Thursday, 13 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
It is a bizarre way of operating. I am sure some of the €12 million that has been mentioned will be spent on some of the things that Senators Mullen and Ó Domhnaill do not seem to have a problem with. I acknowledge that they do not have a problem with providing funding where there is a risk to a woman's life. That is the first point. The second point I would make is that €12 million out of a budget of €17 billion works out at 0.0007% of the 2019 health budget, by my calculations. I am not sure about what Senator Norris said about filling a pothole in County Mayo, but he is certainly correct when he suggests that it is a very small sum of money. It grates on every bone in my body when people point to other challenges in the health service as a reason not to do this. They seem to be suggesting that when everyone in Ireland has had a cataract operation or a hip operation, maybe we can come back and talk about women's reproductive health. They seem to think that a woman must wait until that point has been reached. I heard the debate that the Seanad had to celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage in this country. The suggestion that we might get around to women's sexual health in another 100 years, after we have sorted out cataracts, is a terrible sort of backdrop against which to be celebrating and commemorating that anniversary. Of course we are going to sort out cataracts. Senator Mullen rightly pointed out that it is a cause of great frustration to me as Minister and to citizens in this country that our citizens sometimes travel for healthcare. I remind him that this Bill is addressing that. It is stopping women having to travel for healthcare. The Senator has a difficulty with a man getting a bus from Cork to Belfast for a cataract procedure - I am not happy that this needs to happen - but he has no difficulty with a woman and perhaps her partner having to get the plane or the boat to Liverpool. There is an irony in that situation.
In this country, we already provide free healthcare for pregnant women. I think that is one of the successes of past Governments. It is something that enjoys widespread support across the political spectrum and across society. We provide free healthcare for pregnant women. The Senator is suggesting we should provide free healthcare for certain pregnant women only. He is saying that free healthcare should not be provided to a pregnant woman unless we like the decision she has made. Under his approach, two women sitting in a GP surgery would be treated differently. The woman who decides to continue with her pregnancy would be told that it is no problem and the State will meet the cost of her healthcare. The woman who decides for her own reasons - there is always a reason - that she cannot continue with her pregnancy would be sent a bill. The particularly offensive aspect of these amendments is that they exclude fatal foetal abnormalities. I am sure that is not accidental. The Senator has gone through the legislation and chosen certain sections that he is happy to exempt from his non-universal provision of service. Unless he tells me otherwise, he has made a conscious decision to exclude fatal foetal abnormalities. Maybe he is saying that after a family has gone through the most horrific situation - we have all heard these stories from the Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland group - we should send them a very hefty bill for the use of the hospital bed and for all they have gone through. I do not believe that is something the citizens of this country support.
I would like to make a final point. I have heard continuous references in this House and in the other House to an opinion poll. I am not going to go back through what I heard in the other House. God almighty, are we going to start quoting opinion polls? If opinion polls were always right, Brexit would not have happened and Hillary Clinton would be the American President. By the way, we had a referendum and not an opinion poll. Senators keep quoting opinion polls. I thought that as politicians, we do not pay any attention to opinion polls. We had a poll. Lots and lots of people voted. More than 1.4 million people voted for us to get on with this. Today, we are going to get on with it.