pregnant woman whose life is threatened by her pregnancy, as required by Article 40.3.3°.

The Minister will prepare and lay before the House of the Oireachtas an annual report on the terminations of pregnancies that have taken place in accordance with the Act. A report on the review process will be compiled by the Health Service Executive and submitted to the Minister. The first annual report is due at the end of June 2015. It will give us all an opportunity to see how the legislation has worked. As the Minister stated, this is not a decision that should be rushed by holding a referendum. I believe he is correct that we need a carefully considered and broad debate so that consensus can be reached.

I recall that during the hearings before the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness spoke of how politicians take telephone calls, read e-mails and listen to groups which provide information for various reasons. She said that instead of doing that, we should listen to the people on the street. I have been listening to the person on the street for the past several months. Like many Members, I have heard the stories from young women who have faced the tragic news of learning that their baby will not survive outside of the womb and is dead but are asked to carry the pregnancy to the end of its term. This is the issue we must address in whatever referendum has to come about. It is not my time or my place in this Chamber to make decisions on this. It is the people who need to make this decision in a referendum.

I thank Deputy Clare Daly for bringing this Bill to the floor of the House this evening. Unfortunately, I cannot support it at this stage but, please God, in the future we may be able to come up with some proper legislation which will allow for consideration for those who need to deal with their pregnancy at whatever level that may be.

7:15 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I am already on public record as stating I believe Article 43.3.3° should be deleted from the Constitution, despite the fact that in the past I canvassed vigorously and voted to keep it in the Constitution. Over the years, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that this issue, addressing the specific reproductive health care of women - a complex, emotive and crucial issue to women, on which views cross gender, age, religious and political divides - has no place in a written Constitution. As has been stated often, the Constitution should reflect the common aspirations of the people. The existing amendment - the eighth amendment - does not reflect our common aspirations but in fact our differences. I am old enough to remember that both sides voted for it because we both thought it meant different things. Over the years, our greatest legal minds have tried to interpret for us what it actually means. They did the best they could with what they were given, but in the end they could do little to serve the women faced with the tragic and intolerable choice between their own lives and health and the life of a foetus.

After previous Governments failed over 30 years, this Government had the courage to at least vindicate the right to life of women whose lives are threatened by their pregnancies. We do need, however, to go further, and I agree with the Minister for Health that the current regime is too restrictive. Over the years I have seen the health of too many women jeopardised - women whose health was so compromised by pregnancy that they risked blindness and other debilitating conditions, who were forced to go to England for terminations. Those who went to England were the lucky ones, who had the resourcefulness and resources to go. Many others did not.

In the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, it is absolutely barbaric to force someone, against their will, to carry to term a pregnancy when they know the outcome is a dead child.

There is no doubt that Article 43.3.3° should be out of our Constitution. However, that decision should be preceded by a rational, informed reflective debate about how we as a society want to respond to the needs of women whose health and future prospects are jeopardised by their pregnancy. A rational debate on a subject such as this cannot take place in the run-up to a general election. In our hearts we all know that, because we have been through it already. If this was forced to a vote in a referendum, we would be falling into exactly the same trap that gave us the seriously flawed eighth amendment, Article 43.3.3°, which is dangerous to many women. We need to debate this as far as possible from political considerations. Forcing parties or individuals into taking up electoral positions in a referendum 12 months or less before a general election is a folly that ultimately would not serve the people we hope to help. For the very good reason of bitter experience, I do not believe this is the time for a referendum, much as I would personally like to see it as soon as possible.

As for the second part of Deputy Clare Daly’s Bill and the attempt to insert another constitutional clause, I do not believe we should put any measure dealing with this issue into the Constitution. It is also flawed because what it seeks to do is already provided for in the Constitution. The circumstances in which a termination of pregnancy might be considered should be a matter for legislation, not the Constitution. The whole area of reproductive health is evolving as medicine, science, technology also evolves. The Legislature must be able to respond to this constantly changing issue. We should not be afraid to do that. The public is ready for us to take a leadership position on this. Public opinion has moved on significantly in the 30 years since 1983 and is better informed, as we all are.

One may agree with the Minister that the current regime is too restrictive or one may not. It is possible for us as a society to reach a consensus about the kind of regime that we want. The public is sensible and compassionate. I do feel, however, that in the run-up to a general election, politicians are neither. Neither can political debate be sensible and compassionate in the heat of a general election. To enter into a process to radically alter our Constitution on such a vital and sensitive issue would put a real solution another 30 years into the future. We need to move on this issue. Before we do so, however, we need to know where we are going with it and how we will do it. The last Government trying to tackle this issue was bounced into a flawed solution that had consequences for many women. It was a solution that persisted for 30 years. We should not do that again.

While I am not supporting this Bill, I compliment Deputy Clare Daly on keeping this issue on the agenda. It should be kept to the front of the agenda.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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In welcoming this debate, I will begin by thanking Deputy Clare Daly for putting this Private Members’ Bill before the House. It proposes to remove the eighth amendment to the Constitution and will create a new provision in it. If it is the will of the people, deleting Article 43.3.3° will remove the right to life of the mother whose life is threatened by her pregnancy and, equally, of the unborn child.

I believe this Private Members’ Bill is necessary.

It is important that we focus on the right to life of the mother and of the unborn child and it is equally important that we focus on the issue of abortion. The modern history of Ireland shows a polarised debate on this issue in the 1980s, 1990s and in the lifetime of this Dáil and I regret this fact. It would have been easy for many in this House to opt out of this debate and avoid speaking here but we must learn from the errors of the past in handling this sensitive and complex matter. We must bring clarity and certainty to everyone, especially mothers and medics.

