Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution: Statements
Every now and then an issue comes before us which challenges us to think about what kind of a country we want to be and what kind of a society we are; an issue that we struggle with, that may be difficult to talk about, but that is not going to go away. Today is a moment where we, the Members of the 32nd Dáil, come face to face again with such an issue. In doing so, we come face to face with our history - a history that continues to unfold and continues to hold up a mirror in which we sometimes do not like what we see, whether it is the damp cold of the Magdalen laundries creeping into our bones, or the sundered silence of mother and baby homes being broken, or the glimpses of what was an all too acceptable culture exposed by the Kerry babies case. All these are connected by the way we as a country have treated women, and particularly the way we have treated pregnant women.
I think of another cold January like this one in 1984 when the 15 year-old Ann Lovett gave birth alone to her son beneath a statue of Our Lady. The death of Ann and her baby son in these stark and lonely circumstances is a memory that chills us still and one we should not forget. We now arrive at another moment on a long journey, starting with the insertion of the eighth amendment of the Constitution in 1983 through the court cases that made us think about the pregnant victims of rape and incest, through the bravery of families faced with fatal foetal abnormalities who made us think about the particular cruelties we add to their tragedies, and, after all this, perhaps arriving at the realisation that each crisis pregnancy is different and each involves a real woman facing a very difficult and very personal decision.
These are real women such as the 36 from County Carlow who travelled to the UK for an abortion in 2016, or the 38 from Mayo, the 69 from Tipperary, the 85 from Wicklow, the 241 from Cork and the 1,175 women from Dublin. Women from every county in the Republic travelled to the UK in 2016 and we need to acknowledge them all, including the 49 from Kerry; 130 from Kildare; 21 from Leitrim; 20 from Roscommon; 69 from Wexford; 39 from Cavan; 15 from Monaghan; 99 from Limerick; 53 from Clare; 38 from Westmeath; 63 from Donegal; 113 from Galway; 44 from Kilkenny; 42 from Laois; 83 from Louth; 100 from Meath; 28 from Offaly; 29 from Sligo; 16 from Longford; and 56 from Waterford.
In 2016, 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK alone and we know that Irish women travel to other countries such as the Netherlands as well. More than 1,200 of the women who went to the UK were aged between 30 and 39; more than 1,500 were aged between 20 and 29; 255 were aged 40 or over; ten were girls under the age of 16; and 230 were teenagers. More than half of the women who travelled were married, in a civil partnership, or in a relationship while 85% of them were between three and 12 weeks' pregnant. It is estimated that at least 170,000 Irish women have travelled to other countries for abortions since 1980.
These are not faceless women. It might be convenient for us sometimes to think that they are. They are our friends, neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, and wives. Each woman is dealing with her own personal situation and making what is a deeply difficult decision because this time around - let us be honest about this – this is not a decision or a procedure that anyone undertakes lightly. Women agonise about it and consider every possibility for dealing with the particular crisis facing them, and sometimes they arrive at the conclusion that there is no other option for them but to terminate their pregnancy. When they arrive at that difficult decision, the country we live in, which we hope has come a long way from the dark events that continue to haunt this Chamber, tells them to go and get their care elsewhere - go to another country or head off somewhere else.
In 1992, we formalised the right of Irish women to travel for an abortion and to obtain information about it, but we have been temporarily exporting women in crisis for an awful lot longer than that. I cannot help but wonder what we would have done if we did not have a neighbouring island to help us turn a blind eye. Sometimes turning a blind eye is the same as turning your back. We need now to seek to build a society which accepts our own challenges and addresses them honestly, maturely and openly, which does not seek to deny reality or to outsource it to another country, and which does not reject women at the most vulnerable moments in their lives.
As I stand before this House at the commencement of what I genuinely believe in time could be seen as an historic debate, I am fully aware of the sensitivities and complexities of this issue. I want to acknowledge the deeply held, genuine views on all sides of the House and throughout the country. No matter what may divide us, I accept that all of us are trying to do what is right. All of us are guided by our own conscience and our own sense of humanity. Some of us have changed our views over the years. My own views have changed and been formed by listening to women and doctors, and coming to recognise some hard realities. Some of us bear the scars of past debates and fear what is to come. However, this time, I firmly believe that it is possible for us to have a respectful debate on the issue. Please do not call that naïve and do not dismiss the idea that we can maturely recognise that each of us has deeply personal and genuinely held views, all of which deserve to be heard, understood and respected. It is an issue that troubles most of us as individuals. For some of us, it challenges us to hold what appear to be conflicting views simultaneously. Which of us does not value and love human life, and which of us does not want to see that protected? No one has a monopoly on that. The tactics name-calling, pigeon-holing, and stereotyping need to be consigned to history because they have only led to paralysis, fear and division.
It will require effort and attention from all of us, regardless of our views, but it is so important that everyone has the chance to hear clearly in order that when, as a nation, we come to make the next decision on this issue, it is informed.
We do so as a country with a particularly complex past which, in fact, dates back to 1861, when abortion was a felony under the Offences against the Person Act, a felony with a sentence of penal servitude for life. In more recent decades, it has been an issue dominated by referendums and court cases. As Members know, 1983 saw the first referendum. In 1992 there was another with three questions. Legislation followed in 1995. A third referendum on abortion was held in 2002 seeking to overturn the X case but it was defeated. In 2014 the issue came before this House again when we passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
I remember vividly that debate and some of the offensive comments about floodgates opening. I remember the language used, which seemed to suggest women would even fake a threat to their own lives to obtain a termination - quite unbelievable really, when we look back only those few short years. Obviously, none of this has come to pass and the reports laid before this House each year bear that out.
Since the passing of that law there has been a clear legal basis for abortion in Ireland but it has become clear that the Oireachtas can go no further without constitutional change. Other Members have tried to bring forward thoughtful legislation to assist families with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, for example. I have been the Minister to respond to these Private Members' Bills but on each occasion the legal advice has been clear that without the repeal of the eighth amendment, we, as an Oireachtas, could not address these issues.
Abortion is a reality for women living in Ireland but not just women in the limited circumstances in which it is legal under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, nor for the many women who travel to other countries, as I have outlined. There are now new realities on top of that. The Oireachtas committee heard evidence of abortion pills being bought on the Internet and used by women in this country without any medical supervision. Research from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecologyshows a 62% increase in the number of women from Ireland contacting one online provider over a five-year period, up from 548 women in 2010 to 1,438 in 2015, and that is just one provider.
Can we pause and picture what this is telling us, because we can get lost in numbers and years? Is it acceptable to any of us that women are once again left in a lonely and scary place, sending off for a pill to be sent through the post instead of being able to access the medical advice and support they need? This is happening in Ireland today. It is a fact. How can we ignore it? How can we consider it to be all right? If it is the sad reality that we have been exporting this issue for many decades, are we now accepting that, on top of exporting it, women must import their own solutions?
I want to turn now to the substance of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I commend all the members for their work and thank them for the contributions they made. They have served the Oireachtas well. I wish to thank Senator Catherine Noone, in particular, for her calm and balanced handling of the issue as Chair. We, as an Oireachtas, asked these colleagues, on a cross-party basis, to do a very important body of work: to listen to experts, to hear evidence and to report back to us. We owe them a debt of gratitude for the time and dedication they applied to their task. I would also like to commend the chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, and its members for their careful deliberations and to acknowledge their valuable contribution.
The Citizens' Assembly and the committee have given us a model for addressing this issue in a rational and measured way, and I believe it is one we should follow. I want to recognise that the recommendations contained in the committee’s report represent the views of the majority of members but there was not unanimous agreement on them. I respect the views of those who dissented from the recommendations but I believe the recommendations are the basis on which we must proceed on this issue. The main conclusion of the committee’s work is that change is needed to extend the grounds for lawful termination of pregnancy in the State. In order to effect that change, the committee recommended that Article 40.3.3oshould be removed from the Constitution. The committee then went on to make recommendations on the grounds on which termination of pregnancy should be permitted in Ireland, if Article 40.3.3ois repealed by the Irish people. It recommended extending the law on abortion to cover cases where the health of a woman is concerned, cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and a broader legal regime that allows abortions where the woman seeks it from her medical practitioner if her pregnancy is under 12 weeks gestation.
I am working with my chief medical officer and officials of my Department, and the Attorney General, to consider how best to translate these recommendations into legislation, should that be the wish of the Irish people. It is my intention that, in the event of a referendum, as much information as possible would be available to people so they can make an informed decision.
While it is understandable the focus so far has been on the committee’s recommendations regarding the eighth amendment, it is important to put on the record of the House that the committee did not only make recommendations on termination of pregnancy, but also on the services and supports that should be available to women. I am fully committed to ensuring that all women accessing maternity services in our country should receive the same standard of safe, high quality care. Every woman, from any corner of Ireland, should expect and be able to access the maternity services she needs. I am confident that, through the implementation of the first-ever national maternity strategy, Creating a Better Future Together, the quality outcomes envisaged by the committee will be realised. In some ways, it is incredible it is the first-ever national maternity strategy. Officials in my Department, under the chairmanship of the chief medical officer, have now established a group to address and formulate an effective and comprehensive response to the issues raised by the committee in its ancillary recommendations.
We have made other progress which provides the base for delivering the kind of integrated care women and their babies deserve. We have established the national women and infants health programme. We now have HIQA’s standards for safer better maternity services and new HSE national standards for bereavement care to ensure clinical and counselling services are in place to support all women and families in all pregnancy loss situations. The HSE’s Positive Options crisis pregnancy counselling service is also available in 50 centres nationwide.
As someone born three years after the 1983 referendum on the eighth amendment, I never imagined I might one day be the Minister for Health responsible for a referendum on its repeal. I come at it from a perspective that I think was sadly absent in 1983, that is, from the perspective of women’s health care. In the Ministry I have the honour to hold, it is my duty to work to ensure that people in this country receive the highest possible standards of care, and to protect and promote the health of our people under the laws of our land.
I realise the issue before us challenges us - it challenges me. It causes us to ask difficult questions of ourselves. It makes us uncomfortable at times as we collectively wrestle with what is, at its core, a very personal and private matter. Women become pregnant and it is a joyous thing for so many, but it is a terrifying thing for some and a tragic thing for others. Irish women are driven today to find their own solutions. Sometimes they put themselves at risk in doing so. As things stand, they are often left without help, advice or support at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. I hope that, as a country, we can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives. Ultimately, there is always a deeply personal, private story behind each individual case, which I believe is a matter best served by women and their doctors. I believe the people in this country trust women and trust their doctors to make these difficult decisions.
I look forward to what I hope will be a constructive debate on the issues raised by the committee here and in the Seanad. I hope we can show here that this debate can take place in an atmosphere of respect for each other's views so that the same is possible in the context of a referendum campaign. After this debate concludes, I expect to return to Government in the coming weeks with a series of proposals which I believe can deliver a referendum by the end of May or very early June, should the will of the Oireachtas be to facilitate that. I do not doubt that, as long as I remain a Member of this House, I will continue to witness moments in this Chamber that remind us of darker times in our history, but let this be a different type of moment. Let this be a moment people will look back on as one where their representatives confronted one of the most complex issues we have faced as a country with clarity, with compassion and with care.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this divisive issue, which has been at the heart of debate since 1983 and the insertion of Article 40.3.3° into the Constitution. Like the Minister, I was too young to vote in that campaign, although I am a few years older than him.
I was only three years short of being able to vote in 1983. All of this indicates that there is a large swathe of people who have never had an opportunity to cast an opinion on this issue. It should be borne in mind that it is primarily women of childbearing age who are most affected, yet they have never had an opportunity to cast their view.
Since being appointed Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on health, I have been grappling with this issue. We debated it in the context of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. I sat on the committee chaired by now Senator Buttimer that formulated that debate. It was insightful because that was the first time that we as an Oireachtas tried to deal with the issue in a non-political way, recognising that it was socially divisive and people had strong feelings on it.
My leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, subsequently allowed us a free vote - a vote of conscience. Some parties have followed us in that while others have not. That is entirely their entitlement. It is not for me to say whether they should or should not. Since being appointed health spokesperson, I have tried to take the political element out of this issue, given that it has been charged for a long time and has occasionally been used by political parties of all persuasions and none. We have gone beyond that now. Our society is mature enough to have a respectful, incisive and decisive debate on this issue, with the people ultimately deciding.
I also sat on the joint Oireachtas committee. I pay tribute to the Citizens' Assembly, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, who outlined the assembly's workings and the reasoning behind its conclusions and recommendations. Our committee was charged by the Oireachtas to examine those recommendations and reach our own determinations.
