Wednesday, 28 March 2018
An Bille um an Séú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht 2018: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
I welcome Members and the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, back to the House. The Minister could nearly be a Senator, given that he has spent so much time in the House in the last while.
On a matter of procedure, the substance of the debate on Committee Stage is the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment which is contained in the Schedule to the Bill. The sections of the Bill are merely technical. Therefore, in accordance with long-standing practice, consideration of the sections is postponed until consideration of the Schedule has been completed, which is the opposite of what normally happens. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister, even if I do not welcome the Bill. I apologise that I was not here yesterday for the debate on Second Stage. Some of us were in London with the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs.
I admire the respect for and recognition of conscience shown by my party leader, the Taoiseach, and the Cabinet in dealing this matter and the maturity of my party and Fianna Fáil in not taking a party stance, thereby permitting a free vote. Whether we like it, the Supreme Court has ruled that the only protection for the unborn is in the Constitution, not anywhere else. There is zilch otherwise. The Bill proposes the holding of a referendum to allow for the removal of that protection and not replace it with anything, but, worse than that, it proposes to follow its removal with a Bill providing for abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks and, in some specific instances, beyond that time period. Again, we should think of the position in Britain. We do not want to go down that road, as 9 million abortions have taken place there to date. We are the living; thanks be to God, our mothers gave us life and allowed us to be born, but we are now being asked to pass judgment on the most defenceless in society - future citizens who should feel safe in their mothers' wombs. For the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone could extinguish the life of their own flesh and blood. We have to pause and think very carefully, as legislators, about what we are about.
As I alluded to in my contribution on Second Stage last night, the Bill seeks to take out the protection for the unborn, the life of which is equal to that of the mother, and replace it with the words, "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy". What exactly do those words mean? They mean that any Parliament, either this one or another in the future, will be able to set guidelines. We are told that the period will be 12 weeks, but it could be increased to six or seven months. There will be nothing to prevent that from happening if we take out the provision in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution and replace it with the line of words proposed. That is exactly what they mean. In the future provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy without limit. If the referendum is successful as I hope and believe it will not be, the protection provided will be taken out of the Constitution and replaced by that line of words. What will the period be down the road? It will be 12 weeks at a minimum, but what will the maximum period be? That is my concern.
I welcome the Minister. I commend and thank him for his very powerful words last night both in opening and closing the debate on Second Stage and expressing such powerful reasons we should support the Bill. I am glad that it was passed on Second Stage in the Seanad last night by 35 votes to 10. I very much hope we will see it being swiftly passed by a resounding majority today once we get through Committee and Remaining Stages. I did not intend to speak because I had the opportunity to make a contribution on Second Stage last night, as did my colleagues, but I cannot listen to the scaremongering by those who oppose the Bill. There are some points that need to be made and facts and legal truths about which we need to speak about what the Bill will mean if it is passed and if the referendum is passed at the end of May.
There will be no legal vacuum if the referendum is passed. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will remain in force and abortion will remain prohibited, except where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. As we know, strict and stringent criteria are laid down in the 2013 Act which provide for when doctors may intervene in such circumstances.The Oireachtas may amend or repeal that legislation if the eighth amendment is removed from the Constitution. However, as the Minister made clear last night and all Senators know to be true, any Bill put through the Oireachtas will be subject to normal parliamentary scrutiny.
The Government has put forward detailed proposals for the legislation it will introduce and the Labour Party will be happy to support its Bill, which will be debated in full in both Houses, as is our duty as legislators. The legislation amounts to a very sensible, evidence based set of legal criteria and a very strict and robust legal framework to provide women with the caring and compassionate health care they clearly need.
The 12 weeks proposal is one that is rooted in medical evidence presented to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and of the doctors with whom the Minister has been consulting since the joint committee concluded. The Minister and his officials have worked hard to produce robust legislation that is in line with legislation in other countries. The 12 weeks figure is not plucked from the air. As far back as the Roe v. Wade case, Mr. Justice Harry Blackmun in his wonderful judgment spoke about the first trimester. It is medically different and also the period in which medical abortion, namely, the abortion pill, may be used. The 12-week period has been chosen for all sorts of reasons. It has not been plucked from the air and it is not a period that can be extended at whim, as some Senators appear to suggest. It is a very clear demarcation and there is no proposal from anywhere to extend it in any way. The Minister outlined strict rules that will apply even within the first trimester period, including the provision for a 72-hour consultation period. He also stated clearly that late term abortion will be prohibited. Dr. Peter Boylan has also spoken clearly on this issue and referred to the need for neonatal teams and specialists to be present if viability is an issue. This will be built into the legislation.
I support the comments of the Minister and those of other speakers that the Bill will not open floodgates. Opponents of the 2013 Act and naysayers argued that it would open floodgates and women would lie routinely to secure access to abortion. This has not happened. Only 77 women or 25 or 26 per year have had an abortion since 2013 and abortion is carried out only where it is necessary to save their lives. We will pass sensible, compassionate legislation that will not open floodgates and will meet the needs of Irish women if this referendum is passed. I will do my best and work as hard as I can to ensure it is passed. I thank the Minister again and apologise again for speaking for so long on Committee Stage.
I reassure Senator Bacik in case she needs any reassurance that she should not feel any embarrassment about making a contribution that she believes is necessary on Committee Stage. After all, this is a life and death issue. The Senator does the job she is paid to do when she says what she feels needs to be said. Whether I agree with it is a different matter but I note in passing that she is quick to reassure people that there is some massive scientific distinction between a baby at 12 weeks in the womb and a baby after that. I have never known Senator Bacik to criticise any abortion law anywhere on the ground that it is too liberal. I am afraid, therefore, that if people want reassurance about what can happen to abortion laws once politicians get hold of them, they will not be able to rely on people who never acknowledge the humanity of the baby involved.
On a point of order, all of us maintained a respectful and dignified manner of speaking in last night's debate. I was hoping that would remain the case in today's debate. I have been careful not to criticise colleagues or be personal. It would be nice to keep that tradition in the House.
I agree. In fairness, Senator Bacik has always been open about her point of view and deserves credit where others may not deserve it. If I criticise what she says and point out that people cannot rely on her view because she is already on record, it can hardly be viewed as a personal criticism, unless it is proposed to shut down debate completely.
I ask all Senators to speak to the section. I have allowed some speakers a small degree of latitude because I appreciate this is an important and sensitive topic. However, as we are dealing with section 1, I ask speakers to make points that are related to the section.
I assure the Acting Chairman that I will not offer any points of order about what other Senators say.
The Minister was at pains last evening to cast doubt on people's concerns that politicians cannot be trusted with an issue such as this. Already today in the corridors of this House, I was scolded by a member of the Government for daring to say that politicians cannot be trusted on this issue. The person in question is very nice by the way and I will not name him for fear I will be accused of attacking him. The reason I say this is that across the western world, and in this country also, politicians say one thing at election time, as the Government party did but do a different thing when political convenience seems to indicate. All along, politicians have been reassuring ordinary folk that they support the right to life of the unborn as well as top medical care for mothers. They go on journeys without consulting two sides of the story and on which they seem to believe in listening to only one side of the story. To give an example of this latest twisting and turning, one Minister's proposal that a two thirds majority be required for any changes to abortion legislation in future was shot down by the Attorney General and the Government. There was no credibility to the position of the politician in question in any case because we was already in favour of repeal, which gives politicians a blank cheque for however much abortion they wish.
If the Government was serious about the kind of caution the Minister for Health would like us to believe the Government would exercise, they need look no further than Article 12.10.4° of the Constitution, which does not relate to the life of the unborn but to the political life of the President. They could have easily proposed a formula of words to the constitutional amendment providing that no such law, that is, a law regulating abortion, shall be approved by either of the Houses of the Oireachtas save upon a resolution of that House supported by not less than two thirds of the total membership thereof. The concept exists, provided one provides for it in the Constitution. It is not my proposal because once the eighth amendment has been repealed, there will be no protection for the baby in any case and the law the Minister is proposing is so extreme and permissive as to make my point without me having to make it.