Life is not black and white, this is not a simple matter and diverging views exist on the issue within all parties. Deputy McDonald referred to differing views in her party and the same applies in Fine Gael but we must try to have a tolerant and mature debate that reflects a society that also has differing viewpoints, particularly compared to the viewpoint that prevailed previously. Last night the Minister criticised the binary argument that arises on this complex issue. I am Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Catherine Byrne is a member of the committee and I believe the debates in that committee, and the debate in this House over the past two nights, have shown tolerant and mature debate is possible.

The Minister was correct in saying last night that no law can eliminate all human tragedy from pregnancy. The people of Ireland have voted two or three times on this issue in my memory and I regret that in the 1980s politics played a role in the framing of the amendment that is now in our Constitution. Many learned scholars and citizens feel the amendment is flawed and has gone too far while some of those on the other side of the argument feel it did not go far enough and want it to be applied more restrictively.

I should point out that I spent five years in the seminary studying for the priesthood and this has shaped my viewpoint in some ways. I classify myself as a pro-life person but I recognise that pregnancy is about the mother and the unborn child. I was born 13 weeks prematurely in 1967 and weighed 2 lbs. The pregnancy could have gone horribly wrong, resulting in the loss of my life and my mother's life. Life is precious but the life of a mother is precious and important. Some people see women as vessels but this is a sad viewpoint and I believe we should see women as citizens and people. I appeal to those on one side of the argument to be moderate and respectful in their language and not to buy into a viewpoint based on an old-fashioned concept. The issues of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest affect the lives of women and will not go away so we must face up to this at some stage.

In contributing to the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act I outlined my reasons for supporting the legislation. Having chaired hearings for six days I recognised that the Act was about codifying and clarifying the existing constitutional position. Everyone in this Chamber appreciates the value of human life and knows it must be protected but we must try to get the balance right. This Government acted courageously on the X case but some Members felt this did not go far enough. We campaigned on the basis that we would establish a committee with access to medical and legal expertise to consider the implications of the A, B and C v Ireland ruling and to make recommendations. When the Government took office it did just this as the programme for Government said it would draw on the appropriate medical and legal expertise to make a recommendation.

In the committee hearings Mr. Frank Callanan S.C. described the Bill as "conceptually conservative" and went on to say it proposed to "translate into legislation and give legislative effect to the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case without either widening the category in the X case of adding to the categories in the X case". The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is the result of the Government fulfilling its political promise and mandate on this most sensitive of issues. However, 18 months later, here we are discussing the issue again. This summer the story of Ms Y emerged but this Parliament still does not know how the Act operates in practice. I believe we must give the legislation time as it provides for a report to be presented to the Minister and laid before the Oireachtas - this provision exists to ensure the Act functions as intended. Before we make further decisions we should wait for that report to be presented to the Houses.

Unlike Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I believe that the political reality is that this Government has gone as far as it can on this issue as it has no mandate to go further. A referendum is required to change the Constitution and I believe the Irish people will make a decision on this issue within the lifetime of the next Parliament. We cannot ignore the fact that 5,000 women, citizens of the country, travel abroad every year to terminate pregnancies. We cannot airbrush this fact and forget about it. I commend Deputy Daly on putting this Bill before the House but I cannot support it as I do not believe we have the political mandate to support such a change. Also, I believe the proposal before us is flawed and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past by introducing a vague and uncertain amendment through this Bill. We should beware of the law of unintended consequences but the Bill before us fails to do so as I believe it would walk us straight down the path to abortion on demand, a measure I cannot support.

If, after the next election, there is a political mandate to make further changes to Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution it should follow the model of the Constitutional Convention. I agree with Deputy McDonald's point, and I made the point on the radio this morning, that we should have a Constitutional Convention and a conversation of citizens to decide how best to act regarding our Constitution. It is not a question of bringing together the extremes in the debate but, rather, it is a matter of bringing together a group that reflects the broad spectrum of Irish society. We need the kind of group best able to consider this issue and the equal rights to life of the unborn child and the mother devoid of rancour, partisanship and adversarial viewpoints. This group could make a proposal for this House to consider before, in turn, putting it to the people in a referendum.

I honestly think the Irish people are ahead of the Members of this House in their views and reflect modern society better than we do. I thank Deputy Daly for putting this Bill before the House. I think we should first allow the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to take shape; the House should consider a report on this before we make decisions. I hope the debates we have on this issue now and in future, in this House and in Irish society, will be mature, respectful and tolerant. We must not experience again the rancour of the past.

7:25 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am loath to contribute to this debate as a mere male member of the population because I feel, as the old story goes, we have had this debate many times in the past and it is a very emotive and sensitive subject. It is a particularly sensitive subject for pregnant women and there are always many such women in our population at any given time, including during each of the debates on the issue in this House. As we debated the matter many women throughout the country were in the eye of the storm. They may have had difficulties during pregnancy or they may have started to ask themselves questions about their health, well-being and life after pregnancy.

We tend to allow and encourage a discussion in every shape, way and form. However, the odd thing is that we seldom leave it to the woman herself to make her decision. It is ironic that in this country, after all these years of debate, at least half a dozen people have to be consulted on the subject before a decision is taken. I have my doubts about the validity of that.

We should bear in mind that if we were to have a debate on this issue at this moment it would be just as divisive as it has been in the past. Let us consider the emotive and charged debate we have had on the simple issue of water in recent weeks. Do we really believe we could have a rational debate on as sensitive, important and fundamental a subject as this?