The committee did not reach a unanimous view. Rather, there was a majority view and a dissenting view, with varying views even within those. I respect every one of those views. If we are to allow the people the space to grapple with this issue, we in this Chamber must equally acknowledge that people have deeply held views - morally, ethically and even religiously.
That aside, my personal or political discomfort is nothing compared with the discomfort caused to women every day of the week who are grappling with crisis or unwanted pregnancies or the devastating news of fatal foetal abnormalities. We must be conscious of that.
The Minister outlined that 170,000 plus women had left this State for terminations. We have been exporting our problem for a long time. It is our duty to address this issue. With the best will in the world, and although people have varying opinions on this, we cannot do anything other than what we have legislated for already unless we repeal, amend or replace Article 40.3.3°. We have to change what is in our Constitution. That will be the first step towards addressing this issue.
It would be easy for me and others contributing in this debate to keep our heads down and hope that the issue goes away but, as a generation of politicians, we have to deal with it. We have to give the people an opportunity to express their opinion in light of the fact that the last time they had such an opportunity was in 1983. Ireland has fundamentally changed in many respects since then, as outlined by the Minister. It has changed most in how women have become more assertive. They now have an opportunity to put themselves at the heart of this debate, which is primarily about women's rights and health care and about giving them equal opportunity in the Republic. We cannot have a situation in which a woman becomes a second-class citizen upon becoming pregnant. We must understand that that is no longer acceptable.
People have asked me how the committee arrived at our recommendations. The Citizens' Assembly made 13 recommendations, the most fundamental one being that there should be a change to Article 40.3.3°. The assembly outlined three options. The committee's majority recommendation was for a repeal simpliciter, that is, the article should just be removed from the Constitution, and for the Houses of the Oireachtas to be allowed to legislate for what was primarily a health care issue for women. There were varying views on that in the legal advice that the committee sought and was given. I am sure that different advice may even be given to the Government by the Attorney General. What I do know, however, is that if we continue allowing Article 40.3.3° to be the bulwark for dealing with this issue, the status quowill prevail. Every night, four or five women will self-administer abortion pills at home and ten women will get on planes every day to fly abroad. We as a Parliament will have to live with that if we fail to grasp this issue.
We must show political leadership by having a debate that is respectful of every view that will be expressed in this Chamber and then allowing the people to make their decision based on the full information. I urge everyone involved not only to respect one another's views, but to engage in the debate so that the question can be decided one way or the other.
I have expressed my view that there must be a repeal simpliciteror a variation of same that removes Article 40.3.3° from the Constitution. I am open to a new constitutional article giving the Oireachtas the supreme authority to legislate on this issue. I would take on board the Attorney General's opinion and that of others. However, we must be honest with people. If Article 40.3.3° is replaced or repealed, the Legislature will govern from then on, but we cannot guarantee anything. We could publish legislation in advance of this referendum campaign that would give people guidance as to what the likely outcome would be, but if the Oireachtas is to legislate in the event of a repeal, then it will be the Oireachtas that will decide, not necessarily this one either, but possibly a changed Oireachtas following a general election. All we can do is be honest with people about what we believe the Oireachtas in its current composition would pass in the event of a repeal.
I urge people to examine the committee's recommendations and consider why we came to those determinations. They are more conservative than the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. For example, the assembly referred to a 22 week gestational period whereas we are calling for a 12 week period in the majority of cases. It would be a matter for the clinicians and the woman with a view to her health and life.
Many people have stated their desire to address the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities. I have a friend whose wife received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. They wanted to have this child. They kicked the sand up and down Garryvoe beach for weeks on end because of that diagnosis wondering what they would do. Would she continue with the pregnancy or would she have it terminated? They spent weeks deciding. If they decided to terminate the pregnancy, given that there could have been no survival outside of the womb, the only difficulty would have been that they would have had to go abroad. They made the decision to go abroad. It was inhumane that our country could force this on our citizens. They decided to terminate the pregnancy because they felt that they could not go through with it in light of the prognosis of certain death ex utero, so the idea that we would ask people like them to FedEx their little baby back home to Ireland is inhumane. For that reason, the recommendations in the report are critical to this debate.
The issue of rape and incest is one about which a lot of people speak. Even people with quite conservative views in this area will say the issue of incest and rape should be addressed. All the empirical legal evidence we have shows that it would be impossible for us to legislate on the ground of rape. We have to trust the integrity and honesty of women. Are we to put people who have been subjected to a vile act through another inquisition to find out and determine whether they have been raped in advance of having a termination? If we are to have restrictions in this area, these are the things that will actually have to happen. That is why, in the context of the recommendations of the committee, we also looked at the 12-week limit and decided that it should be a matter for the woman and her clinician to determine the reasons for a termination within that period. That would also address the issue of incest and rape in the vast majority of cases in that we would not need to have an inquisition of women to establish whether they were telling the truth. I firmly believe we should trust women in this context and that we have a duty to ensure they have the space, with their clinicians, to make the best decision for themselves and the lives they are living.
The Minister spoke about the age profile of those travelling abroad for a termination. I have received several emails from people which, to say the least, I find quite alarming. I am alarmed that there are people in our society who think this way because in their emails they are effectively saying the women who travel abroad are just using abortion as another form of contraception. I find that grossly offensive. I do not know of any woman who will get onto an aeroplane lightly and head to Liverpool, Birmingham or Holland for a termination of a pregnancy. I know women who have had terminations, an issue with which they grappled before they made their final decision. That it is just another form of contraception is a grotesque, offensive view of women.
As my party has allowed members a free vote, I am speaking in a personal capacity. I am speaking as a Fianna Fáil Deputy but in a personal capacity and as a representative of the people of Cork North Central. I leave my personal and political views outside the door when I speak about these issues because I have listened to the evidence given at the committee, heard the personal testimonies about what people had to endure and spoken to individual constituents who brought to my attention the challenges they faced when they received the devastating news of a fatal foetal abnormality or, in some cases, a foetal abnormality and the decisions they had to make. Space should be given in this debate. If we expect the people to behave in a manner that allows respect for varying views, the very least we should do is expect the same from each other in this House. If we are to lead by example in any way, we must allow space for varying views to be expressed.
Committee members held varying views on the issues before it, but majority views were expressed in a number of areas. The Citizens' Assembly made recommendations to allow a termination for various reasons, the first of which was a real and substantial physical risk to the life of the woman. Reason No. 2 was a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman by suicide. Reason No. 3 was a serious risk to the health of the woman. Reason No. 4 was a serious risk to the mental health of the woman. Reason No. 5 was a serious risk to the health of the woman. Reason No. 6 was a risk to the physical health of the woman. Reason No. 7 was a risk to the mental health of the woman. Reason No. 8 was a risk to the health of the woman. Reason No. 9 was pregnancy as a result of rape.
As a committee, we concurred, by and large, with the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. However, we deviated from some of its recommendations, primarily in the area of disability. We were very clear that disability should not be a ground for a termination. Let us be honest - people make decisions and choices. Are we to adjudicate on and be judgmental about the decisions they make? Who are we to judge a person who has just received the most devastating news that the baby she is carrying has a profound disability or will die ex-utero? The committee stated, however, that after a period of 12 weeks, disability would not be a ground for a legal termination. That was the strongly held view of a lot of committee members, even those who had quite open views on this issue. It was not the case that the committee was a slave to the Citizens' Assembly. It deliberated on every one of the recommendations and came to its own conclusions and diverged in certain areas.
I fervently hope the Government can keep to its timetable and that we can have the substantive issue of the repeal of Article 40.3.3odealt with by the summer. Publishing the scheme of a Bill in that timeframe will require a lot of resources. We must be honest when we are talking about legislation, people having concerns about a 12-week limit, foetal anomalies, fatal foetal anomalies, incest and rape and so forth and point out that nothing can be done unless we remove Article 40.3.3ofrom the Constitution. All the talk about what might or could happen is only relevant in the event that Article 40.3.3ois removed and the only ones who can remove it are the people. My vote has the same value as that of any person outside the House. It will be the citizens who will decide. Our duty, first and foremost, is to facilitate the holding of a referendum and establish the commission to observe that it is fair and impartial. Political parties and individuals must ensure, at the very least, that they are honest and upfront, whatever view they hold, and that we will all be respectful of each other. As someone who will be 50 years old next Saturday, I do not want to preside over the continuation of the current situation, knowing that next year, the year after and the year after thousands of Irish girls and women will board aeroplanes to seek health care in other countries or climb the stairs to their bedroom with an abortion pill because the State has failed them.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar fíorthábhachtach seo atá roimh an Dáil um thráthnóna. I am also grateful to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I commend its members, including, in particular, its Chairman, Senator Catherine Noone, and the three Sinn Féin representatives, Deputies Louise O'Reilly and Jonathan O'Brien and Senator Paul Gavan. I also thank the Citizens' Assembly and its chairman, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy. I commend the Minister for Health for his very compassionate remarks. I also commend the thoughtful remarks made by Teachta Billy Kelleher.
One hundred years ago this year Countess Markievicz was elected to the first Dáil. She went on to become the first female Cabinet Minister in Europe. She was part of a revolutionary strand of the national movement that included women such as Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Kathleen Lynn and Elizabeth O'Farrell. They were fine women who serve as role models for many of us to this day. They led the struggle for women's rights in extraordinary times, buoyed by the freedom charter that was the 1916 Proclamation which addressed itself equally to Irish men and Irish women. They must have felt betrayed after the counter revolutionary period which resulted in the development of two conservative, narrow-minded states that championed public policy that was anti-women, chauvinistic, cruel and intolerant.
Women were written out of history. Their status in this State was confirmed in the 1937 Constitution, which provided that the place of women is "in the home". Women who strayed beyond the so-called norms were sent to Magdalen laundries or mother and baby homes, where they endured unbelievable hardship and were denied everything by a State that condemned them for no reason other than the fact that they were women. Such attitudes permeated every facet of Irish life. The architecture of the State ensured women were consigned to a lesser status. The employment marriage bar remained in force until 1973. Domestic violence was not recognised as an issue during this era. It was not until 1976 that a wife could seek a barring order against her husband. Criminal conversation, which enshrined in law that a wife was the property of her husband, remained on the Statute Book until 1981. Contraception was not available without a prescription until 1985, and even then only in chemists until 1991. Simple things like the purchase of a television or a radio on hire purchase were not possible without a husband's signature at this time.
While strides have been made in addressing some of the historic injustices forced on women by this State, the legacy of that treatment remains with us in respect of issues like pay equality, or the lack of it. It can be seen in the scarcity of women from many aspects of public life, politics and leadership positions in commerce, academia and other sectors. This injustice is evident in the continued existence of the 1983 amendment to the Constitution, which was already out of touch at that time. This amendment prohibits access to what is considered, and was considered even at that time, to be basic medical treatment in any developed society. That is not right. It is wrong. As legislators, we have a responsibility to end that injustice. The business of the State should be to ensure women have access to proper health care services if they need them and choose to avail of them. The State has a responsibility to support women. We should not fool ourselves. Abortion is a reality in Ireland. Abortion pills are available here. They can be ordered online and taken by women without medical supervision. Women in distress can go to England, which is an English solution to an Irish problem.
I have my own position on abortion. As a legislator, I have no right to impose that view on anyone. It is not for any of us here to cast judgment on anybody for doing what they feel they need to do. It is for women to make that judgment. I believe they are fully capable of doing so and are entitled to do so. Those who are opposed to abortion are entitled to their opinions. They are equally and fully entitled not to have terminations. Everyone has the right to choose. Those who subscribe to a particular faith can heed the guidance of their religious leaders if they so choose. My strongly held opinion is that it is not appropriate for anyone to foist their views on anyone else. Some of those who will oppose that analysis are friends of mine. They are good people whose sincerely held views I respect. Tolerance has to be the hallmark of our discourse.
Ireland has changed. That change has been spearheaded by women in the first case. Mná na hÉireann are not going to accept as dogma the continued guidance, mar dhea, of a Constitution that was written when they were second-class citizens and was revised in 1983 under false pretences. Women do not need moral diktats and certainly do not need condemnation. They need and deserve respect. They need the right to make decisions about their own health and their own lives. Repealing the eighth amendment is the right thing to do. It will correct an historic wrong. I hope a referendum to give the people the right to repeal the eighth amendment happens as soon as possible. I hope the people will support that proposition. Thereafter, we can debate the merits or otherwise of the legislation that will follow.
