Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages


5:50 pm

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Senator Kelleher has thanked everybody so perfectly that I will not attempt to match her, but I want to thank my colleagues in the House, the Minister and all of those in the other House and all the people who have championed this issue, but particularly those who have done so in very difficult times and in the streets. I thank those who campaigned in 1983 and those who campaigned, not only on this issue, but on the wider issue of women and their reproductive rights and the idea that a woman's body is important to her and that her decisions, feelings and concerns matter.

I thank all those who campaigned, brought this issue to the agenda and campaigned as part of Together for Yes. Myself and others visited towns across the country during the campaign and sometimes only two or three people came out but they gave that permission to others. They let it be known that this was a thing we could talk about. In particular, I want to thank those who spoke about their experiences, not always in public, but in private, and who shared their experiences with family members with whom they may never have shared before, talked about it and created a more honest relationship.

In particular, I thank the public who chose support over silence. We began today by marking Vótáil 100, a century since women's suffrage, and it is fitting that we are ending the day with something which I believe is another marker of equality in Ireland. We are closer to being a republic that not only respects and trusts women but one which women can trust and which they know they can shape. It is a better Ireland.

I recognise there are fears and concerns for many across the country. There have been many decades of fear around this issue. I hope, when these laws are in action, that everyone with fears about this legislation will see that it is compassionate. It is better to be able to talk, share and support each other and it is, in fact, a step forward. I hope that many more will come to the view of the vast majority who voted in May. I firmly believe they will.

There are still challenges to make sure that women are closer to safe, free and legal healthcare. We need to make sure that women's health and rights remain as central issues. That will be important and it will not always be easy. We must ensure that our institutions truly deliver access to healthcare. We must ensure that all persons who can become pregnant feel that they have the supports and routes to supports that they need. We also really need to make sure that the most vulnerable persons get access in this area and that this is working for them. This is new practice and we will have to make sure that it works. I am confident we will be able to do that together.

We must also not forget the many women still living who are carrying the legacy of a crueller, harder time to be pregnant. We must ensure that, as we move forward, we also address and give justice to the legacy and burden carried by those who suffered in a different and harder time.

I spoke about Vótáil 100. I hope those young campaigners in particular, as my colleague has described, see that their voices can shape Ireland. I hope they are enthused to keep working together. It will not always be possible, but working together when they can to shape Ireland. Ireland is now an ambassador to the world as a way to deal with this issue. We should become champions of good, kind, compassionate human rights practice. In particular, we should give solidarity to those in Northern Ireland and ensure that human rights equivalence is delivered for them and that is something we will move to next. This is an important milestone.


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