I agree with what the Minister said last night. In fact, he is correct in his assessment. Ironically and unfortunately, not even medical opinion is unified on this issue. Some doctors are on one side and some are on the other side of the debate. Some psychiatrists are on one side and some are on the other side. The ironic thing about all this debate is that no one ever seems to want to give way to the other point of view or accept any part of it.

I am not in favour of abortion. However, I have spoken many times in the past about the concerns of women who are victims of rape or incest or those faced with the prospect of a fatal foetal abnormality. It is an awful sentence for society to pass on these women in such a condition to suggest that they simply have to get on with it because that is the way we do things here. It is insensitive and barbaric that we should have to adopt that kind of approach, but where do we go?

In my time in this House we have had many debates, inside the House and outside, in terms of bringing the debate to the people. Until such time as we are capable of having a rational and calm debate on the subject, there is no sense in going forward again. That is my view and it is a view I have expressed previously in the House.

Not only does the issue divide this House, it divides society outside. Society was divided on the subject before we even started. I accept that we are an evolutionary State and that as time goes on opinions will change. However, to introduce the subject by way of a referendum at this time would not be wise. It would cause a review of all of the issues that we have had before. It would do nothing to address the issue in so far as women are concerned or address the concerns of women. It would simply solidify and strengthen the opposing forces again, given that they have already expressed their concerns, as I have already indicated.

I am unsure to what extent we can generate the need for this debate without adding to it and inflaming it in some way, but that is what we have to do. Until such time as we can get to a position in which we can talk to our constituents, those in the medical profession, other professionals and society in general in an unemotional and rational way on this subject, until we come to the stage at which we can at least recognise each other's positions and reach some kind of agreement, I believe it would be unfortunate to enter into the debate at this stage.

Perhaps I am a clear example of my own cowardice in this area, but the fact is I have been around this course many times before in the House on this particular issue. It is so saddening to see at odds those women who have a genuine concern, those who dismiss that and those who have a genuine concern about or who are opposed to the concept of abortion and who are concerned lest that become part and parcel of society at odds. I thank Deputy Daly for bringing the Bill before the House, but that is my conclusion.

7:35 pm

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Deputy John Halligan is next. I understand you are sharing with your colleagues in the Technical Group and that you have agreed to six minutes each.

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I note with some concern and disbelief that over a two-day debate the Labour Party benches have been empty, with the exception of the Minister of State who is present. It is extraordinary given what those in the Labour Party have been saying at their conventions and Ard-Fheiseanna, particularly the female members of the Labour Party. I suppose I am not shocked, since the saying goes "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." I suppose they were not going to support this so they simply could not be here.

I wanted to discuss statistics and so on, but then I asked myself whether I would refer to the 4,000 women who have gone out of the country to have abortions or the woman who travelled to the United Kingdom two years ago for an abortion but died some hours later in the back of a taxi. A post mortem showed that she had died from a heart attack caused by extensive internal blood loss. I asked myself whether I would talk about the women who go on the Internet to buy pills which make them seriously ill, or those who become ill upon returning to Ireland after having procedures in England and Wales, only to find no service here. I asked myself whether I would refer to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, all of which have been critical of the Government.

The Minister came to the House last night and said "I like to believe that I am a conviction politician, often definite and sometimes blunt..." That is fair enough. I am unsure whether that is the case because I do not know the man well. He also said that he was pro-life. I do not have a problem with that because some of my friends are pro-life.

Anyway, I wanted to cut through all of that and talk about a girl called Helen. One day some years ago, a girl called Helen came to the House for Leaders' Questions. I will set out the story about Helen. Helen was physically, sexually and psychologically damaged some years ago. She was raped. That did terrible physical and psychological damage to her. She was also forcibly impregnated. I remember her telling me at the time that her greatest fear was not that she had broken her nose or had damaged her head or back but that she had been forcibly impregnated. This was what shocked her.

Helen went to the State for support. The initial support she got did not amount to much, because the perpetrator did not get what she deemed to be a proper sentence for destroying her life. I have no wish to pass comment on the sentence. Then, when she went to the State because she did not feel as though she could see through having the child, she was told that she could not have an abortion here and that she would have to go to England. This destroyed the woman's life. As she was going to England, her husband became seriously ill. He was unable to travel with her and she had to bring a friend.

I listened earlier to people talking about this matter being complicated and saying that we need a rational and reflective debate on these issues. Do any of the male politicians in this House tonight have the balls to tell the truth and give a definite answer? If it was their wife, mother or daughter, would they attempt to disagree with or prohibit the woman in question from having an abortion? I do not think so. Why do they not have the guts to stand up and say that? Why use all the jargon about complications and rational debates and so on? The rational debate has already taken place among the people, 85% of whom say that if a woman is raped she should be able to have an abortion in Ireland. Furthermore, 89% of people have said that a woman carrying a fatal foetal abnormality should be able to have an abortion in Ireland.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, Deputy Catherine Murphy and others met several women, all of whom were in the Visitors' Gallery previously, who had to go to England with fatal foetal abnormalities. We met a woman named Marian, who had to bring the remains of her child back in a box in the back of a car. Yet, we are being told by the other side of the House that this could take ten or 20 years. In the meantime we farm out these women. I understand 462 women were raped this year, although I am unsure as I cannot recall what I was told today. One sixth of all these women will become impregnated and go to England. Are we saying now, in 2014, as competent politicians in a modern parliament in Europe, that we cannot deal with this issue for perhaps five, ten or 20 years?