Sinn Féin accepts the need for abortion to be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at serious risk or in danger and in cases of rape or sexual abuse. This has been our policy for a long time. We recently dealt with the issue of fatal foetal abnormality at an Ard-Fheis. I never knew there was such a condition. We listened to compassionate people explaining how they or their partners, sisters or friends decided to carry a fatal foetal abnormality to full term while others could not do so. We changed our position accordingly. I think that is what we have to do. The first step we need to take is to allow women the right to make a choice on these deeply distressing matters. It is their business, it is their right and it is their choice. Sinn Féin will fully support the repeal of the eighth amendment.
I would like to add my voice to those who have commended the work of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I particularly commend my colleagues, Teachtaí Louise O'Reilly and Jonathan O'Brien and Seanadóir Paul Gavan. I also commend the Chairman of the committee, Senator Catherine Noone, who did a very fine job. As an Oireachtas, we made a big ask of our peers and colleagues on the committee. I believe they conducted themselves with great dignity, compassion, intelligence and thoughtfulness throughout the hearings. I commend them on that. I was disappointed that some members of the committee tried unsuccessfully to thwart its work. I do not say that to sound a note of rancour, but because it is important that the disrespectful commentary which featured in the course of the committee's work is not allowed to set the tone for the public debate. As we move to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution and agree a new legislative and regulatory framework, I hope and believe it will be an historic and momentous journey for all of us. I hope all of this work can be done in a respectful, well-informed, calm and fair atmosphere.
The harrowing experiences of Joanne Hayes, and all the horrific events surrounding what became known as the Kerry babies scandal of more than 33 years ago, have played themselves out again in heartbreaking detail in the past 24 hours. The scale of the abuse Joanne endured at the hands of the State was unprecedented and horribly and agonisingly public. I welcome yesterday's apology from the Garda Síochána and today's apology from the Taoiseach. Such statements are most welcome. The Taoiseach must now move to make good today's statement on compensation for Joanne Hayes. She is entitled to a full and formal apology from the State for its persecution and vilification of her and her family. She also deserves compensation and redress. Back then, having failed Joanne and having pursued her case in the most corrupt manner, the Garda went viciously for a second bite at the tribunal of inquiry.
I remember hearing Joanne Hayes's name when I was a girl. I remember the Kerry babies being spoken of. I also recall the incredible atmosphere of hostility directed at women and girls in 1983. I can still feel the very toxic atmosphere in which the eighth amendment was conceived, debated and inserted into the Constitution. I do not think there is a woman of my age in Ireland who cannot still feel how that atmosphere felt. After all, this was the Ireland of the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries. It was an Ireland where women were to be subjugated and kept quiet inside the home to accept their fate. This obsessive control of women did not happen by accident.
It was very much intended by a powerful conservative cohort across society - in government and the churches, across the highest ranks of the public and Civil Service and among the professional elites. Women's subjugation was part of a carving up of power and influence in the public and private spheres, which did not happen by accident.
The then journalist and current European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, wrote the following in 1992:
The widespread passive acceptance of the patriarchal nature of Irish society also enabled the conservative lobby to hold sway. Nothing threatens the system more than when women are enabled to take control of every aspect of their lives, public and private. And there is nothing more critical to the exercise of that control than the ability to decide how many children to have, if any, and when to have them.
The eighth amendment was in effect a constitutional coup and the reactionary codification of the suppression of women. That is what happened in 1983. In the decades since, women in Ireland have had to live with the abusive outworkings of the eighth amendment. The X case, in particular, brought into sharp focus the worst expression of the conservative coup. A child who was pregnant as a result of rape was dragged through the courts by the State, whose sole and stated intent was to force her to continue with the pregnancy from rape to full term. I still struggle to fully comprehend the callousness of the State in so aggressively and cruelly forcing a child victim of rape to continue with pregnancy. It is hard to fathom that any individual or agency could heap more abuse and trauma on a child who had already been violated. Even after the Supreme Court judgment, the public outcry and the horrors endured by Miss X and her family, successive Governments refused for more than two decades to legislate for the X case. It is important to record that this is a source of shame for successive Oireachtais. It took the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and the alphabetical array of cases taken by incredibly brave women to shame government into finally enacting in law the Supreme Court decisions in the X case.
There is now broad acceptance across the Oireachtas and in wider society that the eighth amendment must be repealed from the Constitution. I passionately believe that now is the time for leadership and in that regard, I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, on his words this evening. Leadership must come from the front.
Abortion is a divisive issue. That statement echoes throughout this debate. While that may be the case, the abuse of women and indifference to our health and bodily integrity are not divisive issues but unacceptable positions to take in public life. Some people argue that because abortion is a divisive issue, votes of conscience must, therefore, be allowed. I do not share that view and I say this as someone who is deeply respectful of diverse views and fully understands that some people will struggle with this issue. However, in the final analysis, this debate is a matter of public health, women's health, our right to decide and our right to respect for our conscience as we decide on matters for ourselves. The clinicians and doctors, not least in the hearings of the joint committee, made clear that the eighth amendment casts a long shadow over their practice and relationships with their patients and jeopardises women's health and their lives.
The first issue for the Oireachtas to address is the nature of the question to be put for repeal. A simple repeal of the eighth amendment of the Constitution, as recommended by the joint committee, must be delivered. There can be no equivocation on this by anyone. If legal advice that takes a contrary view is offered, for instance, if it is suggested that instead of repeal simpliciter, an enabling clause should be inserted in the Constitution, the Government must share this advice with all Oireachtas Members because we need transparency and informed debate above all.
I agree with Deputy Billy Kelleher and my party colleague, Deputy Gerry Adams, that the first order of business is the repeal of the eighth amendment. Thereafter, we must debate and acquire an understanding of the legislative framework. The first task and duty of the Oireachtas at this time is to remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution. It is time to right a fundamental wrong that occurred in 1983. As legislators, we cannot accept the terrible impact of the eighth amendment on women's health, their obstetric care and well-being, and their and our fundamental rights. We must state loud and clear that we trust and respect women and that there is no place for the cruelty of the eighth amendment in a modern and diverse Ireland.
There can be no place for unnecessary dogma or doctrinaire positions in the coming months. I accept, however, that we must listen to, acknowledge and engage with people's concerns. It is, after all, our shared responsibility to protect women's rights and health now and into the future by engaging in a respectful debate and delivering a successful referendum result, which means the repeal of the eighth amendment.
As we are all being confessional and owning up to our ages, I was 14 years old when the eighth amendment to the Constitution was made. As I was reflecting on this debate and listening to Joanne Hayes, I wondered how I would explain to my 14 year old daughter what Ireland was like then and what the hostility experienced by women and girls felt like at the time. I am very happy to say I could not begin to explain to my 14 year old daughter what that was like. That is a great thing. It is now time for the law, politics and every Member of the Oireachtas to catch up with public opinion and the new Ireland, the country in which my 14 year old daughter and all our daughters and granddaughters - and our boys and men - live and give us and them a decent, human rights-based and respectful Constitution that acknowledges women as full and equal people.
I, too, am pleased to make a contribution to this important and perhaps historic debate. I do so as leader of the Labour Party and the first speaker in this debate who was a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1983. At that time, I was a newly appointed Member of the other House and I was present in the Seanad on Wednesday, 4 May 1983 when the then Senator Mary Robinson moved an amendment on behalf of the Labour Party group. The amendment stated that Seanad Éireann refused to give a Second Reading to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution Bill on the grounds that the legislation was so unclear and ambiguous that it was not a proper subject for a proposal to be submitted to the people in a referendum.
That was the unanimous view of Labour Party Senators, of which I was one. The Taoiseach at the time, Garret FitzGerald, described the constitutional amendment Bill as dangerous and unacceptable. At the same time, he urged Fine Gael Senators to abstain on the Labour Party amendment. The amendment to refuse the passage of the eighth amendment Bill in Seanad Éireann was lost by 18 votes to 15, with Fine Gael Senators abstaining and all Fianna Fáil Senators opposing the Labour Party amendment. At the time there were three Northern Irish Members of the Seanad, all of whom supported the Labour Party position.
I believed then, as I do now, that the Constitution is not the place to determine our laws on abortion. Others have said that Ireland has changed radically in the past 35 years, and so it has. The issue of abortion, throughout this period, has been divisive and challenging. Unlike any other issue of social policy, it has not been those most directly affected who have been involved in the debate - it has not been the women. We have heard how at least 170,000 women since 1980 have availed of abortion services outside the State. For the most part, they have been silent and unseen. Their voices and experiences have gone largely unheard. Often, they have been unable to discuss their choices or health needs with friends, relatives or even medical practitioners. Instead, by and large, the debate 35 years ago and since has been led by individuals and groups who come to the issue with moral certainty and crusading zeal. In that context, I commend the work undertaken with care and openness by the Citizens' Assembly and the all-party Oireachtas committee. In particular, I commend the work of the chairperson of the committee, Senator Catherine Noone.
The report of the committee is clear and thorough. The committee addressed two fundamental issues. First, it examined the requirement or otherwise for constitutional reform. The eighth amendment of the Constitution was passed on 7 September 1983 after what the report characterised as a bitterly contested referendum. I believe that characterisation is accurate, indeed understated. I remember it. I was going to include some of my memories of that time but I decided that would only contribute to further divisiveness. Anyway, the experience of that campaign impacted on all political discussion of the issue subsequently. I welcome the change in atmosphere thus far, although judging from some e-mails and letters already received, I doubt if that will continue.
The recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly was to replace Article 40.3.3o with a provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of pregnant women. I strongly agree with the view taken by the Oireachtas committee regarding the effect this proposal would have on the separation of powers. The recommended approach of the committee, that is, to simply repeal Article 40.3.3o is, I believe, a better and safer course of action.
The first and fundamental issue is that the Constitution is not the appropriate place to deal with an issue as complicated as abortion, impacting as it does on evolving medical practice and technology. I believe this view is widely supported. In many ways, therefore, it is not what will replace Article 40.3.3o by way of legislative provision in the event that the Oireachtas was free to legislate in this matter that has been the greater focus of the Oireachtas committee. The first issue must be to allow the Oireachtas to make those decisions and to remove Article 40.3.3o from the Constitution.
Whatever proposals we determine – I intend to deal with them in some detail – will evolve over time in any event. Many have argued prior to 1983 and since that a constitutional provision is required because neither the Oireachtas nor the Judiciary can be trusted on this issue. The original objective was to tie the hands of elected Deputies and Senators to prevent change in our abortion laws, regardless of changes in medical practice, knowledge or understanding as well as changes in drugs and general access to drugs.
The constitutional provision of 35 years ago remains unaltered. Given all the experience of the past three decades, it is surely now time for change. The Oireachtas must be given scope to address these critical issues in an evolving world. The members of the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee showed how these matters can be addressed calmly and thoroughly having regard to the complexity surrounding abortion and maternal health. They provided proof, if proof were needed, that the Oireachtas can be trusted and, equally important, should be trusted to act in the best interests of all the people.
The legislation that should be enacted in the event of Article 40.3.3o being deleted from the Constitution was a significant focus of the committee. A total of 13 recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly relating to the grounds on which termination of pregnancy might be lawful were considered in turn. The committee also examined the operation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. In general terms, I believe it is fair to say that the Oireachtas committee did not recommend change as far-reaching as that recommended by the Citizens' Assembly, a point made by Deputy Kelleher. Clearly, the Citizens' Assembly recommendation that abortion should be lawful up to 22 weeks' gestation on socioeconomic grounds was not supported by the Oireachtas committee. Instead, the committee recommended that the law should be amended to permit termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to the reason, provided that it is availed of through a GP-led service delivered in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice in Ireland with a gestational limit of 12 weeks. Although this recommendation is, as I said, far more restrictive than that proposed by the Citizens' Assembly, it is still likely to be the most controversial of the committee recommendations. For that reason, I believe it deserves most careful consideration and an examination of the reasoning that brought the majority of the committee members to this conclusion.
In truth, to fully understand the development of thought it is necessary to have listened to or read the submissions and presentations to the committee. The report condenses this important and vital work into a few short paragraphs, but it is clear from the work of the committee that, in the context of any move from general declarations of principle to actual practical law, the committee recommendation makes sense. How can we achieve the objective to allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest in any other way? It cannot be that we need a police investigation and court prosecution to have concluded before determining that an abortion can be lawful.