What I am trying to say is that the Government is not serious about restricting abortion. It says it is and shoots down the Tánaiste's proposal when, if it so wished, it could perfectly easily and democratically provide for a blocking minority. That is just one example of the argumentation that seeks to reassure but is not grounded in fact. I make that point because it is relevant on Committee Stage. I am not making a proposal on Committee Stage to amend the constitutional provision. I am opposed to it in principle because it is fundamentally against authentic human rights.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson deserves tremendous credit for undermining, in his typically understated and slightly mischievous way, the arguments of those who say that to oppose even putting the issue to the people is an undemocratic act.
That was an attempt to corral people who believe there is something fundamentally wrong with asking a question that would remove human rights and an attempt to portray such people as anti-democratic. There are all sorts of other questions we do not ever want to put to the people because to do so would subtract from human rights.If the Minister was to consider any other vulnerable category, he would say it would be an obscenity to ask the question about whether we should take their human rights out of the Constitution. Senator Wilson had his homework done and pointed out that a former President and our current President voted previously against a referendum on this issue and nobody accused them of being anti-democratic. He deserved a round of applause for puncturing that little balloon last night-----
-----or at least the laugh that it deserved, but I noticed he did not get it.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said last night and regarding his reassurances seeking to undermine the notion that 12 weeks is very permissive. A one day, two day or three day waiting period does not offer any meaningful protection for an unborn child, boy or girl, if one believes that it is a human being.
I also emphasise that the Minister sought to distinguish the law that the Government will bring forward in due course from the British law on the basis that it is now being proposed that, post-viability, there would not be a termination of the life of the baby. I think that is what the Minister said. What does he think it is like for an unborn child when they are brought into the world prematurely in situations like that? I think they would be very sick. The Minister should speak to the issue of what type of care he would envisage there. It leaves a lot to be desired from a human rights perspective.
The Minister does not seem to think that an abortion prior to viability is a late-term abortion. What does he think it is? One of the disadvantages of what we call a debate on this matter here is that we do not get answers to questions, we do not get to test each side's arguments to see if there is any substance to them. I hope the upcoming debate will not only comprise one-on-one interviews with Ministers in studios and that there will be an opportunity to test what they are saying because sometimes what they say does not stand up. I am sure the Minister has prepared his brief very well but my experience of the Government is that there has not been any listening to the women who felt betrayed by the abortion culture, who felt that they were not given the support they needed before they had their abortion and who went on to regret their abortions. No attention seems to have been paid to the fact that the best research indicates it is not advisable to link abortion with a mental health ground, as they do in Britain yet the Minister proposes to do the exact same thing. That research comes from people who have no problem with abortion in principle.
If I was in a studio debate with the Minister tomorrow and asked him about the developmental stages of the unborn, would he be able to tell me at what stage the pads for a baby's fingerprints start? Would he be able to tell us that today? I ask him that, with all due respect, because I note he has not acknowledged the humanity of the baby. Are people who want to deny the humanity of the baby, and change our law such that there is no protection of any kind for them in the Constitution, interested in looking step by step at how the baby develops in the womb, that is, human life with potential, as I like to call it? Those are just a few points that occur to me.
For the benefit of all the Members who have indicated, the current running order is Senators Ruane, McDowell, Leyden, Gavin, Clifford Lee, Ó Ríordáin, Mark Daly, Black and Buttimer who have all asked to speak, and Senator Catherine Noone has now indicated as well. I ask them to speak to the section. I have been relatively generous to Members and I will continue in that vein.
We can be respectful of each other while also picking up on untruths. Senator Mullen put forward the argument that removing the eighth amendment from the Constitution does not future-proof the legislation against there being no term limits for abortion, but all his statement implies is that he does not trust women at any point during their pregnancy. Women will put a limit on themselves. We do not need politicians to say that seven months into a pregnancy is too far into it to have a termination, unless there is a risk to the woman's life or a fatal foetal abnormality. Women do not make such a decision seven or eight months into a pregnancy. We do not need to be future-proofed. We know when it is appropriate to make that decision. It will always be as early as possible but as late as necessary in extreme circumstances. Therefore, we do not need future-proofing.
All the Senator is doing is showing further mistrust for women's decisions and their ability to make good decisions for themselves and their families. To not allow terminations up to 12 weeks in Ireland, which is an argument that has been put forward, the Senator is supporting what he is trying to fight against, namely, late-term abortions. If women are not allowed early access to a termination in their own country, they are being forced to have a late-term abortion - about which the Senator is very much against - because they have to access travel to England.
Therefore, Senator Mullen is supporting late-term abortions in the stance that he has taken.
I do not know what the phrase "abortion culture" means. I do not believe there is a culture of abortion in this country. If anything, there is a culture of silence, oppression and a mistrust of women. We need to trust women more. Politicians now or in the future will not make the decisions for when women automatically choose to have an abortion. It will always be as early as possible. The Senator's position supports late-term abortion because it will force women to travel at a later stage in their pregnancy.
Speaking to the section, it has two effects. First, it has the effect of inserting the wording in the Schedule and, second, it has the effect of removing the existing wording from Article 40.3.3oof the Constitution. In the ordinary course of events in this House the time available for each speaker on a Second Stage debate is naturally limited to eight limits, which is to ration out time fairly among us all, and I have no problem with that.
I would like to briefly develop a few points I made yesterday evening regarding Article 40.3.3o, which we are taking out of the Constitution, if we pass this legislation subject to the decision of the people. First, I made the point that Article 40.3.3o in its original form was inserted into the fundamental rights section of the Constitution in the Article headed "Personal Rights". In those circumstances we are dealing with what I believe was a misguided attempt to say that a fertilised ovum either prior to implantation or post implantation amounted to a person. In my view, and I want to put this on the record of this House, that is not so. Nobody in this House believes it is so. If we believed that a fertilised ovum in an in vitrofertilisation, IVF, laboratory, where they are trying to assist a mother and father who are having difficulty in having children, was a person, there would be all sorts of different laws and things to be done. If one ovum was selected and if we believed that was a person in that tank, and the others were disposed of or put into nitrous oxide to be frozen, that is one thing, but none of us actually accords the status of a person to a fertilised zygote. Therefore, constitutionally, we are in a grey area. That was the problem with Article 40.3.3o. It decided to over-simplify the issue and to elevate the unborn, which it did not define, to the position of a person. In doing so, it said that the right to life of a zygote, once implanted, as later decided by a court, was equal to the right to life of the foetus's mother.I do not accept that proposition and I believe it was a falsehood and oversimplification put into the Constitution without working out precisely what it meant. That was done in 1983, doubtless in good faith, but principally because the suspicion was that our Judiciary would do a Roe v. Wade and introduce abortion as a constitutional right and that the Judiciary was not to be trusted.
In 1992 there was the X case. The girl in that case was the victim of a rape and was told by the Supreme Court that she could not leave Ireland for the purpose of having an abortion unless her life was under threat. She could not go to England and her parents could not arrange for her to go to England and an injunction was available to prevent her going to England to have an abortion. A young rape victim was told that the meaning of Article 40.3.3°, as it then stood, was that she could not have an abortion. I am particularly addressing the Senators who are conservative on this issue and I fully respect their rights to be conservative and do not think it is in any way undemocratic for them to vote against this, if that is their point of view. Article 40.3.3° meant that rape victims, once implantation had taken place, were obliged by the Constitution to carry that conception to full delivery unless they could prove, as was done in the X case, that there was an imminent threat of suicide if they were not allowed to have an abortion. The idea of travel injunctions was enshrined by the Supreme Court in the X decision. Let us not forget that point.
In 1992, when all of that became apparent, the people were horrified by the result. The then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, put three propositions to them, which was curious, and it was objected to at the time, but in retrospect it was probably just as well. The first was should suicide be a ground for termination of a pregnancy in Ireland. The Supreme Court had said it could happen here. The second was should anybody be the subject of a travel injunction, again by reference to pregnancy or the intention to procure an abortion abroad. The third proposition was should anybody in Ireland be denied information because there were student publications and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, SPUC, at the time. The question was whether it should be a crime to tell anybody in Ireland whether abortion was available outside Ireland. It asked should it be a crime in this country to tell somebody, as in the case of Ms X, to go abroad and obtain the services of a place like the Marie Stopes clinic in England. The people said no to the first proposition, that if somebody committed suicide, it could be held that we allowed it to happen by our vote in the referendum because abortion was not available here. They voted to allow people leave Ireland to have an abortion. I ask Senator Mullen and others, respectfully, through the Chair, if we really believed that an implanted foetus had the same rights as a born child, would we have amended our Constitution to allow parents to take that child to a clinic in England to have it killed.