10 o’clock

How offensive can that be to human beings? What kind of people are those opposite who say that these women will have to wait and that we cannot make a decision for them, or we will make a decision and say to these women, "When you are impregnated and when you are raped or if you feel that the specialists and consultants tell you that what will be born to you will be such a dismembered and broken foetus that it can have terrible psychological damage if you attempt to see this foetus " - which has happened to some women - "No, we cannot help you, go over to England or to Wales on a boat or on a plane"? It is horrendous. I never thought when I entered this Parliament that we would treat women so abominably in the year 2014. I am shocked, I am saddened, I am fed up, with what I hear from people about human rights, about what we might do, about how sorry we are, about how guilty we are and about what we might do if circumstances were different. It is a case of cover it up, shovel it out, that there is an election and we cannot do it before the election. The people have spoken and said it. It is about time people stood up and said enough is enough. Can somebody not break ranks over there and say, "I am going to support this Bill for those women who have died and for those women who will have to go to England tomorrow or in the next few week; I will make a change and I will stand up for the civil rights of women"? I apologise for the delay, Chairman.

7:45 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Clare Daly for bringing forward this Bill. I favour the repeal of the eighth amendment. I voted not to include it in the Constitution in 1983 and I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, did exactly the same. In fact, the Labour Party was quite heroic at that time. It must be really disappointing for Labour Deputies not to be supporting this Bill. That must be very hard to take for the membership who have been very courageous. I wonder when is the right time for this amendment to be brought forward. We are told there is no mandate for it. Will it be included in the Fine Gael Party manifesto, the Fianna Fáil Party manifesto or the Sinn Féin manifesto? If not, when will there be a mandate?

I am one of those people who was born before 1963 and one had to have been born before 1963 to have participated in that vote. Therefore, there are very many people of child-bearing age who never had an opportunity to determine what was to be in the Constitution and how they might be protected when pregnant.

The 1983 debate was fierce and academic in that it was fought out between lawyers. However, what has changed the public view has been the very tragic cases which have ended up in the public arena, such as the X, Y and A, B and C cases. The awful aspect is that there is an inevitability that these will not be the last cases. We continue to outrage people.

On the night we debated the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, I said I had been over to Liverpool Women's Hospital with a group of people, Doctors for Choice, on a study trip about fatal foetal abnormality. It is barbaric what this country put those women - and couples in most cases - through. These were the people who could afford to travel. Anyone who cannot afford to travel will be told, "You must continue with your pregnancy to term". That is outrageous.

The public are way ahead of this Parliament and they are way ahead of the political parties on this issue, as shown by the opinion polls. I refer to The Irish Timespoll in October which showed that 68% were in favour of a referendum. In September, the Milward Brown poll showed that 75% were in favour of a repeal of the amendment. The figure varies depending on a number of factors.

It was interesting to note that some Members have a different view to that of their party. In their view the eighth amendment is a problem and it needs to be repealed but they are not willing to go that stage further to facilitate it. The chilling effect of the protection of life legislation is very real. The Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, drew attention to it last night, as he did with regard to the risk to health and permanent disability for women who are the only members of the population impacted by this legislation. I wonder if it were to have an impact on all members of the population whether there would be a different viewpoint.

We can talk about considering this issue in a constitutional convention but at some point we will have to grapple with the very real prospect of giving people what the majority of them want, which is an opportunity for a referendum in which they, not us, will decide whether this is the way they want to see a modern country treating women who are pregnant, whether through rape or incest, whether the pregnancy is not a pregnancy with which they wish to continue or in cases of fatal abnormality of the foetus. We are putting off the inevitable day and there always will be a reason this cannot be brought forward. It is about time some respect was shown to the opinion that is way ahead of the Parliament and the political parties and that we agreed to hold a referendum. I will support the Bill tonight.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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I wish to respond to the thrust of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar's speech yesterday and that of many other Government Deputies but also, unfortunately, echoed by Fianna Fáil and shamefully by Sinn Féin. What was primarily picked up by the media of what the Minister said was the admission of the blatantly obvious that the eighth amendment is too restrictive and has no respect for women's long-term health. However, the essence of his speech and that of many other parties in this House is a statement that the debate on abortion has been dominated by the extremes on both sides who have, in turn, crowded out the middle ground. Conveniently, he places himself and his party in this reasonable middle ground, together with a mythical conservative middle Ireland. This is an attempt to discredit the pro-choice movement by saying we are the equivalent, the same as the pro-life reactionaries, the anti-choice people who would be opposed to every single social progress possible and propose at any stage that we are both two different extremes. Let us be clear that this Bill is not an extreme piece of legislation. It proposes that the Constitution should not have a feature that places the lives of women at the same level as the lives of foetuses. Those who oppose that, those who defend with whatever justification that provision are the extremists. In almost any other country in Europe, they would be seen as far out extremists, but not just in any other country in Europe.

The reality is that things have changed in this country and in this country they are extremists. There is a clear majority. I refer to a poll in the Sunday Independentin September which showed "Yes" at 56% to the question of holding a referendum on repeal of the eighth amendment, with the figure for "No" at 19% and "Don't know" at 25%. Alongside that poll, a massive majority were in favour of the right of abortion for women in a whole number of different circumstances, all of which would require the repeal of the eighth amendment. All of the talk about this middle Ireland that cannot be trusted to have a responsible debate on abortion should be recognised for what it is, a fig-leaf by the conservative force in this House who do not want to legislate and who do not want to have their position exposed in front of the majority. The people in this country are well able and well ready for a referendum on this question.

