Thursday, 13 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I have seconded the amendment. The amendment arises out of a discussion on Committee Stage but it was not the subject of an amendment on Committee Stage. I raised the issue of the funding of abortion from taxpayers' funds on Second Stage. It is one of the many aspects of the Bill which has very little support among the electorate, with 60% opposing this proposal according to recent research. The amendment provides: "No public moneys shall be provided by the Oireachtas to pay for the carrying out of a termination of pregnancy, other than a termination of pregnancy in accordance with section 9 or 10 in a case where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman."
The amendment would provide funding in situations where the procedure is carried out to save the life of the woman in line with what has always been best medical practice in this country and in line with the basic principle that, where life is at risk, the State and the health service should do everything possible to avert that risk. I remind the House that Dr. Mary Holohan and others stated before the referendum that doctors were in no way impeded from addressing physical conditions of women arising from the eighth amendment. This amendment only prohibits State funding of elective abortions, that is, those carried out arising out of a choice as opposed to bona fide medical treatment.
When we say abortion is an elective procedure in all cases, it is to say that, other than in cases of emergency situations not covered by this amendment, it is a procedure which is optional and not medically indicated. There are only a very small number of situations where abortion is an acute procedure, in other words, where intervention is required in an emergency situation to save the life of the mother. There were just 13 such terminations in Ireland in 2017 compared with an estimated total of at least 4,000 abortions in 2017, either from those travelling abroad or importing abortion pills. Statistically speaking, about 99.97% of abortions performed on Irish women every year have been elective procedures carried out as a matter of choice.
In future, each of these procedures is to be entirely funded by the State. What other elective procedures are performed entirely at the expense of the taxpayer and the State in all cases? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question. I cannot claim to be familiar with the full range of procedures available in our public hospitals but I certainly cannot think of any. Representatives of the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, and the Institute of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians were asked the same question at the Joint Committee on Health on 19 December. I think they said they could not identify another elective procedure which is funded entirely by the taxpayer. Will the Minister please address this point? Why is abortion to be the only elective procedure funded entirely by the State? Is the termination of pregnancy a more important procedure in his view than acute, life-saving procedures which are in need of public funding? This is why I do not believe the Minister when he says that he wants abortion to be rare. He is making an exception of abortion in wanting all abortions to be fully funded by the State. How can this be justified when other elective procedures will still be paid for by the person receiving the treatment, provided he or she can endure lengthy waiting lists?
As abortion is being rolled out as quickly as possible and free of charge, according to the HSE, the number of other elective procedures being carried out in our hospitals has fallen from 187,000 in 2012 to 86,000 in 2017 due to mass cancellations as a result of the chaos in our health system. Apparently, no elective orthopaedic procedures have been performed in Tralee General Hospital for much of the past six months. Meanwhile the Seanad sat until 2 a.m. on Wednesday, not to allocate funding to remedy that situation but to bring in a procedure for which funding will be fully allocated even while funding is not available for the situations about which I am talking. Members of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, who stand up in this House and the other House every day to complain about the lack of funding in the health system, have no objection to public money being spent on abortions at a time of dire funding needs for treatments that will save lives rather than end them.
When the Oireachtas Committee on Health discussed this matter on 19 September, Deputy O'Connell objected to the description of abortion as an elective procedure and launched into what has now become a trademark personalised attack when she said that to class women seeking an abortion as attempting to access elective services is to try to diminish women and is totally disrespectful of them. She attacked the Chairman of the committee, Deputy Harty, saying that the Chairman is a medical doctor and did not pull the member up on the usage of the phrase "elective services". If she had done any research on the point beforehand, she would have found that mariestopes.ie, the Irish website of the largest and most profitable abortion business in the UK, describes abortion as "an elective procedure". The website of the Irish Family Planning Association does likewise. Are they also diminishing and demeaning women? That would come as-----