God protect us from going down that route again. To attempt to legislate for rape or incest on a stand-alone basis would open a nightmare world for already traumatised women. It would involve gardaí and lawyers when what is needed is medical and psychological support. The reopening of the appalling circumstances surrounding the Kerry babies case should be evidence enough of that. Our laws have to be practical, enforceable and humane. The committee’s recommendation in this regard is, therefore, I believe, the correct one. That view is immeasurably strengthened by the fact of life of the broad availability today of abortion pills. Unless it is our intention to arrest and prosecute every woman who imports or takes such pills, we need to face up to that reality. While there may be some who would advocate such arrests and prosecutions, I have no doubt that such action would be repudiated by the majority of our people, not to mention the implication for women’s rights in international law. When the matter is carefully examined, it is clear how and why the committee came to make this recommendation.
Another area where the Oireachtas committee differed with the Citizens' Assembly was in the assembly's recommendation allowing for abortion up to 22 weeks' gestation in the case of foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death before or shortly after birth. The committee’s view, with which I agree, was not to accept this recommendation. The committee recommended that provisions in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 needed to be amended. That Act was drafted under the constraints of Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. Many of us, including Members such as myself who were in government when the Act was enacted, will be very happy to see the Act amended in the event of constitutional change allowing us to do that.
There is much more in the report dealing with sex education, obstetric care and counselling, and contraception. It is a very important and welcome body of work. It is now time for the rest of us in the Oireachtas, those who were not members of the committee, to do our bit. We need to address, without delay, the steps to be taken to allow the people to have their say before the end of May. Talk of slipping into June is not acceptable and we have already received large volumes of correspondence from young people who will be out of the country in June, having finished their studies. Students start their leaving certificate on 6 June and it would be perverse if the very people who will be most affected are excluded from having their say, for the first time, on this truly important issue.
We need to address the steps to be taken to allow this to happen before the end of May. The Tánaiste today set out the path before us. The Minister for Health is to bring memoranda before Cabinet between now and March. We need to pass the referendum Bill. We need to establish a referendum commission and allow it adequate time to do its important work. Equally important, in my opinion, is to ensure that all of this is done in time for a May referendum. Members have commented favourably on the Minister's speech on this issue and I thought it was a very thoughtful speech. However, it was a speech that said we needed to bring about change, not a speech that said, "I am the Minister and this is what I intend to do. Having considered the report, this is what I am going to recommend to colleagues." We need to get to this point. We have had decades of debate and there has been concentrated debate in the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee in the past year. It is now time to set out the timelines for achieving this objective and to allow the people to have their say.
I began by reflecting on the debates in these Chambers in 1983. Seared by the campaign that followed, I express the hope that we can do things differently and more respectfully now. In the intervening years, as Minister for Health I had my office and home picketed. Children’s coffins were brought to my Wexford office and things that I will not mention were posted in my home town. I hope that the past is another country and that it is possible for all of us to listen as well as speak and to acknowledge difference without vile attack. For my party, that is what I pledge. The Labour Party accepts the Oireachtas committee report and its recommendations. We will campaign for change with vigour but with respect.
My party has been at the forefront of social change for as long as I can remember, in campaigns that look amazing in retrospect such as to provide for legal contraception, to allow for divorce and, most recently, to provide for marriage equality. All, in their time, were strongly resisted. All, in their time, came to pass. Often we discover that the people’s thinking on social policy is more advanced than that of the elected Members of these Houses. Let the people decide this matter. Let us also work to ensure that they can do so in an atmosphere of reason and without interference from groups or elements outside our State. No doubt many groups will engage in this campaign and some will seek to characterise it as something which it is not. What is in question here is an important matter of social policy for our people, not the contest of State and church or the defeat of anyone. Simply and importantly, it is a matter of supreme importance to thousands of our citizens, as families and individual women try to make the best possible decision for themselves and their loved ones. After decades of fear, the people in 2015 overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to allow same-sex marriage. For many who voted yes, that was a journey of self-discovery and tolerance. Perhaps it is not too much to hope for something similar on this issue too.
I am sharing time with Deputy Bríd Smith. I welcome the people who are in the Gallery for the debate but there are hundreds of people outside, members of the Strike 4 Repeal movement, in freezing cold temperatures, listening to the debate. Young people in this country are watching this issue like no other political issue and it will be the biggest political and social issue in 2018 and for many years to come. The people outside are waiting to hear the response of the Dáil to the all-party committee report and the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, and an action plan from Government outlining what will happen and when it will be implemented.
The nub of the issue is that people want a simple repeal referendum by late May because that is the optimal time for the maximum participation of young people. Lest anybody be under any illusion, young people are the people most affected by this decision. This Dáil is not made up of young people but of a very unrepresentative sample of society in many ways. They want a referendum that will lead to change and real abortion legislation.
At the very minimum, that legislation must provide for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. If anybody thinks that repeal can be avoided or that we can put it off until the autumn or until next year, if that was even contemplated, there would be a revolt among young people. If anyone thinks we can have a repeal referendum with very little change following it, that would also lead to a huge reaction. The tide cannot be held back on this issue any longer.
I have spoken on the issue of abortion a lot. I am tired of listening to myself, never mind what other people are tired of listening to. This is for a reason. It is because the idea of bodily autonomy is an absolute for young people. Abortion rights are what people want - not on this or that ground, not a "deserving" abortion. The concept of abortion rights is what most young people and a growing section of the population now believe in. Political parties cannot just hide behind repeal and think they can sail through the referendum without saying what will follow it. They cannot try to pretend they stand for things that they may not stand for. They can cut that out as well because-----
I am talking to the whole Dáil. In effect, this will be a referendum on abortion rights. In a sense, that is only natural. I do not think that this Dáil has the guts or the composition to bring in abortion legislation without a massive public endorsement and a push to do so. The concept of 12 weeks will be key in the referendum.
Solidarity-PBP is obviously pro-choice. It was the only fully pro-choice formation in the Dáil up until recent times. Hopefully, that will change. We have played a lead role in arguing this case and in the active movement for repeal. Solidarity-PBP recognises that these are historic recommendations. It is only four short years since the very same parties, arguing for change, voted in a 14-year jail sentence for women. That is a fact. What has brought this change about? We have heard many on the committee and others saying they were on a journey. The phrase has become very well worn and they have decontextualised it from the actual reality. People may have been on a journey but they were pushed to go on it, in many cases kicking and screaming. Change has been forced from outside. The evidence that was heard at the committee was very important. I played a role in arguing and advancing some of that evidence, very importantly in the case of the abortion pills, which are a crucial factor in the decision that has been reached and which have been cited by many people. The civil disobedience that was undertaken with regard to the abortion pills was also hugely important. The use of the abortion pill tripled in about three years, since particular actions were taken by organisations like ROSA and others. We need to be honest about where the change has come from.
We also need to be honest that this Dáil set up the Citizens' Assembly in an outsourcing fashion and assumed it would come back with a much more minimal recommendation. There is always a danger when we entrust ordinary people with important decisions. They might actually listen, engage and fact-check the evidence they hear. They might come up with essentially compassionate and pro-choice recommendations. The recommendation of 12 weeks on request came from the Citizens' Assembly. I also want to put on record that socioeconomic reasons up to 22 weeks unfortunately was not agreed by a majority of parties and groups but it was advanced by a strong minority. It was a bit of a cop-out, to be honest. Many women will not be able to fall in to a 12-week timeframe for many reasons and usually they will be the most vulnerable, the poorest and the youngest. All we are doing is continuing travel outside the State.
The other question I want to address is disability and severe abnormality. It is quite clear that people who are anti-abortion are going to use very emotive arguments about disability, Down's Syndrome, etc. We have heard them already throughout this campaign. It is the case that the committee did not take a majority position of support in respect of severe abnormality. I take no moral lectures from anybody about a woman who would make a decision on those grounds. It is not a cake-walk bringing up a child with a severe disability. I refer particularly to parties and individuals who have done nothing to make their lives better and who have voted for cuts in disability services, etc.
The response of a huge number of Deputies has so far been to run for cover. A huge number have still not declared where they stand on this. If examining one's conscience was an Olympic sport, numbers of Irish Deputies would be winning gold medals. There was a great play made around the time of the marriage equality referendum that everyone held hands in the Dáil and walked out and won the referendum. That was not the case and it will not be the case here because parties will not be united. There is not a party whip. The winning of the referendum will be down to huge numbers of active people, young people, women and communities.
For politicians who are feeling troubled, it is very simple. The two questions they need to ask and answer are these: first, whether they support abortion being legal or illegal, because it will continue regardless and, second, whether they actually support forcing people to remain pregnant who do not want to be pregnant. That is the logic of supporting a ban on abortion. People say there are extreme views on both sides. I do not think I have an extreme view. My view is that the person involved ultimately should make the decision. I think that is a humane view.
We need to give huge credit to the active campaigns like those from the people who are outside the House this evening. The protests have mushroomed in the last years, with the repeal jumpers being worn, people taking part in repeal protests and the strike for repeal. Women have themselves defied the unjust ban by ordering abortion pills online and we have seen events like the abortion pill train, bus, etc. that I mentioned. The recommendations of the committee arise from those social movements that have taken place on the ground.
Many people have invoked 1983 and 1984, the year that followed the eighth amendment, the crass hypocrisy around Ann Lovett, the Kerry babies, etc. There is now a growing movement for gender equality. We have seen it with Trump and with the #metoo movement. The movement taking place outside on repeal is the exact same. It is a movement for bodily autonomy and for abortion rights. The time is up now for politicians to be hiding on this issue. There is no hiding place left. Young people will not accept any further procrastination or restrictions.
I ask the Minister to state the date of the referendum. It has not been set. That is a key demand and question in the minds of people outside. The information we got from the Tánaiste earlier that the Government is not going to move a repeal Bill until early March is leaving it extremely tight. We need at least six weeks plus 30 days' grace before the referendum can be called. Maybe the Minister would clarify that. To be clear, it has to be repeal simpliciter. This was debated by the committee. I do not have time to go into it. We will then need a complete scrapping of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
I went out to show my solidarity with the protesters outside. I came from my office in Agriculture House down to Leinster House. One would swear to God there was a revolution happening outside the gates. There are barricades, which must have cost a fortune, across the laneway that leads to the back of Dawson Street and over to the other side of Kildare Street.
There are big metal barriers outside Buswells Hotel and it is impossible to move in and out. Only that I am a Deputy and the gardaí recognised me, I would not have been able to move. Why is there such paranoia about this subject and women? Why is society so terrified to allow women to have a voice on an issue that has everything to do with their bodies? The vast majority of people out there are ordinary young women.
They were not going to storm the gates of Leinster House and come in with submachine guns to mow us all down. They are out there to plead with us for God's sake to get on with it.
This Dáil has a shameful history of dealing with this issue. I saw that with my own eyes long before I came in here. It used to crease me to see that for 21 years after the Supreme Court ruled on the X case, there was cowardice played out in this House. No party had the guts to move on this issue until Deputy Clare Daly brought in the first Bill in, I understand, April 2012. That was the first time anybody had the guts to say this was an issue and we have to confront it.
There was a campaign in 1983 for the eighth amendment, and I am acutely aware of Joanne Hayes, the Kerry babies and all of the statistics. I am also acutely aware that anybody under the age of 45 years, not just Deputy McDonald's daughter, is horrified today having read the details of what happened to Joanne Hayes all those years ago. We are not just talking about the darkness of the 1980s.
In 2017, a young woman was sectioned under the Mental Health Act because she said she was suicidal and wanted to have an abortion. In 2014, we kept a clinically dead woman alive for several weeks against the wishes of her family because the foetus inside her had a heartbeat. In 2014, a raped asylum seeker was forced against her will to continue with a pregnancy. In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died, having requested an abortion in a hospital in Galway. We have the alphabet soup of Miss X, Miss C and Miss D. I could go on and on. We have the condemnation by the UN Human Rights Commission that what happened to Amanda Mellet was inhumane, degrading and cruel. What does that say about this country and the political representatives who have run it for the past decades? It says a lot and we are indeed living in the dark ages. We do not have to think about the Kerry babies.
I know there are genuine people who do not want to see this happen again and are ashamed of that shameful dark history. They are worried when they hear that the floodgates will open and that women will want to have abortions every other day of the week because it is a great way not to get pregnant or that women will get pregnant just to get rid of it and will get pills and swallow them. If people do not want to see any of these incidents repeated, they need to vote to repeal the eighth amendment. The obstetricians and gynaecologists who came to the committee gave evidence that the eighth amendment creates a chill factor for the medical profession when it comes to dealing with women. They are afraid of their lives to intervene when there is a heartbeat because of the eighth amendment.