-----is very definitely that that was a clear indication that in Irish people's minds this was not a situation of an equal right to life. They were subjecting the right to life of the unborn to the right of the mother to travel for an abortion. This was a qualification of the idea of equality.
I believe that the people, by adopting the freedom of information and the freedom to travel amendments to reverse in part the courts' decisions in respect of the original article 40.3.3°, were qualifying the idea of equality at the time. Viewed barely, that is what I believe was happening.
Even when all of that was done, there was a succession of cases, some of which I was involved in as Attorney General, others as a barrister, but I do not want to deal with them because I do not refer to cases I was involved in. In some cases Article 40.3.3°, notwithstanding the changes that have been made, affected for instance the position of a child in care, and whether the Irish courts or health boards would facilitate such a rape victim in care in going to Britain. There was serious opposition at the time and some of it came from the pro-life movement, which was entitled to express its views.
There have been trips to Strasbourg in respect of fatal foetal abnormalities and we are now addressing the issue fair and square. Senators Wilson and Mullen ask what is so special about 12 weeks. In one sense, whether it is 11 or 13, they are somewhat arbitrary time periods. The medical truth, however, is that after three or four weeks it is a cluster of cells that is a couple of millimetres across. It begins to pulsate, to circulate fluids to maintain its existence and development. We are told that is a heartbeat but there is not really a heart at the earliest stage. Up to eight or nine weeks we are dealing with a developing embryo, which grows from being tiny to being less than the size of a finger over several weeks. That is the period we are dealing with, not a foetus such that any ordinary person looking at it, if it was miscarried, would say there is a person. What a person would say in such sad circumstances is there was the seed, the potential, for a person to exist. Many mothers have been in that sad position after miscarriages. In my respectful view, the law should not be, and the Constitution should not have been, perverted to regard that foetus at that stage of development as a human person in the sense that we accord meaning to the term "person".I want to make the point about what this section is doing. We are removing from the Constitution a very contradictory set of statements which started in 1983 with what I believe was an untrue statement that the unborn was a person with the same and equal rights as the mother which when it came up against legal realities in the X case had to be reversed by the people through a constitutional amendment to reverse the idea of equality and to say that we will treat the unborn differently from a born child. That is what we did because, as I said earlier, nobody in his or her right mind would change the Constitution to say that parents can bring their born baby to England to have that baby killed. Nobody would do it so the people actually were making their own judgment on these matters. We have now got to the point where we see all the problems that still flow from the fundamental untruth that a zygote or foetus at an early stage of its development is to be regarded as an equal person compared with a child just about to be born. We have got to that point where we must confront the problem which arises from that. They are serious problems legally. In all seriousness, what was wrong with Article 40.3.3°, and the late Peter Sutherland pointed out what was wrong with it, was that it would inevitably have these consequences because it was not telling the truth and it was not admitting that we were dealing with a grey area. It was saying it is black and white, it is simple, just vote for it, everything will be all right and there will never be abortion in Ireland. It failed. It is an obstruction. I am not going to say the recent legislation is, to use the phrase, "a dog's dinner", but it is not satisfactory and everybody knows it is not satisfactory and is not a maintainable or sustainable point of view. Let us again remember the people who are against repeal of the eighth amendment vigorously opposed the legislation that was supposed to regularise the post-X case decision. They were entitled to do so. I do not criticise them for that but it is not as if the status quois what they wanted to defend. They want to defend a very different simplistic Article 40.3.3° as they originally intended it to be. I want to make the point that we are not simply putting in the wording to which we will return when we get to the Schedule. We are removing Article 40.3.3° and we are bringing Ireland back to the position in 1982. It was not a bad position in one sense because the Legislature at that time had the freedom to deal with abortion, termination, rape and all the rest of it as it saw fit. What was done in 1982 at the behest of people who were worried about a Roe v.Wade decision from the courts was to take away the power from the Legislature to bring in laws to deal with that situation. I think that is a very serious problem.
Senator Mullen said last night that we have an infanticide law that differentiates between a mother in post-delivery and the rest of humanity when it comes to the law of homicide and takes account of post-natal depression. It used to be on the basis of a crazy theory that it had something to do with the effect of lactation on the mother's mind. What Senator Mullen said is true but it is still a crime. What Senator Mullen advanced yesterday for our consideration was the possibility that with a humane and decent DPP, no girl would ever be prosecuted for taking the abortion pill. I am saying that if we keep Article 40.3.3°, which is a point I did not have time to make yesterday, we cannot decriminalise abortion. The courts would say that this is unconstitutional. We cannot say "Ah, we'll turn a blind eye to this and turn a blind eye to that." We cannot turn a blind eye. If somebody gives somebody else an abortion pill, we cannot turn a blind eye to that set of facts and at the same time, claim that we are upholding the right of the unborn as far as is practicable and defending and vindicating that right. We know that a girl was prosecuted in Belfast for taking the abortion pill because her flatmate got a pang of conscience and told the police about it and the poor girl was interviewed about it and admitted it. She was prosecuted for that. Let us not cod ourselves. I say in all sincerity and with all conviction that what leaving Article 40.3.3° in place actually involves is requiring it to be a crime to take an abortion pill and to assist somebody in taking an abortion pill like going to England to get it or going down to the chemist to get it. We cannot decriminalise that activity and keep Article 40.3.3° in its present form. I reject the idea that the Constitution is there to set standards and is not there to deal with the hard cases because in the end, we remember the poor girl in the X case - a rape victim who was hauled back from England by the courts because that was the law - and we remember that girl in Belfast who found herself dragged before the courts because she had taken the abortion pill in Belfast where it is a criminal offence to do so. If we are going to say there is no distinction between a cluster of cells in a Petri dish in a laboratory and a human being and say there are no shades of grey, there is no developmental process and no spectrum of development within which the victim of a rape is entitled to take steps to end a pregnancy and it will be and must remain a crime for the victim of a rape in Ireland to end her pregnancy, which is what not deleting Article 40.3.3° necessarily means, so be it. We should stand on that but the consequences definitely are that this is what we are standing for. If this referendum is defeated, it will be a crime for a victim of rape in Ireland to take an abortion pill to end the pregnancy, it will be a crime for anybody to give it to her and it will be a crime for anybody to assist her in getting it. They will all be criminals before our law. If someone says to me, it will not happen, I will say that it has happened in Belfast. Tell me why it should not happen here if that is not merely part of our criminal law but part of our criminal law that is necessitated by the terms of the Constitution itself.
I ask fellow Members of this House to consider carefully what keeping Article 40.3.3° actually means. We are in exactly the same position as our predecessors were in 1983 when they enacted the eighth amendment. We are making a decision which will have definite legal and criminal effects. There will be outcomes. A person cannot simply say he or she is against 12 weeks, therefore, he or she wants it to continue to be a criminal offence for a girl to take the abortion pill in Ireland after a rape, that is what he or she wants it to be and that the price he or she is willing to pay to keep the Constitution as it is because that price will be paid by some girl. It was in Belfast and it will be here. The same applies to any way a person can try to develop the law in any way to deal with exceptions such as rape.Regardless of whatever faults people have with the processes of the joint committee of these Houses and the Citizens' Assembly, they faced up fair and square. We will never be able to have a process that will determine whether a girl was raped in time for that girl to take any steps to defend herself. We only have to look at the news which came out from the criminal courts in Belfast today to ponder how difficult it is for a rape to be established. We only have to look at recent decisions of the Irish courts that somebody who has sex while not using a condom commits rape with a woman who is willing to consent to it on the basis that a condom would be used to realise how impossible it would be to have a system other than a 12-week, no questions asked system to deal with those kinds of hard cases.
