Monday, 10 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Committee Stage
I am delighted to be in the Seanad for Committee Stage of this legislation and look forward to a number of days of constructive debate on Committee and Report Stages.
I have just come from a meeting with many medical stakeholders who are preparing for the introduction of services in January. I am very happy to see the level of preparedness that people have made, in terms of websites, information campaigns and helplines, to make sure we will be able to support the 372 women in Ireland who will seek a termination in January in this country with care and compassion, regardless of what we do with the law. We know that nine women travel and three women take the abortion pill every day.
I look forward to debating this legislation with Senators over the coming days. I thank them for the significant effort they have put into their amendments. I have had a chance to discuss a number of amendments with Senators. I am not in a position to accept Senator Ruane's amendment, which I am sure will not come as a great surprise to her. I see what the Senator has endeavoured to do. She was honest and upfront in acknowledging that this was an issue that she pursued at the all-party Oireachtas committee. I very much see my mandate coming from that committee in terms of how the legislation should be framed. That committee made a decision not to include socio-economic grounds. Therefore, arising from that, when I published a general scheme in advance of the referendum in March socio-economic grounds were obviously not included. Again, the Senator has been entirely honest by saying that her amendment would broaden the terms. I am not here to broaden the terms but to do what I promised the people we would do when we had a referendum.
The definition of health in the Bill means a person's physical or mental health. That is important because for too long many people have tried to pooh-pooh mental health and not give it the seriousness it deserves. I know the committee, and subsequently the Government, made a very conscious decision that the definition of health should mean a person's physical and mental health. The definition in this proposed amendment means "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity". I genuinely believe that definition is too broad and that the concept of "social well-being" is too nebulous for the purpose of legislation. The definition of well-being, as per the Collins Dictionary, is "the condition of being contented, healthy, or successful". As per the Macmillan Dictionary, it is "the satisfactory state that someone or something should be in, that involves such things as being happy, healthy, and safe, and having enough money". As per the Cambridge Dictionary, well-being is "the state of feeling happy and healthy".The inclusion of a definition of well-being would go beyond factors connected with health, extending to socio-economic and other social influences. Of course, the Senator is aware that we made a conscious decision to provide for termination up to 12 weeks without specific indication. We are not second-guessing women. There is always a reason for seeking a termination but we, as legislators, are not second-guessing that reasoning. The definition of health in the legislation as it pertains to terminations beyond the 12-week period is sufficiently broad and is in line with what we promised the people we will do.
Of course, the Senator is correct that the legislation will be reviewed in three years. I have very strong views on this. I initially proposed that the legislation be reviewed after five years but people thought that too long and we have amended it to three years. Obviously, I will be duty bound to lay annual reports before the Houses under the terms of the Bill and the HSE will produce an annual statistical report. These issues can be kept under review but I am currently satisfied with the definition of health and do not propose to accept the amendment.