To those who are middle of the road, I ask them to vote to get rid of the amendment. Until they do, we will have a repetition of the X, Y and C cases, Amanda Mellet and others. That has to be stated clearly. The vast majority of people in this country do not wish to see that sort of the society, even though there is an extreme atmosphere around this issue, in particular in the corridors of religion and sometimes in the corridors of power.
I wish to speak to those who want to stop women having bodily autonomy. The Minister, Deputy Harris, made a very good speech. It was very conciliatory but there were some gaping holes in it because he referred to the 1861 Act, which subjected women to penal servitude for life. I understand a life sentence is about seven years. We have an Act which subjects women to a 14 year sentence, but the he forgot to mention it. He also said that he wanted to give out as much information as possible during the course of the referendum. Can we please ensure that all Deputies have a sense of responsibility? If they give out information, they should make sure it is accurate so that we are not told by a Fianna Fáil Deputy that the floodgates will open for abortion on the grounds of Down's syndrome. One cannot get a test for Down's syndrome prior to 12 weeks' gestation without paying €400.
Deputy Coppinger referred to socio-economics. A woman could always have an abortion in this country if she could afford it, by getting on a plane, going away and paying for it. When a woman is poor, an asylum seeker, living direct provision or a worker who cannot take time off and has to scrape pennies together to pay up to €2,000 for an abortion, that is when she is discriminated against. That is one good reason to remove discrimination on the basis of class and discrimination against a cohort of women who do not have the right to enter and leave this country freely.
We also have to have respect for doctors and the medical profession and give them the space to work with women to make decisions about their health. It is the only time in the maternity care system when an individual does not have the right to say what happens to her body. I know many women who go through miscarriages are forced to wait for 20 or 25 hours because a doctor is not allowed to induce them. They have to wait in terrible pain until the miscarriage is seen through to the end. That has left many women I know of, who are my age, distressed for their entire lives and has had an impact on their families.
I wish to make a strong appeal to those who think that protecting the eighth amendment means they are protecting something precious. They are not. All they are protecting is the dark history of this country. They are not going to protect any unborn foetus or potential child by protecting the eighth amendment. We cannot force women to be pregnant when they do not want to be. They will find a way out of it. As has already been said, it is a case of supporting legal abortion or supporting illegal abortion, or supporting the extradition and enforced exile of women from this country to Liverpool, London, Holland and elsewhere. It is forcing young women, in particular, to have abortions on their own, in their own beds, by taking the pill without any medical supervision, and because of the chill factor of the 14 year sentence, they are afraid to tell their parents.
In Northern Ireland three women have been arrested and charged for using or procuring the abortion pill. One was a mother who procured it for her child and the other two women procured it for themselves. That also has to change. I hope that if we get the eighth amendment out of the Constitution and begin to establish legal safe abortion for women in this country, it will cross the Border and the Brexit factor will not stop it from happening. It should have had it long before us under the 1968 Abortion Act in Britain.
I want to say to those who think they are protecting precious life to think about it in this way. There are children living in this country who have been born in this country. One fifth of them live in poverty. Approximately 3,000 are in homeless accommodation today. Molly, who we heard about during the week, is an example of one of the hundreds of children who have not had their rights met. They are born, they are human flesh and they are living. We have not endorsed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We continue to force children into homeless accommodation. If people feel so passionately about life, join us in fighting to change that, get the rights of people with disabilities acknowledged and end homelessness and poverty among lone parents, which is at the highest ever rate.
There are many ways to skin a cat and protect human life. That is what I would like to say to those who think I am some kind of terrorist. I am sure many others have received the literature which called us terrorists for supporting a woman's right to choose. The right to choose, by the way, is to be able to choose to have a child as well. How can a woman choose to have a child with dignity and respect if she has no home, proper health service or job, or no access to IVF treatment when she is finding it difficult to get pregnant? Choice work both ways. Women should be able to choose to control pregnancies and have a child. That is the sort of future society we want to live in.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. I thank Senator Catherine Noone and all of the members of the committee and the Citizens' Assembly. I also thank the Minister for his speech, its content and the way he delivered it. However, I have two reservations which have already been mentioned. One is that he gave no timeline and the second is the failure to mention the draconian 2013 legislation.
I fully support the various recommendations of the committee. The Constitution was amended in the 1980s. The 1980s gave us the case of Sheila Hodgers who died on 19 March, prior to the referendum. We knew exactly what we were doing in the country when we passed the referendum.
She died two days after delivering her baby prematurely. Her cancer treatment had been stopped by the hospital which claimed it would harm her pregnancy. She was also denied X-rays and pain relief. That was prior to the amendment. When we passed the amendment it was a time in Ireland when we had the Kerry babies tribunal and when Ann Lovett died, 33 years ago at the end of this month, on 31 January. It was an Ireland that sent Eileen Flynn from her position in a school in Wexford simply because she loved a man whom she subsequently married, with whom she had a child and whose children she raised. It was the 1980s of the moving statues, limited contraceptives and when marital rape was not recognised. It was a time when we had no divorce and many other things were absent.
As somebody who lived through that time as a young woman it was the Ireland of secrets, shame and mass emigration. It was an Ireland that told us that if we stepped out of line and did something we would be punished severely one way or another. Those secrets and that shame came to light and they were overseen by the pillars of society at the time both in the church and outside it. Subsequently, we saw those pillars fall to the ground. I am not here to mention names but one has to mention some names such as those of Fr. Cleary and Bishop Casey, and the subsequent exposure of horrific abuse. We had different types of inquiry, for example, into clerical abuse in Ferns, Cloyne and Dublin. Institutional abuse was examined in the Ryan report. The abuse in families was exposed by numerous inquiries such as those in Kilkenny and Roscommon. The report into the abuse in the Kilkenny incest case was subsequently published in the 1990s. We had the 1980s of secrets, which followed on from previous decades of secrets, and that has continued as previous speakers said right up to today as we grapple with the mother and baby home in Tuam. We still have not learnt to be honest, straight and direct. I am pleased the Minister is nodding his head in relation to that.
I have thanked the Minister and the committee but I wish in particular to thank the courageous women who have brought the inadequacy of the eighth amendment to our attention repeatedly in the most appalling of circumstances. I refer, for example, to the 17-year old who refused to allow herself to be classified as suicidal ten years ago, back in 2007. She was being pushed to say she was suicidal when she simply wanted a termination because she had discovered that she had an anencephalic pregnancy. She was adamant that she was not suicidal and she was forced to go to the High Court. Many cases have arisen since the introduction of the eighth amendment which I do not have time to go into. It was quite clear at the time to me and to other people that it was an appalling amendment to the Constitution. Even as young women we knew there were going to be problems.
In 1992 there was the case which famously became known as the X case. It involved a 14-year old girl who was raped by a family friend. She had to go through absolute torture to get a termination. In 1997 a 13-year old girl was raped and became pregnant. Again, the circumstances were appalling and there was an appalling process involved for her to try to get a termination. The D case took place in 2006. A fatal foetal abnormality was diagnosed and again it was a difficult process to get a termination. I mentioned the 17-year old Miss D case in 2007. In 2010 there was the A, B and C cases. Miss C was pregnant and suffering from cancer. In 2012 in my own city we had Savita's case. Again, there was an absolutely appalling lack of basic treatment but the fact is that more emphasis was put on a foetal heartbeat than on the treatment of obvious sepsis and that should not have happened. In 2016 there was the Amanda Mellet case and in 2017 there was the Whelan case. Over that period we have been forced to confront this issue by very brave women whose health has suffered, some of whom have died. We have also been forced to do so by European court judgments, and a United Nations committee which has clearly told us that what we are doing to our women is inhuman, degrading and amounts to certain torture.
I am here tonight to proudly add my voice to say the amendment simply has to go. It is time to trust women to make decisions. I make my comments in the context of the centenary celebration of women getting the right to vote, albeit a limited right, and 70 years after Noël Browne bravely tried to introduce his comprehensive mother and child scheme. That was not successful. Seventy years later we have a very welcome report from the Oireachtas committee with its ancillary recommendations telling us that in the 21st century, in 2018, we have significant gaps in the provision of maternity services. The Minister clarified that this is the first maternal strategy. We are excluding women from the health service in the 21st century, 70 years after Noel Browne's gallant attempt. Women are excluded from the health service in terms of getting a termination and they are going abroad in their thousands. The figure of 3,265 was mentioned. Those women come back bleeding, having travelled through airports, and we stand over that and exclude them from any follow-up treatment. We should cringe, collectively, that it has taken us this much time and effort from vulnerable women who have had the courage in the most appalling circumstances to stand up, and also our colleagues such as Deputies Clare Daly, Bríd Smith and Mick Wallace, and all the other people who have tried to raise the issue. If I mention names I might forget somebody so I pay tribute to all the Deputies who have brought or attempted to bring Bills before the Dáil to deal with the matter in a humane way. It is time to treat this society as a secular society. Ironically, for those who are totally against abortion, whose opinion I fully respect, the best way to reduce the rate of abortion is to look at those countries which have liberal regimes as they have a very low rate of abortion. For me, that is the most ironic fact in all of that.
First, I acknowledge the hard work and informed research carried out by the members and the Chair of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution over the course of four arduous months. It could not have been easy and the burden was huge but we are grateful that the committee members have done the groundwork to enable a constructive, respectful debate on the issue of abortion in this country.
The outcome of the Citizens' Assembly and committee prove that once armed with informed research and information and personal accounts of people's experiences, the compassionate support for the right of women to access abortion reveals itself overwhelmingly. I also believe that people are ready to engage on this issue and I am hopeful that the majority of the public will support a repeal.
There is a narrative in the media that this committee report is extreme in its liberalisation of abortion provision in this country. While I am supportive of the committee’s recommendations, I believe they do not go far enough and I am disappointed that unrestricted abortion provision only goes to 12 weeks. Legislation should provide for access to abortion after 12 weeks on broader grounds. My reason for this is that once we start introducing restrictions, inevitably someone will fall through the cracks and term limits inevitably become political and moral barriers which end up affecting the most vulnerable.
We need to acknowledge that every situation is unique and that we should support women no matter what choice they make about their bodies. For me, it is a fundamental human right for someone to enjoy bodily autonomy but right now in this country only men can enjoy that right.
I remind the House that the effects of the eighth amendment are all pervasive.
The amendment restricts women on a number of fronts, including in regard to access to sexual health information owing to the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act 1995 and the issue of consent throughout the provision of maternity care, not to mention the fact that the amendment has accounted for one of the strictest abortion regimes in the world.
The committee is strong in emphasising that all women should have equal access to improved health care services, including basic services such as scanning and testing, and that these should be made available irrespective of geographic location or socioeconomic circumstances. All these services help to inform women to make the best choice for them, and this can be only a positive step for society. It will, however, be a resources issue. I encourage the Government to devise a national strategy that would see improved access to reproductive services for all women and girls, including better sexual health and relationship education, family planning services, contraception - including free contraception for medical card holders - perinatal hospice care, counselling and support services, and termination of pregnancy, if required. All are vital in every part of this country.
Not only have we denied women the right to health care in this country but we have also denied the existence of abortion. Abortion is a fact of life, and it will be always a fact of life. We have only to look at the statistics. Between January 1980 and December 2016, at least 170,000 women and girls travelled from the Republic of Ireland to access abortion services in another country. In 2016, 3,265 women and girls gave Irish addresses at UK abortion services. A 2016 report shows that 1,642 abortion pill packages were sent to Ireland in the three-year period between 2010 and 2012, and that was just by a single provider. These are the facts. We all know of people who supported women to get on planes to avail of services that should have been available in this country.
An interesting fact, which struck a chord with me, was that 70% of Irish women who seek an abortion in the UK are in a relationship while over half of them already have children. This statistic is from the advocacy group One Day More in the UK. We have to accept that life is complex and we need to face that complexity by supporting people making difficult life choices.
I acknowledge the committee's comment that the State should provide specific resources so that there would be social supports for carers and better facilities for people whose children have specific needs. People with disabilities should be supported so they can lead a life of dignity and respect. It is not a fair argument to equate abortion provision and disability-selective abortions because, again, each case is unique. I, for one, support women irrespective of the choice they make. Women's bodies should not be used to address the stigma around disability; rather, it is the job of the Government to make sure that society treats all its people equally regardless of disability. A separate debate on this is much needed but it does not belong here. One should not forget that people with disabilities are also affected by the eighth amendment, which restricts their rights to bodily autonomy and family planning.
Ultimately, the constitutional provision makes no legal sense and was inserted as a political weapon at the time of the referendum. For 34 years, the eighth amendment has been inherently ambiguous in its meaning and scope and the courts have not been able to fully clarify its content.