By way of a footnote, I have heard a number of people say that their mother had told them that she had contemplated having an abortion and if that had happened they would not be here today. It sounds like a very good point. If we think about it, if a child's parents had decided, that child being the fourth in a family, that they were only going to have three children and had used contraception, that fourth child would not be here today. The accident of our birth is incalculable when we reflect on it. If one's father had used a condom or if one's mother had used a diaphragm or an IUD, one would not be here today. All of us could say that about ourselves, namely, that if our parents had made a different choice we would not be here today, but that does not prove that contraception is wrong. Likewise, it does not prove the case for retaining the eighth amendment.
I welcome the Minister and his officials back to the House. It will certainly be a baptism of fire for the Minister over the next few months. I understand the referendum is planned to be held on 25 May. In 1983 the then very courageous Labour Party Minister for Health decided not to take the Bill and transferred it to a Fine Gael Party Minister. Senator Wilson cited facts from what happened in the Seanad at that time.
As I was not a Member of the Seanad then, I will concentrate on what happened in the Dáil. Eleven Members of the Lower House voted against allowing a referendum. Let us put that point to bed. They decided there would not be a referendum at that point because they did not agree with the wording of the referendum, Article 40.3.3°, the eighth amendment, and they were not criticised for that. However, seemingly if one objects to this referendum, one is undemocratic. Let us put that notion to bed straightaway.
People like the former President, Mary Robinson, and the current President, Michael D. Higgins, voted against having a referendum at that time and I would not regard them as being undemocratic. We will get that argument clearly out of the way. I hope the Minister bears that in mind in deliberations in this regard, and that he does not show disrespect to those with very strongly held views in this House who were very satisfied that Article 40.3.3° and the eighth amendment were of service to this State. It was voted on by the late Garret FitzGerald as well for the benefit of those who might think otherwise and the then Attorney General's recommendations were overruled. He would not have been the first Attorney General who had his recommendations overruled. I am sure my colleague in the House, who was a former Attorney General, might be able to confirm that, but he probably will not because Cabinet confidentiality would probably kick in. Nevertheless, those are the facts of the case.
The proposed wording is that, "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy". Will the Minister have a draft Bill prepared before the referendum that is to be held on 25 May? That is an important issue. Will it be clearly laid out whether the Tánaiste decides the legislation requires a two thirds majority of the Dáil, or a simple majority is required and also what procedures are to be followed in the Seanad?
That will be of some help, if the Government can agree to it. When the earlier Bill was passed, the Department of Health did not make much effort to bring in detailed protocols and procedures to assist the medical profession in the implementation of Article 40.3.3° because the then Minister did not agree with it. They should have been introduced in law to ensure proper interpretation of the objective of the eighth amendment would become a fact.
I sympathise with all the maternity hospitals, gynaecologists and obstetricians who, I accept, were and are faced with difficult dilemmas. The Department in its wisdom should be prepared if this Bill fails. I will be voting against it and I will be voting against this Bill. The Department should consider the outcome of that decision and give guidance and assistance to medical practitioners to ensure the proper implementation and interpretation of Article 40.3.3°, the eighth amendment, which was a clearer statement of support at that time and it has served many people well. Bad cases make bad law. I have heard all the details about when a foetus becomes a child, and up to 12 weeks is a long time. Most people would recognise that after 12 weeks of having been conceived, that foetus has the right to life. That is the case I would make, namely, the right to life of the unborn.
The unborn is a child that has been conceived. I will not go into the detail as people know exactly what I mean. It is a very serious and profound decision. I respect the views being expressed by others and they are quite persuasive. I am the only person here who was present on that March day in 1983 when I went through the debate on this matter in detail in this House. I read all the contributions by different Members. I got the Official Report from that time and it was a fascinating, interesting debate that is worthwhile reading. I welcome that I have got that assurance from the Minister. The people will know what they are voting on. That is based on the current standing of the Oireachtas bearing in mind that we have a minority Government but when the day comes that there is a majority Government in power with Sinn Féin and the Labour Party controlling it, then it will be an open day-----
Let us bring on the day for a Sinn Féin-Labour Party Government, I would welcome it. First, I want to genuinely acknowledge again the sincerity of those in the Chamber who hold a different view from me. I genuinely respect their views even though I disagree fundamentally with them.
My colleague, Senator Mullen, spoke about what will happen once politicians get hold of abortion laws. The problem is that they have already got hold of abortion laws. Senator Leyden has just referred to it. In 1983 they got hold of abortion laws and changed them such that they are now beyond the reach of democratic politicians. That is why I would contend, and I mean this respectfully, the arguments the Senator made are fundamentally undemocratic. He is saying that politicians should not be allowed to legislate on this matter. I am saying it was a major mistake in 1983 and my party has been consistent on that, and that politicians should be allowed to legislate because that is what elected representatives like ourselves are here to do. We are here to legislate. That is a fundamentally undemocratic argument and that is why it is important that we remove article 40.3.3o.
I cannot be half as eloquent as Senator McDowell and even though we disagree fundamentally on many issues, I thought his contribution, spanning some ten or 15 minutes, was excellent.
I want to develop one point. Senator McDowell spoke about the referendums on freedom of information and freedom to travel in the early 1990s.As we know, they were passed. I respectfully ask a question of my colleagues who disagree on this issue. Do they think it is right that women should have the freedom to travel and the freedom to have information to abortion? If they do, I have a difficulty because what they are really saying by implication is, "Look, we don't like abortion, but you can have one. Just don't have it here." There is something fundamentally wrong with that.
Equally if they do not agree with that, it is fine. I ask them to articulate their position as to why they believe it is fundamentally wrong for women to have access to travel and access to information. However, if they accept it is right, how can it be otherwise than saying, "You can have an abortion, but just don't have it here." That is why 12 women are travelling on a plane today. That is why women are taking abortion pills here today, having abortions here in Ireland without medical care or supervision. That is why Dr. Rhona Mahony says it is time to stop playing Russian roulette with women's lives.
I also respectfully ask my colleagues to think about the message they are sending to women today. We know from the evidence we received that right now a woman cannot receive medical treatment until she is dying. That is what our doctors told us. My colleagues may believe in some giant conspiracy, but that is what the heads of two of the maternity hospitals told the committee. That status quois just not tenable. I am genuinely shocked that people would think it is acceptable to maintain the status quothat a woman must be dying before she can receive medical intervention. Unfortunately, that is the truth. That is what we were told by the head of the National Maternity Hospital and by Dr. Peter Boylan, and it is the truth. Is that the message they want to send out here today? I ask our colleagues on the other side of the argument to deal with these issues.
My last point is simple. Senator Leyden mentioned 1983 and he is entitled to his opinion. He is obviously very proud of what happened back then. I was horrified by what happened back then. Each of the 35 years we have gone through has shown how horrific that is. We do not have to look back to the victim of the X case, because, as I mentioned yesterday, a 12 year child had to go to Britain for an abortion just a few weeks ago. Unless we act on this amendment, the next 12 year old child, the next victim of rape, will have to go to Britain for an abortion. I cannot countenance that. It is fundamentally wrong that victims of rape or incest have to leave the country to have that issue dealt with. It is scandalous and a shocking indictment of our country.
In the interests of moving this along, I will keep my comments very brief. I wish to associate myself with comments of Senators Bacik and Ruane. They made points I was going to make and so I will not repeat them. I also thank Senator McDowell for his very insightful and considered contribution. His contribution has played a vital part in moving along the debate in this House.
I have been through two pregnancies and even in the most ideal of circumstances the state of pregnancy can be difficult and stressful. One feels vulnerable and very lonely at times. It strikes me that when the vulnerability of the unborn is talked about, the vulnerability of the pregnant woman is often forgotten about.
I also make reference to the 12 year old child who travelled to the UK, as Senator Gavan mentioned. Some of the commentary on that has suggested that the ideal solution would have been for the 12 year old child to have proceeded with the pregnancy and given the baby up for adoption. No reference is ever made to the physical damage, leaving alone the psychological damage, that a pregnancy would do to a 12 year old child's body. That child is vulnerable. She did not become pregnant because she is in a good situation. Something awful and tragic happened to that child. We are proposing a solution to her that would leave her with permanent damage, compounding the damage that has already been done to her. I cannot stand here and stand over that and let plenty more children and women go through this. We need to look at the humanity of the pregnant woman and the vulnerability of the pregnant woman, and try our best to protect that.
