Thursday, 6 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank him from the heart for all his work on this issue. It has been a privilege to work with him so closely on it. I thank colleagues across the Houses and also members of the committee. There was such respect and collegiality, for the most part. This may not have been highlighted enough. Much of the time, one hears about the negativity. I hope this Chamber will be a place in which we discuss this legislation in a practical, meaningful and respectful way and that we will not experience the kind of negativity and filibustering we witnessed in the Lower Chamber, which in many ways was a lower Chamber at certain times in recent weeks.
I am pleased to be at this Stage. It has been a busy and intense year and a half for many of us and it has been an intense 35 years for many who have been involved in this issue. As Senator Clifford-Lee said, we seriously need to pay tribute to those who kept this issue on the agenda and did not let it fall down the political priority list. It is important to pay tribute to the Taoiseach for committing to a referendum on practically the day he was put into office. I also pay tribute to former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. When he suggested the Citizens' Assembly, the idea was much maligned. It has proven to involve an effective process of deliberative democracy we should be proud of as a country. If our nearest neighbour had a deliberative democratic process on the issue that has taken up so much of its time and ours recently, there might well have been a different outcome in its referendum. That we had a citizens' assembly was useful. There was a suggestion it was somehow out of touch with the people but it was not. When people heard the facts and the reality for women, they voted as they did at the assembly.
The process that started at the Citizens' Assembly was continued in the hearings of the parliamentary committee on the eighth amendment and then it proceeded to the Government. That three-pronged process is an effective method and one that should be used again on a difficult issue. It has also been used on climate change. One cannot compare the two issues directly but climate change is an issue of great importance. The mechanism is one we should use as a Parliament and society to address issues that are difficult for the country to deal with.
This is one of the most important Bills, if not the most important, that will have passed through this Chamber in many years. The decision that now faces us will have a profound effect on how we treat women in Ireland. In a way, in recent years, we said "Enough" to the way women have been treated over the years. We said "No" to continuing to have an English solution to an Irish problem. I do not want to rehash the referendum debate but let us be clear that no woman ever wants to have an abortion. It is not an easy decision for anyone. For years, we just turned our backs on women in this country. As a society, we chose silence as opposed to companionship for women and other citizens. What we are now proposing will allow women to choose what is best for them and their families, in conjunction with their doctors. This goes to the core of the issue. We are asking that trust be placed in women in dealing with the heartbreaking reality they sometimes have to face, alone or with their families.
Over recent days and weeks, we have heard many statements and noted amendments seeking to collect data and record heartbeats, whereby the Bill could almost be used as a form of contraception. It is just nonsense. Let us be clear that the people have spoken. As much as 66.4% of the people said they want to change the law. Our duty is to carry out the people's will and have the courage to bring our country forward.
There has been some concern over regret that women feel and such matters. It speaks to the fact that most pregnancies are much wanted. No one wants to be faced with a decision to terminate a pregnancy. We need to have a legislative framework that allows individuals to make decisions they believe are right for them in the circumstances. It is a difficult reality of life that complications do arise. Life is complicated and we need a legislative and healthcare framework that facilitates people in difficult circumstances. We must provide the best possible care and support for women.
Following on from what the Minister spoke about and the ancillary recommendations, which by all accounts did not receive enough emphasis because we deal with the more obvious headline issues, I contend that we need to address contraception and sex education. We need to bring the country into the 21st century when it comes to sex education. That is the reality. It is normal in life for people to have sex. The reality is that we need adequate sex education. I do not know about any other Senator but I was shown a video by the nuns. We have moved on a bit from that but we are still not in the 21st century when it comes to sex education.