I want to end with a quote from the National Women's Council of Ireland which states, "...the person who can best protect and nurture a developing life is of course the pregnant woman herself. Not lawyers. Not judges. Certainly not the Constitution."
I commend the Minister on his speech. I commend the work of the committee and the Citizens' Assembly. I was critical of the Government's decision to delegate these deliberations to the Citizens' Assembly. While I believe that any Government worth its salt should have taken responsibility itself for ending Ireland's cruel and degrading treatment of women, I respect the work done and sacrifices made by the members of the Citizens' Assembly and the committee.
It is important for us to understand how the committee arrived at its recommendations. By this, I mean that if Members of the House or members of the public have a conscientious objection to, or are wary of, the recommendations, I urge them to try to understand the building blocks and logic of the committee's deliberations. In this respect, I first want to address the issues of a threat to the life of the mother and a threat to the health of a mother.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act permits abortion only where there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. While I fundamentally opposed the introduction of this incredibly restrictive Act, and still do, I believe most people would agree, even if they described themselves as pro-life, that where there is a threat to the life of a mother, access to abortion should be permitted. It would be perverse to think otherwise. While I have been always in favour of access to abortion when there was a threat to the health of the woman, there are those who see the life of the foetus as being more important than the health of the woman. Obviously, I do not agree with this view, but there are others who do. As I said, however, we need to understand how the committee arrived at its recommendations.
Fundamental and crucial to the decision of the committee is the timing of critical clinical decision-making in saving a woman's life. Maternity medical professionals say it is dangerous and unworkable to leave or ignore a threat to a woman's health until a clear threat to her life is identified. That transition between a threat to the health of the woman and a threat to her life can, and does, happen extremely quickly and it can quickly become too late. Medical practice requires flexibility, which the current law does not permit. Doctors cannot adequately measure or grade risk. Medical risk, especially medical risk during pregnancy, is just too unpredictable. It is also too personal to be divided into low or high risk. I am referring here to the doctors' definition of risk but also, of course, to the woman's definition of risk or, indeed, to a father's or partner's definition of risk.
Some women may have a high tolerance for risk and may be even willing to let that risk shift - it can shift very rapidly until it is too late - from a risk to her health to a risk to her life. That, of course, would be her decision and she would be free to make it, but no woman should be forced to put her life at risk. We should not define risk in the Constitution or legislation. Surely that is self-evident. Medical risk should be considered in a clinical setting, in real time, by medical specialists.
The crucial building block in the committee arriving specifically at its "12 weeks and without reason" decision was the issue of pregnancy as a result of rape or other sexual assault. Opinion polls indicate that the majority of Irish people do not think it is humane to force a woman to carry to term a pregnancy that is the result of rape or incest. Irish people are not that cruel. While people may accept this, they may have issues with the 12-week period and the recommendation that no reason for a termination should be specified. I urge people to remain open-minded in terms of understanding the logic of this recommendation. The expert legal advice given at the committee established what is essentially the impossibility of legislating for rape. This impossibility relates to the burden of proof that would be required in such cases. The precedent of an adjudication process has been already established by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act and would see a raped woman questioned, put on trial and forced to relive the worst experiences of her life.
It is an accepted fact that rape is considerably under-reported. Rape victims have incredible difficulty reporting rape to anyone, never mind the Garda or an adjudication panel wishing to determine whether they are deserving of a termination. Four hundred silent calls were received by the Rape Crisis Centre last year. That is absolutely heartbreaking. Imagine being a victim of rape, picking up the phone and not being able to get the words out - not a single syllable. Some people will take a long time to report their rape and others never will, for a variety of complex reasons.
Rape removes power and autonomy from victims. Every single rape involves non-consensual sex and, therefore, involves an abuse of power. The inclusion of an adjudication process for rape cases in legislation would remove even more power from raped women. They would be judged before being allowed to access medical services.
If rape is a specific basis for abortion, then someone will have to decide whether this basis has been satisfied. The "up to 12 weeks without reason" is specifically a way to deal with this problem and to avoid retraumatising rape victims. This is why the committee has recommended access to termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to reason. This recommendation needs to be understood in this context. It is not the result of some big liberalising agenda; instead, it is an act of compassion for the victims of rape.
Abortion is already a reality in Ireland and has been for a very long time. We just outsource the services to the UK. Some 170,000 women that we know of have travelled for abortions since the eighth amendment was introduced. We know that, in 2016 alone, there were approximately 3,000 requests from Ireland for abortion pills online. One may not agree with abortion in certain or any circumstances but it is already a reality, and we owe it to women to legislate for it.
I have to admit I am nervous this evening. I become nervous about any debate or speaking in public.
The reason I am nervous this evening is that I believe passionately in what I am going to say. Nobody can blame me for that or hold it against me. It is just my heartfelt belief. It is the way I was brought up and I am grateful for the opportunity to say my few words on what I believe and give my viewpoint.
I want to acknowledge a great group of people with whom I have had the privilege of dealing over many years in County Kerry. They are the people involved in the right to life movement, Pro Life campaigners, with whom I have worked and debated alongside. We have been trying to put forward our point of view over many years. There is one special person, Mary Fitzgibbon, a lady I admire very much, who has a great heart and is a great advocate for the unborn. She passionately believes in what she believes in.
I also want to compliment a report, which I was glad to read, by Deputies Fitzpatrick and Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen. I know Deputy Mattie McGrath will not mind me saying that I heard him say at one stage that he found being on the committee which teased out all of these issues one of the most trying and difficult periods in his political life. Again, nobody can blame him for his beliefs or why it hurt him so much to hear what he heard in the committee. Nobody can because he is entitled to his opinion, as is everybody else. I respect that.
I want to talk tonight about the unborn children of the past, the present and the future. There are all types of solutions out there and all types of ways of dealing with problems. I received a private text a while ago from a very close friend of mine. He is a private man and a very respectable worker. He gave me permission to read it out. This point is about parents who might not be able to deal with their own children. The text message states:
Michael, food for thought for the future. My sister and I were adopted in 1981 and 1983. We had the best in life. [I know the two of them and they had a great life.] We had all that was good. There are solutions out there for all. My sister found her mother; I did not yet. You can say this wherever you want and I have no problem talking about it to anybody.
That is a person of courage, a private person who sent me that message before I came in to speak in the Dáil tonight. He said he was a child whose parents may not have been able to deal with the situation but he ended up having a great life. I want to talk tonight about the opportunity of life. Members opposite can call it whatever they like. I believe, however, that from the moment of conception, the person is a baby, a child to be protected in the same way we would protect a child in a pram on the street if we thought something was going to happen to that child. I just do not agree with abortion. I just do not think it is right. Nothing will ever change me from that point of view.
I have given a lot of time over the years to debating this issue. I knew eventually we would come to the stage where we are at now. I did not know I would be in this House. I did not know if my father would be here or that there might be no Healy-Rae here. I feel privileged that I am able to speak from the heart about what I believe in. I will try in the best way I can. I feel inadequate that I might not be the best at explaining myself. However, I will try to explain why I am the way I am.
Ireland has progressed. We have seen what happened and the awfulness of the Kerry babies case which we debated earlier today. Nobody wants an Ireland like that. Nobody wants an Ireland where, if a young lady becomes pregnant, it is as if there is something wrong with her because she became pregnant. That is a total abomination to me. Many young girls who became pregnant in the past were locked up in mental institutions. There were 1,200 or 1,300 people in mental institutions when there might not have been 50 of them who actually had a mental health problem. They were perfectly sound, sensible people. Many of them were young girls who became pregnant. It was a case of shunning them away.
That is not the Ireland of today. If a person becomes pregnant today, there are back-up services, support and family support. There is no shame in being pregnant. If one is married or not, that does not matter a God damn to anybody. Nobody is judging anybody like they did in the past. The past was a horrible time. What happened to Joanne Hayes and other young girls who had to have their babies in private and who died while giving birth to their children, as did the children, was awful, dark and horrible. It was described by Brinsley MacNamara in his novel, The Valley of the Squinting Windows. We are gone from that, thanks be to God.
We are at a stage now where if a person becomes pregnant and they want to have the child, all the supports are there. If they cannot see their own way to keeping the child, there are so many parents and young people in this country who would give anything, even the last euro in their pockets, to have a child of their own. They might not be able to have a baby for one reason or the other but they would love to bring up a child. Like the friend who sent me the text to which I referred earlier, they had the best of adoptive parents, highly respectable working people who gave them a great start in life.
If my viewpoint turns people against me and costs me my seat and the right to be here in this Chamber, I would gladly lose it. All politicians are entitled to believe in what they believe - they are 100% entitled to their view - I am also entitled to my view. A politician who will not stand for something will fall for everything. I believe in what I believe in. If tonight were to be my last night in the Chamber, saying these words, I mean it from the bottom of my heart that I want to stand up for the unborn children of the future. Who am I to deny them the right to life? Who am I to deny them the opportunity that I had to come into the world, lead a life and do everything to the best of my ability?
The recommendations that came forward from the committee were wrong. I studied the evidence that was given. At the time I apologised I could not attend the committee because I was chairing another committee, as Deputy Mattie McGrath knows, which was sitting at same time. We have to be fair about the evidence given. It was the same as the Kerry babies case and the tribunal held at the time. When people look back at the transcript of eighth amendment committee, they will have to admit it was weighted one way and not the other. That is the truth. I compliment Deputies Mattie McGrath and Fitzpatrick and Senator Rónán Mullen on the sterling work they did because they were up against it. They were unfairly outweighed and the evidence given was biased, in my humble opinion.
If we go back, people voted for the eighth amendment in huge numbers. It has saved many lives. It could be 100,000 lives, 50,000 lives or it could be 5,000 lives. Thanks to that amendment, there are thousands of people living in this world today and walking the streets today who otherwise may not be here. Now we are talking about repealing it. This House cannot deny that the eighth amendment has saved lives. However, the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee did not hear from even one person representing those lives and those who know their child is alive today because of the eighth amendment. How can that be fair? How can that be democratic? How can that be in the best interests of the people, if we gloss over such an incredible story?
People are alive today because of that amendment. They have been given the right to life because of it.
Buried beneath all the spin against the eighth amendment is something very positive. It is a story of hope against the odds. There has been a deliberate attempt to look the other way and pretend that no good has come from the eighth amendment and to keep referring to it as controversial as if it is no good and to never talk about it in a positive way. The eighth amendment is an excellent lesson in how we can debate things today. The lesson is that we do not debate things at all. Too many people in this House and the media simply attack what they do not like. Everybody in politics and the media knows that the pro-life side has been largely shut out from the process. We were fortunate enough to have a number of strong representatives, who I have named already, on the committee. If those three people were taken out of it, it would have been a completely weighted in one direction and it would have been a one-sided debate. There would have been no debate except for those Members being there.
I have become familiar with many stories in recent times from talking to people about this issue. I think about the story of one woman who has spoken out about how she contemplated abortion, only to change her mind. She talks about how grateful she is for the eighth amendment. She says the time it took her to book an abortion and get ready to travel to England was the time she needed to change her mind. These are very powerful stories. That was a child, a human being, and an adult today. At present, some pretend that when we talk about introducing abortion, it is not really going to end the lives of many babies, specifically babies with disabilities. We hear stories and sad statistics about all the babies aborted in countries such as England or Denmark simply for having a disability. They are truly shocking stories. The reason over 90% of babies in these countries are aborted is for having Down's syndrome. We really have to think about that. I have had the privilege in my lifetime of befriending children of friends and neighbours who have Down's syndrome. They are a joy and pleasure to know. They have their own ways, friendly personalities and they make a contribution to life. If we go down this road, will we have a situation in the future where people will play God with these people's lives and a person will not be born if he or she is imperfect? I do not agree with that. I believe that there is only one God, who is not here in this Chamber. It is the right of these people to be born as much as anybody else. If one is not perfect and is inside the womb, one has the same right to come into this world as the person who is perfect.
I passionately believe that. I have specific people in my head but we are always told that we are not supposed to name people and I do not want to embarrass anybody. We have high-profile people in this country who have severe disabilities and many Deputies will know the young people I am talking about. They have made a massive contribution, not only in their parishes and counties, but in this country. They have gone on national television and told their stories.