It is clear which way they would vote.

I also reject the call that accompanies this argument for a consensus between the two extremes. Speakers on the Government side argued that we must arrive at some sort of consensus. I have no interest in reaching a consensus on women's reproductive rights with the conservative forces in this House. I have an interest in women reaching a consensus with themselves about what choice they make. They should have the right to have an abortion if that is what they choose. They should also have access to all aspects of reproductive justice and rights, including the right to have access to decent child care and health care. Those are the areas on which discussion and a consensus should take place, not among a bunch of conservative old men in Parliament.

The Minister's statement that he does not have the right to impose his views on others was echoed by other Fine Gael Party Deputies. This is precisely what he is doing by refusing, as Minister for Health, to allow a referendum to be held on repealing the eighth amendment. His refusal means the status quowill be maintained. He recognises that the eighth amendment is too restrictive. Did he also believe that was the case when, one year ago, he voted to criminalise women who have abortions and those who help them to do so and exclude fatal foetal abnormalities from the abortion legislation? If he believes that women's health is endangered by the eighth amendment, what does he propose to do about it? The excuse that the Government does not have a mandate to hold a referendum on this issue is completely empty. The Government did not receive a mandate to introduce water charges, attack child benefit or introduce many other recent measures but this has not prevented it from doing so. It has a mandate to allow people to decide on this issue.

The Minister criticised the slogan that emerged at the time of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar when he stated we can never say "Never again" and really mean it and must face up to the reality that it is not possible to eliminate all human tragedy from pregnancy. Of course that is the case. However, the slogan does not mean there will never again be tragedy in pregnancy. We can say "Never again" to many things, for example, to women dying as a result of being legally denied access to abortion, to women who have been raped and are suicidal being refused the right to travel to access an abortion and forced to give birth and to the unbelievable case about which details are emerging that involves a clinically dead pregnant woman being kept alive by a hospital against the wishes of her parents because of the provisions in the Constitution and the absence of an ability to repeal them.

7:55 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Deputy should show some respect.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Socialist Party)
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The Government, and perhaps the Minister, may not believe we can say "Never again" to those scenarios but they should at least allow people to decide whether they want to say "Never again" by holding a referendum in the spring of 2015.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Many Government spokespersons have called for a rational, sensible and sensitive debate on this sensitive issue. That is fair enough but let us clarify what this debate about. It is not about anyone's personal views on abortion. While everyone is welcome to his or her views on the issue, people should also be able to make decisions about their lives, health and welfare. This debate is about the fact that half of the population - women - are denied the right to make decisions about their lives, health and welfare, sometimes in the most cruel, difficult and traumatic circumstances.

For the State, under any circumstances, to prohibit women from taking an action they deem necessary to safeguard their lives, health or welfare is obnoxious and repugnant. To force a pregnant woman who has suffered rape, incest or abuse or who knows the child she is carrying will not live into taking a certain course of action against her will by denying her the right to make her own choices in such awful, tragic and traumatic circumstances is barbaric. There is no other way of describing it.

Notwithstanding all of the fierce debates, arguments and differences Deputies have over many issues, I do not believe - at least I do not want to believe - that any Member of the Oireachtas would knowingly and deliberately inflict unnecessary cruelty and hardship if he or she believed another choice was available. While I disagree fundamentally with the imposition of austerity, water charges and so forth, I accept that Government Deputies who defend such measures probably believe they must be introduced because the Government does not have a choice. In this case, however, the Government has a choice and is choosing to deny women their choice. How can it possibly allow the current position to persist when it knows that tomorrow a dozen women will suffer needless cruelty, hardship and suffering as a result of a crisis pregnancy, an unviable pregnancy or a pregnancy arising from rape or abuse? It proposes to allow these circumstances to continue by maintaining the State's prohibition on women having the choice and the provision of facilities for them to exercise that choice. In so doing, it is allowing the crisis to become even worse because it stigmatises these women by describing as criminal the choice they may make to travel to Britain and forces on them the extra hardship involved in making that journey. The Government is proposing to allow the current position to continue when it has the choice of changing it. This is a choice that women do not have. I cannot understand that position, particularly as within months of being passed, the Government's legislation failed to deliver its promised objectives.

The Government has also failed in the area of fatal foetal abnormalities. I had a daughter who died because she had a fatal foetal abnormality. We did not know she would be born that way and she died a few weeks after birth. It was a very hard thing to be told that a baby who has been born and whom one wanted to have has a condition that is incompatible with life. It is still very hard to get my head around that. When the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities entered public debate I asked the mother of our daughter what she would have done if she had known about the condition in advance. We both agreed that we did not know what we would have done. We were, however, certain that we would have wanted to have a choice because there was no good way out of the situation, which would have been tragic and life-changing either way.

It is barbaric to deny a woman who discovers that the child she wants will die the right to make the choice about how such an awful tragic situation should unfold. This scenario and the tragic, traumatic and awful cases involving rape and incest are what we are about to allow to continue. The choice we have is not to stop all suffering or tragedy but to prevent additional suffering from occurring, ensure the State does not make these awful, tragic, desperate and frequently life-changing cases worse and provide in this State as much support as possible for the women in question.

For people in the Labour Party who talk about equality, women's rights and wanting to end suffering to allow a situation to continue whereby suffering persists when we could do something else is really awful. I thank Deputy Clare Daly.