Last night I spoke about the need for the Minister to provide extra lactation consultants and extra public health nurses to assist mothers and their newborn babies. I am sure the Minister is aware that we have a vast shortage of them. We have a severe lack of perinatal psychologists. I would love if Senator Mullen and more of our colleagues would join me in this call. Let us look after the children who are born in this country. There are some vulnerable women and some vulnerable children who have been born in this country, and the services are not available for them.
I had not intended to speak so my comments will be brief and I will not speak again. I understand that yesterday's debate was quite respectful. I was impressed in particular by the comments of Senator McDowell whose contribution should be read by every intending voter in the upcoming referendum.
I find the question about who we trust strange. Some people will vote against the holding of this referendum. They do not believe the people should have a say in this. They say they cannot trust politicians either. They certainly do not trust women in difficult circumstances. I do not know who is to make the determination as to what our abortion law should be. It cannot be the people because they should not be allowed to have a referendum. It cannot be politicians because we cannot trust them because they change their minds. It also cannot be women. Who is this fountain of knowledge to whom we should all turn to discuss the issue or to learn about the issue?
I had not intended discussing Senator Mullen's remarks. However, I am struck by what Senator Clifford-Lee just said about born children. I understand that Senator Mullen has made 273 contributions to the Seanad since 2007 on the issue of abortion and one on child care, which he actually made in 2007.
It gives an indication of where his priorities on children lie. People are entitled to change their views. People talk about the journeys politicians have made. Again we have to return to the 12 journeys made today, the 12 journeys made yesterday and the 12 journeys that will be made tomorrow by very vulnerable upset women, who are being treated as criminals in their own country and who have to go to Britain to get for themselves what they should be getting here. I have had this discussion in my constituency office and with people who are passionately pro-life and are compassionate about this issue. I understand it comes from a position of compassion because I absolutely understand the motivations behind those on the pro-life side. I remember meeting a couple who were very upset about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. I said that I purely wanted a woman in a distressed situation to have a choice. They said that she had a choice and I asked them what that was. They said that she could go to Britain. As has been said we are quite happy - we have passed this in a referendum - for women to have information. We are quite happy to allow them to travel knowing exactly the reason for them travelling as long as they just do not do it here. Of course, the abortion pill has changed all that.
It is appalling that somebody should have to sit in a bedroom fondling something that they had bought on the Internet and have to keep it secret for fear of criminal sanction.The idea that someone would sit in a bedroom fondling something that was bought on the Internet and must be kept secret for fear of criminal sanction is appalling.
It is laudable that people have changed their minds on this matter. The Catholic Church has changed its mind on the whole area. There was a time when a child who died before being baptised could not be buried on sacred ground. The child would have been lumped into a hole, would not be allowed into the graveyard and, apparently, would have ended up in limbo. I understand that the Catholic Church changed its position on that.
I commend the Minister. Politics is about leadership, and it is easy to lead when everyone agrees with you. It is easy to lead on an issue that is popular, but it is not easy to lead in a debate that is difficult. I take my hat off to the Minister, as he has allowed himself in his period in the Oireachtas to listen. He moved from what I understand was his original position, in which he was not necessarily convinced of the need to legislate for the X case, to one in which he has allowed himself to discuss the matter within his own party and the Oireachtas. He is the most convincing advocate for this referendum on what is a necessary change. What he is doing is historic and he will get absolute support from the Labour Party for it.
When someone like the Minister, in the articulate way that he does it and by showing the journey that he has gone through, is willing to take the flak and debate with those who disagree with him within his own party and across the Oireachtas, I have significant admiration for him as a politician and a man.
We are coming to the close of this Oireachtas debate. I look forward to it going out into the wider sphere and for the people to have their say. I hope that the referendum will take place on 25 May. People say that politicians cannot be trusted, but the wonderful thing about this country is that, every number of years, we get the chance to vote for people to enter the Oireachtas and make decisions. If abortion legislation is a reason for someone to vote or not vote for a candidate, then vote or do not vote. That is the beauty of living in a democracy. To deny people the chance to vote in this referendum is unjustified.
There is a considerable amount of hypocrisy around this matter. It is easier to run from the issue. If we were to hold a secret ballot of Members of the Oireachtas, those who have shown their cards to be on the pro-life side might actually vote a different way. However, that is not the case with the Minister. He has shown leadership, strength and courage, and I want to salute him.
Our Constitution is unique. It was the first constitution in human history to have been adopted by a popular vote of the people in a referendum held in 1937. It is all the more extraordinary a document because it was adopted by the Irish people at a time when democracies were crumbling in Germany, Italy and Spain. Here in Ireland, politicians were not taking power from the people. Rather, they were giving power to the people. The Irish people are the ones who decide what is in their Constitution.
While I support the holding of the referendum because it is the people's Constitution, I do not support the Government's legislative proposal, which would allow unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. Every citizen in the country will have to examine all the issues before us in this debate and ultimately make his or her own decision. Some people are in favour of some change, but many are not in favour of what the Government has proposed. The majority of people with whom I speak are concerned that the Government is going too far. People are being asked to sign up to an unknown in legislative terms. That will be a problem throughout the referendum. We have heard from many on both sides. In particular, the repeal side believes that the Government's proposal does not go far enough. If the referendum is passed, we will be signing up to the unknown because there is no certainty that the legislation being proposed is the legislation with which we will end up.
Do I believe that we ever have the right to take a life? Probably not, but there are times when compassion for women must be central, such as in the event of fatal foetal abnormality. In those circumstances, it is a matter for a woman to decide.
The committee heard conflicting evidence on various issues, including legislation. While it would be difficult to legislate for proposals, it would not be insurmountable. The Irish people should have been given that option. Ultimately, the Constitution belongs to them and it is for them to decide what it contains.
I will speak briefly on this section and support the passage of the Bill through both Houses. I did not have a chance to contribute yesterday because I was in London for meetings, as were Senator Richmond and others from the Oireachtas Brexit committee. We returned to Leinster House this morning. I am delighted to be able to voice my support for this Bill and to cast a vote to see it through the House. It is time for the Irish people to have their say on this issue and it is time for us to repeal the eighth amendment.
I followed last night's debate on my phone while I was sitting in London City Airport waiting to travel home, which I felt was fitting. I could not help but think of the thousands of women who had made the same journey in the years gone by, many of them alone, frightened out of their wits and unable to get help in their own country. The Minister gave a brilliant speech last night referencing how Ireland had failed these women. I agreed with him. I commend him on what he is doing. As my colleague stated, he is showing strong leadership. He did the same with the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. Doing that is not easy.
It is not good enough for us to keep our heads in the sand any longer. In reality, Ireland already has abortion services. They are just in the UK. We put women through unnecessary trauma, hurt and expense to access them. We are here today to say "No more". The eighth amendment has done untold harm since its insertion in 1983. It is time to repeal it. As Senator Ruane stated, it is time to trust women and show compassion for people in difficult situations.
Many Senators referred to the need for a kind and respectful debate. I echo that call. This is a very sensitive and emotive issue and people are passionate about it, but if we can have the conversation and reflect on the evidence in a compassionate manner, the support is there for a woman's right to choose. People want change. Consider the 12 year old child who has been raped and faces carrying the pregnancy to term, the many devastating cases repeatedly referenced in this Chamber of women who have tragically lost their lives, and their sisters, daughters, partners and loved ones.
I commend the Minister on his leadership, Senator Noone on her chairing of the committee and Senator Ruane on representing our group on this issue so admirably, effectively and fantastically. I support the recommendations and I thank all the women and men who have spoken up on this issue in the past 30 years. My voice will be with theirs calling for repeal of the eighth amendment when we go to the polls in May.
I had not intended to speak but, as Senator McDowell stated, this section pertains to the question of whether the eighth amendment's Article 40.3.3° should be removed. I am curious as to why we listened to Senator Leyden's contribution. I am not unduly worried about whether those who vote against the Bill are being democratic or undemocratic. That is their prerogative. Who do the people who oppose the Bill trust, though? They do not trust politicians, yet it is our job as elected legislators to legislate. It is what we do day in, day out.Do we trust the ordinary citizen who, as Senator Rónán Mullen said, elects public representatives or do we trust councillors who, in part, elect us to this House and who, in turn, are elected by the people? Last week we read reports on the undemocratic process used in the Russian election, but what we do in a cherished way is legislate. Last week when Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell took a public stance, she was excoriated in some quarters, but that was her choice. In a similar fashion, other Members have different viewpoints. Like Senator Paul Coghlan, I fully agree that there should be a free vote. However, the fundamental question we are being asked is whether we should retain the article in the Constitution and I cannot outline my response as eloquently as Senator Michael McDowell.