There are people without limbs, people who might not look the same as any of us, and someone might say they are not as good as us but I would say that they might be much better than us. At the same time, if abortion was freely and readily available in this country, they might not have had the right to come into this world because they might have been taken out of it before they had the opportunity to be born. I do not agree with that. I could never vote for or support that. Who am I to come along and say that if a person is not perfect, he or she does not have the right to come into this world? I think it is so wrong. I will quote a couple of recommendations from the minority report, the joint assessment by Deputies Peter Fitzpatrick and Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen.
We reject, with particular emphasis, any attempt to provide for abortion on any particular ground of disability. We believe that the disability ground for abortion, so prevalent in the Western World, makes a mockery of nations’ aspirations to champion the rights of people with disability.
Although Ireland has some way to travel in the championing of the rights of persons with disabilities, it can be said that Article 40.3.3., in this way also, has been a shining light.
Think about what we are doing. In this Chamber, we have a Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, a person who I am great friends with. I admire him very much. He is an excellent Minister of State. We have appointed a Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities while, at the same time, what we are proposing here could actively discriminate against and deny people with disabilities the right to even be born. It is an absolute contradiction. It does not make sense and it will never make sense. If I am saying anything wrong or offending anybody with what I am saying, I am sorry but it is what I believe in my heart and my soul. If I was not honest enough to stand up tonight and say what I have had to say, I should not be here at all. I should never have been elected if I had not come in here tonight to tell the truth. I am only saying what I am saying because I believe in it. If I see something wrong, I say it straight. I will not mince my words. The recommendation states: "We recommend the retention of the Eighth Amendment on the grounds that it protects both mother and unborn child, does not endanger top quality medical care for women and unborn children in pregnancy and is consistent with the best standards in the protection of human rights and human dignity." Go back to where we are coming from. We do not need to repeal the eighth amendment. The status quois acceptable and protects the mother and child.
We can study the values of Ireland over the years. We and the State have made mistakes, as I have already highlighted - I quoted the Kerry babies case - and we all loathe the horrible events that have taken place in institutions of the State, such as the Magdalen laundries, and we know the mistakes we have made in the past. At the same time, Ireland is a special place and the church in Ireland has done great things. We can be critical and say it has done things wrong, which have to be recognised, but at the same time we have to admit and acknowledge that our church did great things in the past. Ireland is special and I do not want to see us go down the road of England, America or other countries in Europe where human life can be so disregarded and people do not value human life or babies. I do not agree with that.
When I was a young councillor and I knew abortion would be an issue at council level and in the Oireachtas, where my father was, I wanted to understand what it was all about. I studied exactly what an abortion was. When I saw it, it horrified me. It made me sick, and I am tough. It takes a lot to rattle me and anybody who really knows me knows I am not in my comfort zone talking tonight. If I was talking about bridges or roads, I would be fighting, be on my game and be myself. I am not myself because I am outside of my comfort zone in talking about this because I am so nervous about it due to feeling inadequate. When I studied what an abortion was and the enormity of it hit me, I thought that if I ever had a say in it, I would always stand up for the life of the unborn child. It is what I believe in and the way I was brought up. I know, God be good to him, if my father and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's father was here, exactly what he would say.
He would be standing up for the rights of the unborn child because he was like us. He was an ordinary person who believed in, and cherished, life. I have my own children who will have their own grandchildren and I have nieces and nephews. I could never imagine a situation where a person would not want to have them. They are the future and they will be there when we will not be here. I want to ensure that will continue in the years ahead.
I had the privilege of being one of the members of the joint committee. I compliment the members of the committee and, in particular, the chairperson, who has gained a great deal of respect. People see her as somebody with a great deal of patience and professionalism. We spent a solid three months in public session listening to evidence. It was a two-phase process. The first phase was the Citizens' Assembly, which comprised many people on either side of the debate. A significant volume of material is available which people can read or listen to as a consequence of that phase.
I would like to challenge something that has been said about the process. A total of 33 witnesses appeared before the committee comprising: two from the World Health Organization; two from the GPs' association; a retired Supreme Court judge; a senior counsel who had direct experience of the X case; the obstetrician who wrote the report into the death of Savita Halappanavar; the masters of the three largest maternity hospitals in the State; the chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; a representative of the HSE; and academics and people with scientific and administrative backgrounds. The list was balanced. It is the kind of list that one would invite to speak if one wanted to hear evidence and that is what we did. We decided we would not repeat the work of the Citizens' Assembly but add to the expertise that it brought forward.
Dr. Peter Boylan stated:
Article 40.3.3° gives rise to significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and has caused grave harm to women, including death. The two outstanding examples of which I have direct personal experience are the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 and the case of Miss P in December 2014. These are only two examples of cases where doctors in Ireland continue to be put in the inappropriate position of having to interpret the Constitution in the course of caring for sick women.
It is significant that a former master of a maternity hospital would say that.
When we go to hospital when we are ill, irrespective of the illness, we sign a form to give consent to treatment if we face a medical procedure. However, that does not happen when a woman is pregnant. She cannot sign a consent form as she has no right to consent or no right to health. Ms Mary O'Toole, who was the senior counsel on the X case, told us that the Supreme Court has the firm view that the right one has is an equal right to life and one does not have a right to health. I addressed the issue with Professor William Binchy who was very much part of the 1983 process. I am pleased he appeared before the committee, given others did not. I asked him whether health is a fundamental right and he replied that it is. However, it cannot be a fundamental right, except when a woman is pregnant. Women are not something separate. They are wives, partners, sisters, daughters and mothers.
Dr. Boylan said:
A major difficulty with the Act is that it is entirely the responsibility of doctors to determine how close to death or how sick a woman must be before legal termination can be performed. The woman herself has no input into the decision.
That is pretty profound and that serious impediment was addressed at the committee. People listened and there was a respectful attendance in the main. He also said: "It is equally well documented that countries with liberal laws and easy access to contraception have lower rates of abortion than those with restrictive laws." If we want to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies, we have to take up the issues that were addressed in the report in respect of contraception and reproductive rights. Dr. Boylan continued:
If Ireland were to enact legislation in line with EU consensus, including termination without restriction up to ten weeks, our law would be among the most conservative in Europe [...] Without access to abortion in the UK, it is inevitable that Ireland would have an epidemic of illegal abortions and a massive increase in maternal mortality.
Our proximity to the UK is a significant issue.
On the issue of rape, we heard from Mr. Tom O'Malley who is an expert in this area. He said that it takes 865 days on average, or almost two and a half years, to prosecute a rape case. The 12-week abortion limit was decided on in that context from the point of view of not putting a woman through another process after she has experienced rape. It is impractical to deal with rape without looking at how it can be practically dealt with. That is part of the reason 12 weeks was decided on in respect of one the recommendations by the Citizens' Assembly.
Professor Veronica O'Keane, who is an expert on mental health services, told the committee:
The brain controls the body so that while one may feel sad in one's heart or anxious in one's gut, this is being directed from the brain. Feeling emotionally distressed and highly anxious happens in one's body and leads to medical disease. The dialogue between the body and the emotional brain is never stronger than during pregnancy [...] Pregnancy is associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms and is the highest risk period in a woman's life for depression.
She was making the connection between the body and the mind in regard to the issue of suicide, mental health and depression. These were the kinds of things we listened to. I could pick out so many pieces of information that were really important. I cannot say I went along on any day and did not come out knowing something more than when I went in, and I think that was the case for the vast majority of those who attended the committee.
I believe the idea of anything other than a straightforward repeal would be a mistake and a complete abdication. As was said by Deputy Kelleher, we all only have one vote in this when it comes to a referendum. The people of Ireland deserve a referendum. I am one of the few who sat on that committee who had an opportunity to vote in 1983. As it happened, I voted not to include the eighth amendment in the Constitution. I thought it was a mistake then and still believe it was a mistake. However, I think we have moved on. We have the ability to take the responsibility that this Dáil should take in implementing the legislation, should the amendment be carried. We accept the all-party report. Although I voted for things that went beyond the report, we still accept the report. However, I am very concerned about some of the things I have heard in recent days about the prospect of deviating from straightforward repeal. This was an issue that was interrogated in considerable detail and I think it is most definitely the way it should be proceeded with.
We hear figures for what the Irish abortion rate is but we do not know what the Irish abortion rate is. We know there are women who will give an Irish address in the UK and we can be guaranteed those addresses will not be from one part of Ireland but from every city, town, village and rural area - from right across the country. It was very interesting to hear the academic evidence from some of those who came in front of the committee about the identity and age cohort of women availing of abortion in the UK. One thing that is very evident is the number of women who are now using pills to procure an abortion and doing so without medical supervision. This is incredibly dangerous and may lead to significant health issues, not just at that point but perhaps in the future by virtue of the fact there is not the kind of medical oversight that is required. The one thing we cannot have is that people fear seeking medical assistance in situations where there is a law which, while it has not been used, could potentially criminalise both a woman and a doctor, and impose a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. There was very strong support for decriminalisation and we included some very strong suggestions in the report in regard to how that might be achieved.
I believe this will be a difficult campaign. I hope we will have a referendum, if not in late May, then in early June. I hope it will be for straightforward repeal, which I think will encourage more people to get out on one side or the other. I respect the fact people come from different viewpoints and have different opinions. I think the tone has been set by the Citizens' Assembly, by the committee and also by this House tonight. I hope that lead will carry out into civil society groups and the wider public. A very important point is that we need to bring the information we heard into a much wider forum. The responsibility for this lies with the media, with political parties and parliamentarians and with civil society groups, which I believe will be the main drivers in this campaign. As I said, I believe anything other than straightforward repeal would be a monumental mistake and I hope that is a decision we will see sooner rather than later.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. First, I want to confirm my support for the holding of a referendum, my support for the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and my support for the repeal of the eighth amendment. I wish to thank the members of the Citizens' Assembly, the joint committee and all those who have made submissions for the service they have done in dealing with this issue in a thorough, honest and sincere way. I acknowledge this is a difficult, sensitive and emotive issue for many people, and the reasons are not hard to understand, given that intense ethical, religious, social, political and intimate personal issues coincide.
Irish abortion exists. It is a reality, even though it takes place in other jurisdictions for those who can afford it, and more recently by way of the abortion pill. It exists in a totally uncontrolled and potentially harmful way. It must be dealt with urgently and in a compassionate and understanding way. We cannot continue to have a situation where women's lives are at risk and where the medical profession is unclear about the legal position. We must protect the health and safety of Irish women. I am satisfied this requires the repeal of the eighth amendment and requires enshrining the joint committee's recommendations in legislation.
It is my view that there is a significant middle ground, a majority of the public, in favour repealing the eighth amendment and in favour of the recommendations of the joint committee. In this country the debate around termination has been characterised by polarising arguments and a lack of respect for opposing positions. I want to say I respect and understand the opposing views.
The eighth amendment was inserted in the Constitution following a referendum in 1983, 35 years ago. A new generation of Irish women and men must now be allowed to have their say on the eighth amendment as they are the very ones it will affect at the most personal level. In 1983 I publicly opposed and voted against the eighth amendment. I did so because I believed then, as I do now, that it would have seriously detrimental effects on well-being, health and, indeed, lives of women, and that it would give rise to widespread uncertainty and confusion in legal and medical terms. Sadly, that is exactly what happened. We have had numerous referenda, Irish and European court cases and, sadly, deaths of women.
I was a member of the Oireachtas committee, chaired by former Deputy and current Senator Jerry Buttimer, which dealt with the X case and the question of suicide. Out of the deliberations of that committee the then Minister of State, Alex White, produced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. I put down a number of amendments to the Bill in regard to provision for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, inevitable miscarriage, rape, incest, the criminalisation of women and the 14-year term of imprisonment. The Government defeated those amendments, claiming they were unconstitutional. I supported that Bill because, although it was limited and restrictive, it represented some improvement on the previous position regarding suicide.
I welcome the recommendations of the joint committee generally, and particularly as they deal with the various issues which I have just mentioned. I specifically welcome the joint committee recommendation 2.11, which states:
The Committee is of the view that no differentiation should be made between the life and the health of the woman. This is consistent with the evidence from medical experts made available to the Committee regarding the difficulty medical professionals have in defining where a threat to health becomes a threat to life.
I also support recommendation 2.31, which recommends that it shall be lawful to terminate a pregnancy without gestational limit where a fatal foetal abnormality is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.
Currently, thousands of women take abortion pills purchased online without medical supervision. It is urgent that a procedure be put in place for a woman to consult a doctor in such circumstances. Therefore, I welcome the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly and the joint committee that a termination without a stated reason be permitted up to 12 weeks.
I hope that we can have a constructive and respectful debate on this issue in the next few months.
As a member of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, I will concentrate on my journey towards the position that I took.