8:05 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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I thank Deputy Daly for bringing the Bill before the House. I have no doubt the Bill will be voted down; that is the predetermined position. The issue will not go away, as the Minister of State knows, unless people in government realise that denying people choice is not good enough any more. Crisis pregnancies are a reality. Every year 4,000 or 5,000 women travel, and that has been happening for decades.

Last night the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, accepted, as others have said, that our abortion laws are too restrictive. I welcome that statement from the Minister, as well as the statement that the eighth amendment has a chilling effect on doctors and, in general, his assertion that the insertion of the of the Constitution as worded was a mistake. Yet, a Bill was brought before the House in January 2014 which was premised on that mistake. It did not take into consideration the women who face fatal foetal abnormalities, rape etc. That is something the Government has to recognise. I do not want to be political, but it needs to hang its head in shame. It had an opportunity to say we should repeal the eighth amendment to allow these issues to be addressed between a doctor and a woman in regard to her health and personal autonomy. That is what this should be about.

One cannot be on both sides of the debate. If one thinks the eighth amendment or its wording was a mistake, one should stand for its repeal and vote with the Opposition tonight. One should vote with us tonight on the basis of starting a debate in society about moving the issue on quickly. If one has a problem with the wording, let us sit down and have a debate on the issue with the men and women in our communities.

If one thinks our abortion laws are too restrictive and compromise best medical practice and women's health, one should do something to sort it out, rather than saying we have to wait until after the next election and address the issue in a year or two years' time. The Ireland of today is very different to that of 1983 in regard to these issues. Most people who voted in the referendum are 49 years of age or older. That means that most of those who voted are at the age of menopause and will never face that situation again. The vast majority of women over the age of 18 years have not had the opportunity to vote on this issue.

The point has been made that the people are way ahead of the Government on this issue. That is correct; all the figures have been given. There was a poll in the Sunday Independent. The interesting fact which has not been dealt with is that the Millward Brown opinion poll in September found that only 31% of people are happy to wait for action on this issue until after the next general election. They want a referendum on the eighth amendment. That figure is the same for women as it is for men.

On that basis, the Minister of State should have the confidence to be able to say to people that the eighth amendment should be repealed. It is causing all sorts of problems for women across the board in all sorts of situations and in terms of the right of women to have abortions. That has to be taken into consideration in dealing with this issue because until the death of Savita Halappanavar many people thought that women in this country had the right to an abortion.

I am very glad to see some of the unions supported this Bill. The perspective from which they are coming it important. They have said that the cost of travelling to Britain for an abortion is 10% of the annual income of low paid workers. It is hypocritical of the State to tell people they can go to Britain, the Netherlands or elsewhere for abortion services. It is like telling people that they cannot have an abortion in our front garden, but can have one in the back garden.

Information on immigrant workers has been released from the IFPA and is particularly poignant. An abortion can cost from €600 to €2,000, excluding the cost of travel and accommodation. An asylum seeker receives a weekly allowance of €19.10. Migrant women have been forced to continue pregnancies because of travel restrictions. The Minister of State has an opportunity to address the issue and should not wait until after the general election.

People have used terms like "pro-life" and "pro-choice", but I do not agree with those terms. I am pro-choice and pro-life, as are many other people. If one examines the figures, one finds the middle ground has moved and is demanding that the Government repeals the eighth amendment.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I do not believe that the of the Constitution should be amended; it should be deleted. I have always held that position and will continue to hold it. Not alone do I believe that, I actively campaigned against its insertion into the Constitution during the referendum campaign, which was not a very civilised debate but rather quite aggressive and personal. I did not expect anything else. I also campaigned on the right to travel and information, and thankfully that was successful, but not by a great amount.

The Labour Party is the only party which has always been upfront about it position on abortion. We are in a coalition Government and there is no agreement about a referendum, and that is why one is not being held. It is not the case that people have different opinions or do not agree, rather, there is no agreement on the issue. The next general election, as Deputy Murphy correctly said, should be about what is in the manifesto of each political party. Abortion should be included and the people should be allowed to decide who is elected and who is not.

I did not hear Deputy Daly's contribution. I apologise for that because I was busy, as she probably gathered. Apart from Deputies Collins and Murphy, I despair when I hear arguments about the awful cases, such as women who are raped, which is awful. As women, how could we say otherwise? Do we always have to justify the choices women make with awful cases? Some people may disagree with Deputy Alan Shatter on other matters, but it is worth re-reading his contribution on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. I spoke directly after him and said then what I am saying now. As sure as night follows day, no matter what we put into our Constitution or legislation, except for the type of regulation and protections in terms of how procedures are carried out, we will be back here again. One week an asylum seeker may not have the facility or ability to travel, and something else will happen the week after.

It is as simple as that. The human condition puts us in a space in which people find themselves in difficult circumstances.

The issue is not that this is an intolerant Government; it was the people who were intolerant and they spoke. Deputy Catherine Murphy was part and parcel of the campaign, as was I. I see intolerance in the House also. When Deputy Mary Lou McDonald makes a statement on behalf of her party, as she is entitled to do, there is catcalling, while there is name-calling from the backbenches because she expresses a different opinion. If we in this House cannot be tolerant of one another's views, what hope have we of convincing those outside that this debate should be conducted in a tolerant fashion? This is about a lack of tolerance, nothing else. It is not about the right or the left but intolerance. We should not have to justify the position of women and the choices they make for themselves by delving into awful circumstances. We, Deputy Niall Collins and I, have been there. I would not be convinced by a figure of 68% in any opinion poll because when the argument starts, that number will start to slide quickly.