There were those who opposed the process and the work of the committee for their own legitimate reasons, but Dr. Rhona Mahony and Professor Fergal Malone, to name but two, gave clear evidence to the committee. The problem we have is that society evolves and moves at a quick pace in terms of technology, but, whether we like it, we are allowing back-street abortions to take place through the use of abortion pills. As Senator Ned O'Sullivan said last night, if my sister or daughter came to me, I would try to put in place all of the supports needed to avoid a termination of pregnancy. Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee is correct that there is huge compassion and humanity among those who favour repeal. In this Chamber last night and today mother spoke who are full of love, care and concern. As I said on Second Stage, I was a 2 lb premature baby. I value and cherish life and want to see the lives of the mother and the unborn child protected. None of us who favours repeal should be accused of lacking humanity, compassion or concern. That is not fair. They are cheap, headline grabbing comments.
Going back to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 and including this debate, we are faced with providing clarity, certainty and flexibility for medical professionals. That is what we are meant to be debating. If we listen to the testimony to the joint committee of those who grapple with this issue every day, there is a simple choice to be made. I hope we will have an informed debate because it is about everything we do and say as people. I also agree with Senator James Reilly that theology and so on come into it, but it is also about humanity, vulnerable women who do not have the support they need and cannot travel. They are not too many miles from us.
Some of us understand this issue is not as black and white as we thought it was - I spent five years in a seminary - but we live in the grey which affects everybody. That is why I made my decision based on the 2013 Act and what flowed from it. Senator Michael McDowell is 100% correct to pose the question about choice in respect of travel and information and the substantive issue. Clinicians need certainty and clarity. I overheard a conversation as I was eating a bowl of porridge for breakfast earlier in a coffee shop down the street. People were debating the eighth amendment. One friend asked the other, "Do we have to continue to wait until another woman dies before we do something again?" They were two strangers to me while reading the newspaper headlines on the Tánaiste's remarks.
We are elected parliamentarians and should trust each other. I respect Senator Diarmuid Wilson in having a completely different viewpoint, but we will still be friends at 5 p.m.
I hope he has changed the outer hen because they are a good collector's item and I will buy one fro, the Senator.
I appeal to those in the body politic to trust each other. We are not gombeens who come here on a journey. We are educated, intelligent individuals who are elected by the people to serve, debate and legislate. Let us not talk each other down about what we do day in, day out. We can disagree on the road to take in arriving at legislation or the substantive legislation, but that is our job and what we are elected to do. The gnáth-dhaoine pick up the peann luaidh every five years or whenever we put an issue to them in a referendum. I appeal to them to read the evidence given to the committee before they make a decision on whether to repeal. As a democrat, I will always accept the will of the people. I lost my seat, but I did not go on a sulk and blame anyone. I took it on the chin and accepted the will of the people. Members should trust each other in an informed way.
I thank the departmental officials for their work on this issue. They do not get credit at times, but I know from working with them in the past that they have come to this job with dedication and sincere intent. The debate must be informed, not about opinion. We tend to go off on tangents in referendum campaigns. We should not do so in this campaign because the substantive question is dealt with in this and the next section. It is whether we should allow the citizens of a republic to make up their minds and say "Yea" or "Nay".
I am conscious that the rigidity of certain views is not something that will ever change. Inside and outside the House there are those who believe the current law is too liberal. More than anything else, it is time we handed over this matter to the people to decide because it has been discussed and avoided, probably in equal measure, for the past 35 years.Let us get on with the referendum. It is clear from the figures last night that there is support for the Bill in the Seanad. Let us have the referendum for which many people have been waiting for so long. It never ceases to amaze and disappoint me that people take such a black and white view on this issue.
To pick up on a point made by Senator Paul Gavan which I had intended to make in any case, we have the Constitution that states it is illegal to have an abortion but that it is legal to travel to another country to access this form of medical care. What is wrong with us, as a nation, that we continue to stand over this hypocrisy? As a people, we have hypocrisy at our core because we have been willing to stand over this position. The same applies to us, as legislators elected to this House to put policies in place that will protect people, because we, too, have been willing to stand over this position for so long. It is 35 years since the eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution and we continue to stand over an English solution to an Irish problem.
As a legislator, I have a duty of care to the women of Ireland to do something about this matter, as does the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, who has shown amazing leadership on it. We all have a duty of care. Abortion is happening every day in Ireland in the privacy of bedrooms and God knows what circumstances. Granted, the abortion pill is a relatively safe method of dealing with the matter. However, it is simply not a satisfactory policy to allow women to be unsupported by their general practitioners and medics in whatever guise in such circumstances. That is not to speak about the women who, every day, travel out of Dublin Airport or take a ferry, depending on their financial circumstances or time constraints, to the United Kingdom and, in increasing numbers, the Netherlands and other countries to access care that we do not allow them to access in this country. That is not a madly liberal view to have. It is common sense that this country should at long last recognise that women need more compassion. Those who do not want a scintilla of reform in this area believe what I am proposing is extremely liberal. What I want to know is what do these legislators propose we do. Should we continue to ignore and export this problem? Should we start to invoke our laws and criminalise women?
Senator Michael McDowell's points about the abortion pill were well made. This would not happen in any other area of medicine because we would seek to stamp it out. We have rigid policies in place to stamp it out where it does happen. However, we cannot do so in this case because it would cause further harm. Abortion pills had an instrumental and highly significant role in the deliberations of the joint committee. Speaking for myself, I was unaware of the extent of their use. Like my colleague, Senator Jerry Buttimer, I sincerely hope the information provided for the joint committee will be disseminated to members of the public in order that they can arrive at a full understanding, notwithstanding the cloud of emotive misinformation, that the reality is finally being addressed by policy makers. We have to face up to the fact that Irish women are in this position every day and that we need to fundamentally trust them and their doctors. Control has been at the heart of this issue until now and women need to get back some control over their health care. The men and women of Ireland, when it comes to a vote in May, will have an opportunity to show the compassion women deserve.
It is important to be clear on another matter and I am sure the Minister will make the same point. Senator Mark Daly and other speakers made a point about the legislation. The legislation on which the Minister and his officials have worked so hard in recent weeks is based on a cross-party committee's report. Members spent hours in the bowels of this building hearing facts and evidence. Despite what others would like people to believe, the proposed legislation is not Government legislation as such but cross-party legislation that is supported by the leaders of every party in the Oireachtas.
I will finish on the following point because I am aware that I am making another Second Stage speech.
Our medics are world class. We have medics who work in different parts of the world where their quality is valued. Medics are pleading with us, as legislators and policy makers, to provide certainty and clarity in this area. We need to provide that clarity and certainty for them. Above all, we need to show compassion for women. That is what this is about. Let us have the referendum and the Minister announce a date for it in order that people can get organised for it today.
I wish to respond to a couple of the points raised as Committee Stage draws to a close. Many of those who argued against the Bill called for clarity. I appeal to them to be clear on what their proposal entails. We heard, for example, a suggestion that regulations could be made to deal with hard cases. If we retain Article 40.3.3°, regulations will not be introduced to deal with many hard cases because it will remain constitutionally prohibited to do so. Senator Michael McDowell eloquently cited the possibility that the Director of Public Prosecutions could show mercy. Leaving aside that women need rights, rather than charity, and that the mother and baby homes were considered mercy in their time, this is not at the discretion of the policing service in many cases. If we think about the difficult cases, including cases of child abuse and rape, if we retain Article 40.3.3°, nothing can be done to assist women, girls or children in such circumstances. Furthermore, the existing provision may well prove a deterrent to pregnant women and girls who have experienced rape or suffered child abuse because the very fact of placing themselves in the legal sphere could potentially bring them under threat of criminality. We can speak about cases of fatal foetal abnormality and real, concrete cases of women who face phenomenal and catastrophic health consequences, including permanent disability, blindness which has been discussed, a risk of brain haemorrhage and complications in their cancer treatment. Doctors and medics have made it clear that such cases cannot currently be addressed.If we vote to retain Article 40.3.3° and vote to say we should not have a referendum on it, and Members can choose to do so, I ask them to be honest. I ask them, please, not to have conversations with people and talk about hard cases and how in certain circumstances they would feel differently, because they will have sacrificed any possibility of engaging with those situations.