Regarding the committee's approach, while we could have built on the work of the Citizens' Assembly, we regarded this as an evidence gathering stage and we brought our own judgments to bear on the issues having listened to the experts. It is fair to say that, for many of us, this was a major learning exercise that allowed us to make informed decisions on what was a most divisive and difficult issue.
I consider myself pro-life and I would greatly prefer it if no woman ever had to seek an abortion. However, I came to the committee with an open mind. I was willing to listen to the experts and make an evidence-based decision. Every Deputy would agree that we are in the Oireachtas to make the best decisions for citizens based on expert evidence and not our own preconceived ideas. I was conscious of issues around rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality and the availability of termination of pregnancy in such cases. That was as far as my thinking went prior to my committee membership.
I have one caveat regarding the committee's final report - I did not vote to allow abortion on health grounds. While I appreciate the reasoning behind the position that the majority took, I am of the view that decriminalising the termination of pregnancy would be sufficient. It would give enough scope to clinicians to make whatever good faith decisions they needed to make to protect the lives of women.
The ancillary recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and the all-party Oireachtas committee are as important as the issue itself. For example, improved sex education and access to contraception, obstetric and maternity care, counselling and bereavement support services are equally important.
Ireland has been a cold house for victims of sexual violence since the foundation of the State. I do not intend to go back over high-profile cases in which the State failed vulnerable men, women and children, but I would be failing in my duty if I did not mention Joanne Hayes. I am glad to see that the Taoiseach has apologised to Joanne on behalf of the State. No apology or monetary recompense could ever be enough to atone for what was done to her. Let us be clear - she was not believed because she was a woman. There was no evidence to back up the preposterous accusations being made, yet she was mentally tortured by organs of the State.
The evidence that our committee heard was conclusive, particularly that from Mr. Tom O'Malley. It would be practically impossible to legislate for terminations in cases of rape or incest, as doing so would require some form of proof of rape. Obviously, waiting for a conviction would be practically impossible. For understandable reasons, some women never feel able to report a rape. There is also the question of re-traumatising a woman where she has already been raped and is now pregnant as a result.
There is also the matter of the availability of the abortion pill. When doing a simple Google search for "abortion pill", the first few results will be for the website of the UK company from which such medicines can be bought with ease. The latest figures estimate that up to 1,800 women in Ireland use the abortion pill every year. These pills are illegal here, are taken unsupervised and are dangerous without medical supervision. In the absence of shutting down the Internet, we will never be able to stop women in crisis pregnancies - women who are desperate, alone and afraid - from taking them. We cannot have a garda at every ferry port and airport in Ireland searching for them. Are we really suggesting a return to some kind of "contraceptive train" scenario? If we do nothing, some woman in the not-too-distant future will rupture her uterus and die. It has happened elsewhere and will happen here. I wish to be categorical, in that no matter what the House or, ultimately, the people decide, the abortion pill will still be available and will continue to be used. Let us not close our eyes to that fact. Do we do the usual Irish thing of ignoring it and pretending it goes away or do we do the courageous thing and actually deal with it by taking the only practical option, namely, legalising and regulating the abortion pill up to the medically recommended limit of 12 weeks?
I accept the differing views within the House and the wider country. I wish that I could have come to a different conclusion, but the evidence simply is not there to say that the status quois sustainable.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. Like Deputy Naughton, I have been on a journey. I am of a particular pro-life view, but I joined the committee with an open mind. I thank all of the committee members. Going into the debate was daunting and nerve-racking, given the two strong viewpoints. I would not like to believe that I would ever let anyone tell me what to do or control my thinking process, so I had not engaged with either side of the debate. I went into it with an open mind because I wanted to engage and to listen. Many committee members probably read between the lines quickly and knew what my position was, but they gave me the space to develop, listen, evolve, reach conclusions and become comfortable with asking questions.
It is not an easy topic on which to have an open discussion. It was not an easy place to be, with 20 or 22 reporters sitting there. Some days, there was not enough space for all of those reporting on the meetings. Despite that, we were discussing something that people might not have been comfortable discussing previously, namely, the health of women, how they were treated and how they felt. Listening to their experiences, I quickly realised that my viewpoint or beliefs were not shared by all and that I was in the minority. That I was in the minority was no fault of my own, but it is where I was. However, it did not make me feel any less valued as a committee member. Rather, it encouraged me to partake further thanks to the good chairmanship of Senator Noone and other colleagues. They allowed me the opportunity to speak at the end of meetings and ask questions when other members might have already asked the awkward ones. That is how I did it. It is what settled me in, and I appreciated the opportunity.
I have just left my parliamentary party meeting. While I was on my journey with the committee, other Members came along with me. They would speak to me regularly while I was going to or from its meetings and I would tell them how the work was going week in, week out.
The committee started with Ms Justice Laffoy, who set the stage. The masters of the Rotunda Hospital and Holles Street then appeared before us, as did the World Health Organization. When experts appear before a committee, it paints a picture that one might not have seen previously.
I had a regret halfway through our work. It concerned the vote. I dissented that day because I had still not heard everything and wanted to hear more. I was disappointed that a vote was being taken even though no one had attended to articulate what I believed in and what my point of view was. However, the vote was taken and we moved on. Regrettably, people and groups then chose not to appear before the committee.
People formed the opinion that the committee was biased, that it really did not have much basis, that the game was up and that it was over. However, it was not over. In fact, that was when the committee got into good discussions. We had representatives of various groups before us, including GPs and the Rape Crisis Centre, as well as many other witnesses who discussed health and education. That meant a lot to me because the people who were saying that the committee was biased were the first to stand up every day and leave. They were the first people not to engage and the first to take cheap shots at other members of the committee who were willing to articulate their viewpoints. While I say that this was a very private position for me, other people had campaigned for months and years to arrive at that day. This was their day and they wanted to be strong and to articulate their viewpoint.
I respected the committee all the way. I respected it to the very end and even attended the launch of the committee's report. I did not change a particular pattern when I voted. To me, the 12-week limit was a step too far. On my journey I got to a point where I was very comfortable with addressing the issues of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. The day that fatal foetal abnormalities were discussed in our committee room was a defining one for me. A man spoke about travelling to Belfast with his good wife. He talked about wondering how he would get there, how he would get back and how he would bring the baby back. He and his wife could not no longer continue with the pregnancy, knowing what they knew. They wanted the choice to abort a child that they had been told was not likely to survive. That man battled for 11 years in terms of addressing what he had to go through. One could feel it in the room that day that he still relives that experience. He was very brave to come before us and share his experience. He did so because he does not want anybody else, ever again, to go through what he experienced and neither do I. I do not have the right to tell any couple that has conceived a baby in love, a child that is wanted, and who have been told that their child is not likely to survive, what to do. I do not have the right to legislate or choose for them and tell them that they must leave this country. How dare I? I do not have that right. That baby was wanted and loved by the couple in question. The decision as to how they revere that child, bury that baby or bring that baby home from a hospital is theirs. They should not have to put their baby in the boot of their car and scurry home, hoping not to get caught. I cannot stand over that. My conscience will not allow me. I have a free vote and it is a vote of conscience. I would never want to put any family through that. That was a defining day for me and I thank the people who came before us because they were amazing. Tears dropped in our committee room that day. Some people looking in here this evening think that the committee members are just heartless, that we came to it from a particular position or that we are heartless people for saying something like that. I am not heartless; I was probably one of the most compassionate people on that committee. Indeed, we were all compassionate when we were sitting in that room listening to those stories. Some of the ladies and gentlemen have heard this down through the years and they articulated their position in the committee.
I have some regrets around the process. As I said, I did dissent on a lot of the votes at the committee. I voted in the negative because I would have liked more conversation around peri-natal hospice care, after care for women in this country and education. While I accept what the Professor from Galway said at the committee that we cannot legislate for rape and incest, I do not know if the committee went far enough on that issue. A lot of people who are looking in this evening would be more comfortable with allowing abortion on the grounds of rape and incest as opposed to the 12-week recommendation as it has been presented. That said, I will most definitely support a referendum when a vote is called on that in the House. I believe in democracy and that the people themselves will choose. I have only one vote and I urge everyone else to vote. This is a very divisive and emotive issue and the Oireachtas should enable the people to have a referendum and allow them to have their say. I did not vote in the last referendum and I would like to have my say in this one.
I would like to use my time to share with the House an email I received from a constituent on the issue of Down's syndrome. We all know that in the coming months we will face into a referendum campaign but the more we keep saying that it is going to be divisive, the more likely it is that it will be thus. I do not believe that it necessarily has to be divisive, unlike in 1983. I have spoken to my mother at length about this because both she and my father campaigned against the insertion of the eighth amendment into our Constitution. I am both grateful and proud of them for that, as it goes but of course, they were not alone in that. When I was appointed to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, my mother was very nervous. Even though I am a grown woman, my own mother was very nervous because she remembers what it was like in 1983. She was worried that I would come home to find people in my front garden or people outside my office. She was not worried that I would be physically harmed in any way but that I would be subjected to what amounts to emotional abuse. Some of us are on the receiving end of such abuse on social media and all of the rest of it. She was very concerned and we had discussion about it. I told her that there was no need to worry because it will not be like that this time. There is a wealth of information out there and we are in the position now, happily, where we can have a fact based discussion as grown ups and can come to a conclusion. I am not sure that she is convinced and we will have to wait to see what happens. However, the more we talk about this being a divisive issue, the more likely it is that this will be a divisive campaign.
This is a settled matter for a large number of people. I did not have a vote but will join with everybody else and admit that in 1983, I was ten. People can work that one out. I did not have a vote but I grew up in a house where issues of reproductive rights would have been spoken about. We would have had very open and vocal conversations when we were growing up.
I remember the Kerry babies case well. I remember the case of Ann Lovett. I remember how upset my parents were about the idea that this young woman died on her own. As I have said previously, I recall it being mentioned on the radio that it was dark when Ann Lovett and her baby died in the grotto. That stuck with me because it was so awful. We have to grasp the opportunity we now have to ensure this will not happen again.
I do not think the debate will necessarily be divisive because people have been reflecting on cases like those of Ann Lovett, the Kerry babies and Sheila Hodgers. Sheila was a very good friend of my parents who died, along with her baby, at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. The hospital would not give her any pain relief because she was pregnant. If I live to be 1,000, I will never forget the expression on my mother's face when she came back from visiting Sheila. It was absolutely horrific. I do not think there is a person in this State who wants to go backwards on this issue. We are all talking about journeys. I think we all agree that we have to go forward. We might not agree on how far forward we should go. Some people want to go one stop, two stops, three stops or 50 stops ahead. My party is still engaged in an internal discussion on this matter. That will continue, which is appropriate. It behoves all of us to take a look at the past, to consider what has happened since 1983 and to reflect on the society we have and the society we would like. We need to think about our daughters, granddaughters and sisters and look at what the law does to them. We have to embrace the opportunity this will present. It is unhelpful to say that the debate is going to be divisive.
When we put people into the mix, we should be able to get a full and rounded picture. For that reason, I would like to read an extract from an email that was sent to me by one of my constituents:
My wife and I have a beautiful daughter who has Down Syndrome, and it's important for us all to let our TDs know that we have no use for the 8th Amendment and the pro-life activists who claim to care about children like my daughter do not speak for us. There are ableist attitudes and there are ethical issues regarding pre-natal screening, for sure, but the 8th Amendment ... and its continued existence does not solve them.
I am happy to have an opportunity to share this powerful statement, which has already been highlighted on social media, with the House. I ask people to reflect on my constituent's statement that "we have no use for the 8th amendment" before they start throwing into the mix spurious claims about the stages of a pregnancy when Down's syndrome can and cannot be detected. I support the request made by these parents for us not to use their daughter in our row. It would not be right to do so. It is not right for us to throw spurious arguments out there. It is not right for us to try to distort the debate. If we stray from the facts and the evidence on which the committee focused, it is almost a guarantee of a divisive debate. As Deputy Rabbitte and others have said, we spent a huge amount of time at the committee considering evidence, rather than opinion. We heard from experts. We did not choose people based on their views of the eighth amendment. We chose people based on their expertise and the evidence they could provide. We did not choose them for their opinions. We all have opinions. Evidence is what guided us at the committee. Before the debate adjourns, I want to thank the members of the committee, including the Chairman, and all the people who gave freely of their time and provided information.
There will be 11 minutes remaining in this slot when this debate resumes. I ask those who wish to speak on the joint committee's report to note that the discussion will resume this evening if the Second Stage debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 concludes before 10.15 p.m.