Ireland has changed and there is now an entire generation who do not understand the opinion embedded in the Constitution. However, there is also a generation who will defend the constitutional provision in whatever manner they believe will win the argument. If we are not tolerant of one another's views here, what hope do we have of convincing people outside to be tolerant? There is no other group in society in respect of whom the entire country gets a say in the choices they make except women of child bearing age. I do not go with the argument based on young people aged 16 years having an abortion. It could be a 44 or a 48 year old who finds herself pregnant at this late age and is concerned. This is about respecting the choices people make, but there is no agreement in government about holding a referendum. I will be honest and open and point out that across every party there are differences of opinion on this issue. I am sure this applies across the Independent benches also.

8:15 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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In this country we talk about abortion as if it is a political or legal issue, something to be regulated by the majority and decided by consensus, informed by religion and morality and opinion polls and something to be debated on the airwaves, with an automatic requirement for balance, when groups with competing viewpoints can have their say. That is not how it should be. Terminating a pregnancy should not be a matter of public debate; it is something that ought to be discussed privately between a woman and her doctor, and with others if she so chooses. It is an intimate, highly personal choice, with the final decision to be made by the woman alone.

What the country needs is a Government that will finally produce sensible, well-thought out legislation wholly removed from the nuances of politics that will allow us to extricate ourselves from women's private reproductive health choices. Crisis pregnancies ought not be a matter of public debate. If a person is not intending to have one, abortion should be none of that person's business. Women all over the world have an abortion every day, for countless reasons, and it is not for me or anybody else to judge a woman for making that choice. If we are to learn anything from the past, women experiencing crisis pregnancies should be afforded extra privileges and protections. They should be listened to, cherished and supported, while their instincts should be trusted. They most certainly should not be treated like criminals, threatened with a custodial sentence, forced to be assessed by five doctors before they are believed, threatened with criminalisation, force fed or hydrated forcibly, or shipped out to our nearest neighbour, alone, confused and distressed. The country owes an apology to every woman who has been affected by these extreme laws and to every woman, past, present and future, who was or will be forced to travel abroad for a termination.

Article 40.3.3owhich gives an undefined legal entity - the unborn - an equal right to life to that of the mother was voted on and inserted into the Constitution in 1983, in a climate of fear in the wake of the sexual liberation of the 1970s. Holy Catholic Ireland was still under the cosh of priests and bishops and no one of childbearing age today had a say in that referendum. Let us not forget that contraception was only legalised, with strong restrictions, in 1980. A woman's morality, intrinsically linked wjith her sexuality, was contained, policed, regulated and prescribed by the State. It is now widely accepted that abortion, in many cases, is not an objectionable practice but is, in fact, necessary and humane, particularly where the foetus has no chance of survival outside of the womb and in cases in which a woman becomes pregnant against her will as a result of having been raped. Most reasonable people agree that there are instances where terminating a pregnancy is the right thing to do. It is much more acceptable today for a person to publicly declare that he or she believes the final choice rests with the woman than it was in the 1980s.

The problem with Article 40.3.3ois that it interprets every termination as unconstitutional. Even if a child of 11 or 12 years were to become pregnant as a result of rape, the Constitution states she should be forced to endure that pregnancy to full term, despite the fact that we all know this is wrong and amounts to torture. In Ireland women and doctors are criminalised if they attempt to procure an unlawful abortion, regardless of the circumstances, and can face up to 14 years in prison. In El Salvador a person would be treated like a murderer and given a life sentence, regardless of the circumstances involved. Ireland's laws may not appear on the surface to be as harsh, but the principle is the same. Recently, Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty Ireland visited El Salvador and said he believed it was not dissimilar to Ireland. He said:

Just like El Salvador, those who need to access an abortion and who can afford to do so, travel to another jurisdiction. Those who cannot just have to find some way to cope with their situation. In many ways, El Salvador is Ireland without the safety valve of England. In both countries, women and girls are legally prevented, by threat of imprisonment, from making deeply personal choices about how to best manage a risk to their lives or health posed by a pregnancy. Addressing this in either country requires political leadership and courage. It's about time we saw more of both.
Last night the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Leo Varadkar, told us that the Government did not have a mandate to deal with this issue. Tonight Deputy Eoghan Murphy told us it had. For the Minister to say the Government does not have a mandate is difficult to accept because it has done things it did not have a mandate to do, but it is still in government.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I agree with the Minister of State that we should not use hard cases to make generalisations. However, that said, I am conscious that the newspapers seem to be breaking the news of another sad case. It is against the backdrop of quite a number of sad cases, even in the lifetime of the Government. While we do not and should never justify people's opinions, what these cases do is expose that the issue of women's reproductive health should not be dealt with in the Constitution. It should not be something battled over by legal people when women find themselves in a crisis or traumatic circumstances.

It is interesting and significant that every person who contributed to the debate said there was a problem with the eighth amendment and the majority said we should not deal with it now. How soon is now? When is there a right time? It is our job. We are paid to legislate and amend the law and, therefore, it is not good enough to say "Not now."

I am in the unenviable position of trying to summarise the debate. The main point I would like to make is that the vote will not in any way reflect the discussion we have had over the past two days, which has shown that, even in the course of the past year, attitudes have changed in the House. It is important to recognise that. A number of Deputies who supported the legislation last year have had the courage to say that provisions in it, such as the criminalisation of women and the need for scrutiny of a case by six medical practitioners, were wrong. It is good that they have put this on the record, but if we are saying it is wrong, we have a responsibility to do something about it.

