Dáil debates

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Other Questions

Medicinal Products Availability

10:10 am

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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6. To ask the Minister for Health the number of seizures of mifepristone and misoprostol, which had been ordered online by women, placing Ireland in the position of banning access to their bodily autonomy and forcing them to go abroad (details supplied). [14707/15]

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Will the Government reconsider its policy on mifepristone and misoprostol which are safe pills that can be used in cases of medical abortion? I am asking this because the Customs service is seizing these drugs which have been ordered by women online through Women On Web and prescribed by doctors. In years to come, we will cringe and look back on this policy, under which we are censoring and preventing women from accessing safe health care.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, is the competent authority for the regulation of medicines in Ireland. Under the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003, as amended, the mail order supply of prescription medicines is prohibited. The HPRA, in co-operation with Revenue’s Customs service, in the period 2011 to 2014, seized a total of 2,577 tablets containing the medicines in question in 138 importations. I am arranging to provide the breakdown by year for the Deputy.

There are significant public health concerns associated with the purchase of prescription medicines over the Internet. There is no guarantee as to the safety, quality or efficacy of medicines purchased online. Medicines purchased in this manner are often found to be counterfeit and-or with inaccurate labelling or product information. In addition, any prescription medicine should be taken by a patient only when it has been prescribed for him or her by his or her medical practitioner or other appropriate health professional who has taken his or her medical history into account.

It is illegal to procure an abortion in Ireland outside of the circumstances specified in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 which regulates access to lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the X case and the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and Cv. Ireland case.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Because of the position under the eighth amendment and so on, the Government has banned these pills from the country. Who are the women who are looking for them? They are our sisters, cousins, friends and neighbours. They are ordinary women who have been driven to desperation because of a crisis pregnancy. If the Government is banning abortion in this country, will the Minister of State at least let the women concerned access these pills via the Internet and take their chances? What is happening is that doctors have to sit in surgeries, hand-holding, and tell women that they will help them afterwards if there is a problem. I remind the Minister of State that until the 1980s, contraception was illegal in this country. I remember that time when people had to sneak around back streets looking for family planning clinics. I also remind her that vasectomies were illegal. Doctors had to perform them illegally in order to challenge the law. I also remind her that homosexuality was illegal. These are laws that we now look back on and call disgraceful. In a few years time we will look back on this policy and say it was a disgrace.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Deputy knows my position on this issue, but the law is that one cannot buy prescription medicine over the Internet. I have concerns for the health and lives of women who are driven to take these desperate measures, but that is the law, as laid down by the people. There was a referendum in which they spoke very clearly. I am sure the next Government will take a different view of that referendum, but right now it is the law and the Customs service is simply implementing it. It is extraordinary that people are being driven to take these measures, but I have concerns about ordering these prescription medicines over the Internet. If one looks at the background information, as I have, one will see that sometimes the medicine is not as identified on the packaging. That also concerns me.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I have looked at the issue in depth because women contact me regularly about it. I remind the Minister of State that those who have to resort to this measure are the poorest women: illegal immigrants and those who cannot afford to shell out €1,000 or €1,500 to travel abroad for a surgical abortion. I also reassure the Minster of State that the doctors who prescribe these pills fort those on Women on Web are not reckless. There is a 1% danger rate, less than that for Viagra. Taking it is safer than driving a car. If the Minister of State does not have the guts to change or allow people to repeal the eighth amendment, she should let women take their chances. There is an excellent article written by a doctor, Dr. Juliet Bressan-----

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is Question Time. Will the Deputy, please, put questions?

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Dr. Bressan makes the point that in the not-too-distant future we will look back on the shameful bans on contraception, divorce, homosexuality and movies such as "The Life of Brian". Will the Minister of State at least ask the Customs service to stop preventing people from ordering packages online? Why is she perpetuating this disgraceful ban? She will have a third chance to repeal the eight amendment in a Bill on 8 May which is being brought forward by Deputy Joe Higgins and me. I hope it is not a case of the Labour Party rejecting three times women's autonomy over their own bodies.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It is not within the gift of any Minister to tell an arm of the State not to abide by the law. That cannot be done. The Customs service is simply implementing the law, as is stands, which is in line with the constitutional imperative. I know that the Deputy does not take much notice of what the people decide in referendums-----

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Not 31 years ago.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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-----but the Labour Party does. The constitutional imperative was decided by the people. I know that is not something for which the Deputy has a great grá, but it was the decision of the people.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The Constitution - no, I do not.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.