Thursday, 13 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
Amendment no. 23 is consequential, although it precedes amendment No. 26 which relates to parental notification. In moving amendment No. 23 I am addressing both issues. This amendment was discussed thoroughly on Committee Stage, although it was not put to a vote. Colleagues may recall that I said I would prefer not to press the amendment on Committee Stage because I wanted to adjust the wording of subsections (6) and (7). The key point is that the amendment would recognise the life-changing event that abortion certainly is for the unborn baby – it is a life-ending event. As we know, the legislation provides for this life-ending event to take place without time limits in some cases and, potentially, late term in several cases. I have pointed to the dangers of this legislation and my distress in recognising that some abortions could conceivably be late term or take place at an advanced stage of pregnancy. Moreover, there is no provision for proper care in terms of pain relief, etc. or any requirement, where needed, where a baby is born alive, to sustain his or her life in a context where he or she is subjected to a procedure intended to end his or her life under the law. It is clear that this is a grave matter from the perspective of the welfare of the unborn baby who is never spoken about by the Government.
Of course, abortion can also be a life-changing event for women. I have said that while no one should ever try to claim that all cases are the same, it is a fact that in some cases abortion regret is a reality for women. This is often denied by abortion supporters as if it would somehow lessen their campaigning strength to admit the truth. Also, I have pointed to the dangerous lack of clarity in the definition of "health". The legislation exposes women to situations where procedures could take place, although there is no medical evidence that they would be therapeutic. I also have pointed out how the science in this area shows that while there is no evidence to show abortion is therapeutic in the context of a mental health challenge, there is some evidence, albeit conflicting, to show when and how it might have negative or adverse sequelae or negative mental health effects.
One has to careful to be honest and honourable in pointing out what the best available research shows. What the research shows is that abortion is more likely to be associated with elevated risks to mental health where women are young and unsupported. It seems to me that it is precisely in situations where women are young and unsupported that the issue of whether and how parents are notified comes to be a relevant consideration.
I have made it clear already and will make it clear again that this is not about seeking parental consent. It is about recognising the horrendous and extensive nature of this legislation and these amendments simply seek to make a bad and evil situation better and more humane. I have pointed out that it is appropriate that parents would be notified where it is intended to carry out an abortion procedure on their child who is a minor.
I have also pointed out, and this amendment makes clear in subsection (6), that where one could be dealing with a situation where the parents are abusers and where it would not be in order to notify them, upon application being made to the High Court by an interested party, the court may make an order dispensing with any requirement for service of notice to the parents if it is satisfied that this is in the best interests of the minor concerned. While an application of that nature should be made on notice to the parents, given that it is normally the case that an application sought in court would be made on notice to the other side, as it were, in other situations I referred to, this amendment allows for the possibility that the High Court, where satisfied in the particular circumstances of the case, may justly proceed to hear and determine the application without notice to the parents of the minor concerned. Therefore, please let there be no talk of this amendment being burdensome on a child who might be subject to abuse or in situations where the pregnancy may have resulted from abuse in the home.
It was interesting that during the discussion on Committee Stage about situations where the pregnancy resulted from a situation of abuse, or perhaps a situation of a criminal nature, it was also acknowledged implicitly that in some cases it might not be criminal activity that led to the pregnancy of the minor involved. We spoke about how challenging it can be, even for parents who would regard themselves as very attentive and vigilant, to know everything that is going on. We hear every day about situations going on that are not in a child's best interests and of which their parents, who consider themselves to be responsible parents, are really unaware. Parents need support in carrying out their primary duty under the Constitution, which the Constitution acknowledges that they have. It is not acceptable, in legislation of such far-reaching significance, simply to rely, as the Minister and others have said, on other guidelines without setting out what ought to happen as a general principle.
My friend and colleague, Senator McDowell, and perhaps Senator Norris to a lesser extent if I recall correctly, spoke in terms of how onerous it would be to notify parents in this situation where it is sought to carry out an abortion procedure on a minor. I did not recall it at the time, and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong - and I will happily accept correction if I am wrong - but I understand that, under the Children First guidelines, the child protection guidelines, if a child becomes pregnant and if Tusla is involved, it is mandatory that parents are told. That did not occur to any of us the other evening, it must be said, neither to Senators McDowell and Norris nor to myself. It puts my amendment in a much better light than my colleagues might have thought it deserved. There is only one exception to that, which is if it is thought the child would be in further danger as a result of telling the parents. As the Minister can see, that context is also recognised in my amendment.
Why would Senators or Government go against the spirit of the Tusla child protection guidelines? This is legislation that for the first time permits the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life outside of it occurring in the context of bona fide medical necessity. It is simply not acceptable to resort to guidelines and to say that, generally speaking, there will be a discussion about whether parents know and all of that soft law when what is needed in legislation that is far-reaching enough to permit the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life is the recognition of the particular and primary responsibility that parents have for their child's welfare in all but exceptional circumstances, and it should require that they at least be notified of this life-changing event.