What we have seen in the committee and in what is put forward by the legislation is those who are willing to grapple and engage with the realities. To be very clear, when we again talk about clarity, caution, concerns and reassurance, what we will vote on is not the legislation. We will vote on the possibility of having a way to act in these circumstances and situations. It is important to note, however, that the proposals put forward through the Oireachtas have been carefully moderated and considered. The proposals put forward by the Citizens' Assembly were moderated by the committee. More conservative proposals were put forward by the committee than by the Citizens' Assembly. The proposals put forward in the draft legislation by the Minister are in fact more constrained and more limited again than the proposals put forward by the committee. The political body, elected by the people, responsible and answering to the people, has had a say in the nuance of this legislation. It has been reflected and people have stepped up to their responsibility, recognising that since women and doctors are making hard decisions, we as legislators need to make hard, careful and considered decisions.
Many measures that have been introduced in the legislation by the Government indicate a very high degree of caution and address the concerns that have been raised by the other side. Examples include the introduction of viability testing and specific protections for a viable foetus, the particular constraints in terms of health issues, and the fact that the committee disagreed with the Citizens' Assembly and explicitly excluded health grounds alone in terms of access to terminations. I may not like some of those decisions, but I respect them and recognise that there is a mandate for them and that they have moved through these Houses in that way. That is the real work of putting things forward.
If some Members do not like the proposal for 12 weeks, despite the clear evidence that has been put forward about how it engages with the issue of medical abortion and tablets, how it deals with the important issue of addressing situations of rape - we have seen again how hard it is to prove rape in Ireland - abuse or incest, and despite the fact that it has been shown to lower the number of terminations in other countries, then those Members are free to put forward their own legislative proposals. They can go to the people and ask them to vote for them and elect them to put forward their legislative proposals, because that is the proper process. It is very disingenuous of those to have been saying this is the last chance, this is the only protection, and this is the only measure. They, as legislators, are in a position to put forward more conservative proposals and to test the public's will on that if they so wish. That is their prerogative.
Not only is there legislative space to do these other things that have been discussed, to have more nuanced or detailed proposals, if that is what some Senators claim that they want, there is another thing that they can do which would show that the repeal of the eighth amendment would not be the end of any discussion or protection. They can also talk to women. That is an option that will remain open to them. They can have conversations with women. They can talk about how they can better support women in their choices, how they can give them more options, and how can they make sure there are better lone parent supports. As I have said before, there has often been an absence in this House when we have debated those issues of child care and support for lone parents or for those with a disability. Those Senators should be willing and show that they are willing to do the work in conversation with women around their options and choices. That is an option that remains to them, and the Constitution is neither the only nor even the most appropriate way to communicate with women on the decisions they have to make.
We have heard that a vote in favour of this Bill to repeal the eighth amendment is a vote for the unknown. I respectfully suggest that a vote to retain the eighth amendment, or Article 40.3.3°, is a vote for the unknown, the conveniently unknown, where we do not have to know about what is happening to women, where we silence them, and where we ensure that we are not given inconvenient information about the hard and difficult circumstances people face. One of the most striking posters I saw on a march relating to this issue was a young woman who had a sign that read, "My silence, your comfort." If we retain Article 40.3.3°, we tell women to be quiet, that we do not want to hear about these circumstances anymore, and that they are potentially criminals, and we silence them and go right back into the invisibility, the silence and the unknown which we have relied on as a country for far too many decades.
Yes, and the Acting Chairman has taken the right decision. It has been quite illuminating, the debate has been of the highest standard, and there have been some excellent speeches, not least the one made by the preceding speaker, Senator Higgins. The contribution by Senator McDowell is possibly the best speech I have heard in this House in my time here. It was a privilege to listen to it. I hope the Senator will be able to disseminate that speech during the course of the subsequent debate when this matter goes to the people. It would have a very large bearing on people's opinions.
I will be brief but I will make a kind of a half Second Stage speech because there were many things I wanted to say yesterday. I had ten minutes and I used them up.
No. The eighth amendment was inserted into the Constitution in 1983. That was a different time, a different world and a different Ireland. Just ten years prior to that, in 1973, the then coalition Government moved a proposal called the constitutional right to privacy Bill, or something like that, which was to give a tiny modicum of - the least - access to contraception to married couples. It was the first ever move to take the law and the bishops out of our bedrooms. It was defeated because it was opposed by the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, and a senior Cabinet Member, Dick Burke. How courageous then, on reflection, was the great Jack Lynch, if I can call him that, because I believe he was great? Jack Lynch moved the amendment to take away the special privileges and position of the Catholic Church in the Constitution and it was carried well. On reflection, was that not great? I think it was Charlie Haughey who finally got some form of contraception legalised. I think it was the famous Irish solution to an Irish problem.
It was a step forward. One could avail of contraception if one was married and had a doctor's prescription. I am just putting that out there to show the Ireland that gave rise to the eighth amendment. I was alive then, I voted then, and to be honest, I cannot remember how I voted. I suspect that I voted against it but I cannot be certain. That was foisted on the people by a strong, tenacious core group who wanted to get that in and use their leverage, as they were entitled to, in the course of a general election. They had the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil competing with each other to lick up to them, and that is how it appeared.
Many people voted for it because it sounded reasonably good. It has a nice ring to it: "in so far as it is practicable", and all that. I can see why people bought into it. However, when it comes to closer analysis, we have just heard a forensic, coherent argument from Senator McDowell particularly in which he went to the nub of it as to how people can say that a recently implanted ovum is a person in the very same way as a 20 year old or a 40 year old, or in the very same way is equal to its mother.The point I am trying to make is that the world has changed. People are changing. Those under the age of 53 have never been given an opportunity to have a say on this fundamental matter, which is the major social and health issue of our time. It is high time we afforded such an opportunity to them. Senators should not forget that this is what we are here to talk about. The question before the House is, "That section 1 stand part of the Bill", and I certainly hope it will stand. There will be lots of time to debate this between now and 25 May. I am not anticipating the date, but the newspapers are telling us that everyone will have an opportunity to express their views on the eighth amendment on 25 May.
Quite simply, the eighth amendment is not fit for purpose, as subsequent referendums have shown, and it needs to be taken out. If we have to tinker with it, go around it, work through it and turn it upside down for the rest of our lives, the Constitution will never be at peace. This is an opportunity to take out what should never have been put in in the first place. The people will decide.
That is the wonderful thing about a republic and a democracy. I do not know what the people will choose to do. I believe I am the only one of the eight Oireachtas Members from County Kerry who is voting for this Bill-----
I assure the House that I have detected a very significant change in the feedback I have been getting. When I showed my hand at the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, I got some horror mail and some obnoxious stuff was said on Facebook and Twitter.
I was told I was a "baby murderer". My picture was put up with a picture of the Black and Tans with a caption asking what the difference is. I am not boasting and I never do, but the irony of it is that I have a chestful of War of Independence medals that I inherited from my granduncles. I know for a fact that the antecedents of some of the people who put this stuff on Facebook made tea for the Black and Tans. That is true. A bit of humour is no harm.
This is a difficult issue. I respect everyone's point of view. It has been a very reasoned debate so far. I pray and hope that continues out into the country. I believe I am on the right side of the debate. I believe those of us who intend to vote "Yes" are on the right side of history, and that is where I would prefer to be.
This is my first time to speak on this issue. As those who know me will be aware, I have been very conflicted on this issue for an awful long time. I was a councillor in Cork three or four years ago when this issue was considered by a previous committee, which was chaired by Senator Buttimer. I listened to almost every word spoken during the committee's meetings. Last year, I spent most Tuesdays in my office watching the witnesses come before the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. This has been a very informative debate. I compliment the Members of this House for being so respectful to one another. I think that has to happen. In recent weeks, I spoke to my mother about the 1983 debate and how vicious and inappropriate it was. I hope we will not go back to the 1983 standard of debate. I hope we have moved on as a society. My colleague from County Kerry has spoken about vicious Facebook posts. I really hope that does not happen. That kind of campaigning does nothing for nobody.
