Thursday, 6 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Second Stage
It would be remiss of me not to begin by thanking Senator Noone for the work she did with the committee, and all the people who sat on the committee. I also thank the people who, on both sides, spoke at times with great emotion. Behind all the emotion, the debate was really about the health and well-being of our society. No matter what side one was on in this debate, it is important to acknowledge that people were full of emotion and only wanted what was best. That is my small contribution.
Unfortunately the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has gone away so I have been asked to read concluding remarks. I would like to begin by expressing both my own thanks and those of the Minister to the Members of the Seanad who have contributed on the Second Stage debate on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. We all recognise there are deeply held views on all sides of this Oireachtas and throughout the country and, in taking the next steps as a Parliament and a Government, it is important that we respect and hear all those views. We have agreed that, no matter what divides us, we are united by wanting to do what is right.
I support the Minister in his commitment to introduce the legislation and echo his statement that it is a priority for this Government to have medically-delivered, safe and regulated services for the termination of pregnancy for all those who require it. The Department of Health is engaged with the medical community to develop and deliver women's services to effectively operate the legislation and ensure that women can access the healthcare they need.
I want to make it clear, however, that we are also taking seriously the ancillary recommendation made by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I wish to assure Members again that the Government is committed to working to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and that this is part of the ongoing work of the Department. The publication of the first National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020 provided the opportunity to ensure that all efforts across the entire range of sexual health, including awareness, education, training, access, treatment and surveillance are co-ordinated, evidenced, informed and based on best practice.
The strategy was developed around three goals. Everyone in Ireland will receive comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual health education information and will have access to appropriate prevention and promotion services. Equitable, accessible and high-quality sexual health services, which are targeted and tailored to need, will be available to everyone. Robust and high-quality sexual health information will be generated to underpin policy, practice, service planning and strategic monitoring.The HSE sexual health crisis pregnancy programme is committed to implementing the national sexual health strategy with statutory and non-statutory partners to improve sexual health and well-being and reduce negative sexual health outcomes. Work has been progressing on the development of the more comprehensive sexual health and well-being education, information and promotion programme.
Progress in recent months includes the formal launch and ongoing development of the new website, www.sexualwellbeing.ie, which provides information on contraception, crisis pregnancy, consent, relationships and sexually transmitted infections. A new safer sex campaign targeted primarily at young people was also launched recently using the hashtag #RespectProtect. The campaign actively encourages people who are thinking of having sex or a sexual activity to think ahead, access correct information and practise safe sex. It continues to focus on the importance of using condoms both to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to protect against sexually transmitted infections. The campaign provides the HSE with greater flexibility in conveying more targeted and credible safer sex messages to a younger audience. There is also ongoing extension of the provision of free condoms to targeted harder to reach groups, including, for example, people living in direct provision.
The Government is also working to improve the position for women more generally. The national strategy for women and girls, NSWG, was launched in 2017 and is led by the Department of Justice and Equality. The NSWG is the framework by which the Government is pursuing actions to advance the rights of women and girls and to enable their full participation in society. Objective 2 of the NWSG is to advance the physical and mental health and well-being of women and girls. Under this objective, the HSE and Department of Health are working with the National Women's Council of Ireland to develop a women's health action plan.
I assure Senators that the Government is working to put women's health at the forefront of our priorities. I agree with the Minister that everyone needs to work together on this legislation in order that we can put services in place for women who need them as soon as possible. I look forward to a time when women can be assured that they will be able to access all the care they and their families need in this country.
I am mindful, however, that issues have been raised around some provisions in the legislation. The Minister plans to be here next week to discuss and address these concerns in greater depth. I thank Senators again for their contribution to the Second Stage debate. The Minister looks forward to further constructive examination of the Bill on Committee Stage.