I would like to respond to a number of points made by the Minister last night regarding some legal issues, because he was wrong about them and some of his comments were a little bit of a cop-out. He said the proposal in the Bill to acknowledge the right to bodily integrity and personal integrity was "vague" and that usually, once rights are acknowledged, the State goes on to ensure they are protected. That is not true in the case of the rights he outlined. Our Constitution, by its very nature, is open and aspirational and states broad principles. It is there to direct the Judiciary, to give guidance to doctors and to be followed up by more detailed legislation. The problem with the eighth amendment was not that it was too vague but that it tried to act as legislation and detail how abortion should be dealt with in various circumstances. It is the opposite scenario in that regard, and the Minister was wrong about it. He was also wrong in saying that many of the subsequent problems were not obvious at the time, because they were.

I refer to a number of points made by Mairead Enright, a human rights law lecturer. She pointed out that in respect of the Bill we have introduced, bodily integrity is a limited negative right, a right of non-interference. Members have said we protect women's lives, but we do not; we subordinate their lives to the right of a foetus to be born. That is removed and replaced with an explicit provision and commitment to bodily integrity of born persons and it gestures towards a new approach on this issue. If the eighth amendment is removed, the entire legal landscape changes. I agree with Ms Enright regarding what should happen next, which is what happens already with many women in the early stages of pregnancy. They get pills but they should be able to get them easily on prescription from their pharmacist at an accessible price and with access to proper care and counselling. She put forward the Victoria model for the later stages of pregnancy where abortion legislation provides that a doctor may perform an abortion on a woman who is not more than 24 weeks pregnant for any reason and then after than in other circumstances. There are ways in which the follow on can be dealt with post the eighth amendment.

I very much welcome the fact that the Minister acknowledged that the current provision is too restrictive and stated clearly that our laws have given rise to a chilling effect. He said the result of the provision was that difficult decisions that should be made on the basis of best clinical practice are now being made on foot of legal advice. It is absolutely and utterly frightening when the Minister for Health says our laws are preventing decisions from being made in the best medical interest of women and then says "Well, I'm out of here now. There's nothing more I can do about that." It is not good enough when he clearly outlined that he recognised the barbarity of the provision that women must carry to term pregnancies in which there is a fatal foetal abnormality. He is the Minister and he can bring in legislation. There is legal opinion that says it is entirely permissible, even within the confines of the eighth amendment. While I welcome the fact that he has put it on the record, there is no point in saying something needs to be done. Who will do it if the Minister for Health will not do it?

The Minister said change would come in 20 years. Who will bring that about? We are legislators and that is our job. Unless we tackle it now, we are abdicating our responsibility. On no other issue would this be allowed to wait. Along with this insult, we have our faces rubbed in it by being told we should not rush this, when nobody of reproductive age has had a chance to have a say; when ten women today joined the ten women yesterday who had to take that journey and did not have a say in it; when, as other Deputies said, opinion poll after opinion poll has revealed that the people are supportive of abortion in a range of circumstances and overwhelmingly support the repeal of the eighth amendment; when the United Nations Human Rights Committee says that to adhere to international human rights, we should examine our Constitution; and when everybody in the House and every political party has said we should examine this issue. Let us do that. I agree with Members who said we should have a calm debate and that we should be compassionate and measured. Sloganeering and labelling people is not helpful, but if those on the Government side believe we need a debate on it, what are they doing about it? The only reason we are discussing this is that we have tabled legislation and pushed the issue, and that is not good enough. While I appreciate the sentiment of Members such as Deputy Ó Cuív, who said that perhaps a committee should be set up, we have had various committees, Constitutional Conventions and so on. Let the people have a say. What are we afraid of?

It is good that all parties are on record as saying this needs to be dealt with. Let us ensure it is in their election manifestos. People have said Ireland is not ready for abortion on demand. I do not like that slogan because it is incredibly flippant and demeaning of women, as if this is something casual that women would like to do, when in fact it is never a decision that anybody would like to have to make. The reality is that most abortions are carried out in early pregnancy by the taking of a tablet. They are no different from a miscarriage, a bit of cramping or anything like that. Late terminations result from serious illness, fatal foetal abnormalities and other tragedies. The key issue is that it should be a choice for the woman herself. People have said that nobody has the answers and that we will never agree. Maybe that is the answer - that there is no answer - because what is right for me may not be right for the Minister of State or somebody else's daughter. Circumstances differ for people and, in fact, our views are absolutely irrelevant. All we should be concerned about is putting in place a regime which supports people and their decisions. It is incredibly ironic that we live in a society in which we are happy for women to have jobs, run their homes, raise children, look after the elderly and the sick and run the country, but we will not allow them to make a decision about what is best for their own bodies. I will not explain the reasons people make those decisions - there are varied reasons, and no legislation will ever sort that out - but am I confident that those women will make the best decision for them? I absolutely am. That is all we are asking. The right to choose to have an abortion is equally the right to choose whether to have a child and to be supported in that.

I thank the Deputies who participated in the debate and I acknowledge that the debate has moved on, but for us as legislators it is not enough. We have to do something to move this on. Sadly, it is too late for another ten girls today. We should wise up to this. There is no debate about whether we should have Irish abortion. Irish abortion is exactly the same as abortion in other countries. We just have a stifling hypocrisy that says it has to take place away from here, and that can no longer continue.

Cuireadh an cheist.

Question put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 110.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and John Lyons.

Níl

Question declared lost.

Faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis diúltú don cheist.