I have listened to many of the contributions that have been made by Senators on both sides of the debate. I respect everyone's views in so many ways. People's views on this issue of conscience are informed by where they have been and what they have seen in life. Personally, the older I get, the more conservative I am getting. Ten years ago, I would not have flinched on this issue. Ten years on, I have four kids. I have gone through processes and I have seen things. I have been involved in life. I have seen scans that I did not think were going to happen, but did happen. Life has changed me. That is why I am so conflicted by this debate.
I voted for the referendum last night because I believe it should happen. I believe the people need to have a say on this matter. I was seven years of age in 1983, which was the last time the people had a say on it. I have a brother and a sister who were not even born when that happened. They deserve to have a say on this. Their views differ from mine, but they deserve to have a say. I think the people need to come forward to lead this debate. I am looking forward to a respectful debate in the coming weeks and months, regardless of what comes from it. The Minister is going to publish the legislation prior to the referendum. Who am I to stand against what the people vote for in the referendum? I might not agree with what they have voted for, but I am sitting here as a Senator and not as a citizen. As a legislator, I will have to support what the people have said.
My personal view is that I have a deep issue with the 12-week proposal. We went in for a scan at six and a half or seven weeks expecting bad news, but instead we got the unbelievable news that we were expecting twins. That has stayed with me, changed me and made me a different person. It has made me sit up at night to think about this vote and about what I would say tonight. I was humming and hawing on whether I would contribute to this debate before I realised I needed to get it out there, to talk and to tell the Seanad what my view is. My clear view is that the people need to decide. It has to be a respectful debate. I will legislate for whatever the people decide. When I cast my vote in the referendum, I might not vote in the same way as the Minister, Deputy Harris. When I am voting in this Chamber, I will do what the people want. That is my view on this issue. I believe the people have due power and due say over the Constitution.
I have a lot to say on this subject, but I will be brief. There are people of conviction in this House today. They are good people. They are people I work with and respect. It is clear from listening to the debate over recent times that these people of conviction oppose abortion for any woman in any circumstances, anywhere and anytime. I fundamentally disagree with that. My life has taught me that. During a debate in this House in January, I referred to Nuala Ó Faoláin's statement that abortion is not in anybody's utopia. I do not speak for abortion as somebody who thinks it is a wonderful thing for somebody to have to try to decide to do because it really is not. It is one of the toughest decisions that any woman has to make. I believe we should be able to make such a decision. We should be trusted to do so.
Senator McDowell mentioned the case of a young woman in the North who bought and took abortion medication and was reported to the PSNI by her flatmates. They might be considered people of conviction, but in line with my worldview I would call them extremists. They were probably good people and were acting in good faith. The woman was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for one year, in Belfast Crown Court. We have heard of another unfortunate decision made in Belfast Crown Court today. The case to which Senator McDowell referred did not happen in the dark days of the 1980s - it happened in 2016, which was just two years ago. Would people of such extreme conviction go further if they were emboldened by an unthinkable "No" vote in May? Would people who are against abortion for any woman, anywhere in the world and for any reason, report women in the South who buy abortion pills online and have them sentenced and sent to jail? As Senator McDowell has said, that would be the logic and the law.Would they again start pushing for a reversal of the right to travel and information, which, again, put a shot across the eighth amendment's bow, as Senator McDowell noted? Would they start pushing for random pregnancy testing of women of child-bearing age at ports and airports? That is the logic of those who would have us keep the eighth amendment. Let us not be in any doubt about that. Keeping the eighth amendment is not mainstream and is not moderate. It is extreme, harsh and out of kilter with real women's lives. Therefore, I am absolutely in favour of changing this very harsh measure in place in our country. It is judgmental, controlling, unkind and very dangerous. We can move to a kinder, better and more compassionate place and I hope we do.
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is appropriate that we would acknowledge the very careful consideration he has given in his preparatory work for what is probably the biggest social question we will face for a generation. I said last night and I reiterate today that I believe the referendum should happen because the ultimate democracy is the Irish people through a referendum. I fundamentally believe that the Constitution is the wrong place to deal with a health issue such as abortion. We are the only country in the world that has an amendment like this enshrined in its Constitution. No conservative country has it, no liberal country has it, no mature country has it, no modern country has it and no compassionate country has it. No country that has a regard for women would have such a thing in its constitution. I do not think it is right and fair and I do not think it should be allowed. I appeal to the Irish people to go out on 25 May or whenever it is and vote to take this out of the Constitution.
People talk about 12 weeks. To be fair to the committee, which was charged with coming up with recommendations on this, it looked very carefully at the various options. The problem with 12 weeks is quite simple. People can now import medication to have an abortion. Until the Internet became fashionable, we exported the problem. Not alone are we exporting it, we are also importing it. I appeal to people to let this referendum go ahead, pass this Bill today in the Seanad and then go out and campaign. As I said yesterday, I respect people on both sides who have deeply held views and who are showing leadership on this. The side I am supporting wants to remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution in the first instance because that is a question. It is not about 12 weeks, nine weeks or any number of weeks. It is a very simple proposition. Do we believe having an amendment in the Constitution about abortion is right or wrong? That is the simple question citizens and the people watching this today must ask themselves. I have no doubt that the legislation will be debated with the same compassion, empathy and consideration in both Houses post-referendum if the people decide to remove the eighth amendment. If the people decide not to remove it, the situation in this country will continue as is. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act will be the fall-back position. There will be no legislation so if somebody is raped and wants to have an abortion, she will either have to import the medication through the Internet or travel to England for an abortion. If people find that they are carrying a child with fatal foetal abnormalities, the same will apply. The situation will not change. This question will not be visited again for 15 to 20 years at minimum so the Irish people must ask themselves very serious question. It is not about 12 weeks, nine weeks or anything else. The question is simple. It is whether we believe dealing with this serious health issue should be in the Constitution. Is it appropriate or not? It is very important that during the course of the debate, we keep the lines clear in terms of what the message is.
Assuming the Bill is passed and we have a referendum, a referendum commission needs to be set up. However, the Government will probably have to give it a further brief in terms of dealing with social media. Senator Ned O'Sullivan spoke earlier about some of the stuff about him that went up on social media. This needs to be regulated. I do not know how we can do it or if there is any way of doing it but I believe we must try to manage social media. We will not have the type of long-term safeguards in place that we would like to have because that is a much bigger discussion but for the specific time bubble of the referendum between now and 25 May, there must be some sort of management and control of social media. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on Committee Stage.
The debate has been very conciliatory and informed. I fully respect every opinion that has been expressed here from both sides of this very sensitive argument. It is important that we go forward from here respecting each other's views and opinions and not castigating those who may wish to retain the eighth amendment as being somehow antiquated or old because nothing could be further from the truth. In my humble opinion, the Constitution has stood this country well since 1937 and it has given rights to the people such as the right to personal liberty, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to privacy and the right to life. Which of those rights is more important than the other? Would the right to life be less important than the right to privacy? Is the right to life less important than the right to freedom of expression? Is the right to life less important than the right to freedom of assembly? In my humble opinion the answer is "No" and, therefore, I stand to retain the eighth amendment and the protection of the right to life. It is as simple as that. I am not coming from any religious background trying to argue something on behalf of any organisation outside these Houses. I am coming here with my own opinion firmly of the view that we should retain that very unique protection of human life whether it is born or unborn. For me, there is no difference because we were all there at one stage of our human existence whether we were the size of a finger nail or thumb, moving our eyelid in the womb or otherwise because to argue otherwise would be to say that a person who is 6 ft has more rights than someone who is 3 ft 5 in. We cannot argue on the size of someone's being. We cannot say that a Kenyan athlete is faster than an American athlete because he is smaller. We cannot argue about human life on that basis. Some would have us believe that we can. I do not subscribe to that.
The committee's recommendations are to relinquish the right to life in the Constitution and replace it with something else.