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Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 1

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams]   In all of this we need to remember that real women are affected by this grey area in Irish law. These are not letters in an alphabet or statistics. One of these is Ms C, who brought Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights. The court found that her constitutional rights had been violated. Ms C had cancer for which she had been treated with chemotherapy for three years. She had wanted children but her doctor had advised her that a foetus could be damaged by the ongoing chemotherapy. She became pregnant at a time when the cancer was in remission. She was unable to get clear advice from her GP as to the effect the pregnancy would have on her life or health or about the effect any further medical treatment would have on her baby. She was reduced to consulting the Internet and eventually decided to travel to England for an abortion. It is simply unacceptable in this day and age that a pregnant woman, suffering from a life threatening illness like cancer, is left in a medical and legal grey area where she has to surf the net to make these decisions. One can only imagine the trauma and stress this citizen suffered. It is wrong and we, as legislators, can and should do something about it.

  The court in Strasbourg held that there was no accessible and effective procedure to enable this citizen to establish whether she qualified for a lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with Irish law. The European Court found that the failure of successive Governments to legislate on this issue violated this woman’s rights. No more women should be left in these grey areas where their lives are at stake. Any legislation being brought forward by the Government, in line with the X case, would be very restrictive. The expert report points to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case which said that a termination of pregnancy was permissible if it was established as a matter of probability that “There is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother; and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy”. These are the tests to be applied if a termination is to be lawful.

  The X case ruling and any legislation arising from it do not comprise a formula for a liberal abortion regime. Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. We are talking about a right to a termination in very limited circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk and where this is the only way to save that life. The expert report outlines a number of options for Government on how best to implement the judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case and to bring legal clarity for pregnant women and medical professionals. Sinn Féin favours the option of legislation plus regulations as being the most appropriate.

  In relation to the other range of options put forward, the Government needs to strike the right balance between the need for speedy interventions where a woman's life is at risk and ensuring the highest possible standards. A careful balance will have to be struck between making legislation too prescriptive and leaving too much to be dealt with by regulation. There is also a requirement to deal with what the report describes as the chilling effect of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This is a 150 year old English Victorian statute. The 1861 Act leaves both women and doctors open to criminal prosecution. It fails to provide any protections for the right to life of a woman whose life is at risk due to her pregnancy. The expert report also sets out a number of options for making clinical decisions on whether a woman’s life is at risk. These options need to be considered to ensure the correct balance is struck between ensuring the required safeguards are in place and making allowance for speedy action in the case of emergencies.

  The people spoke in two referendums in 1992 and 2002 and firmly placed responsibility on the Oireachtas to deal with this issue by means of legislation. In his remarks to the Dáil last April, the Minister for Health acknowledged that no action had been taken by six successive Governments and he did not want this Government to be the seventh. The Government needs to move beyond rhetoric. Sinn Féin has made its position absolutely clear, having debated it as recently as at our Ard-Fheis in May. We believe all possible means of education and support should be put in place in order that the difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy can be avoided by as many women as possible. We are against any attempt to criminalise or to be judgmental of women who have had abortions. No woman wants to be in such a position. The women like Savita, Ms C or, 20 years ago, Ms X is could have been my mother, wife, sister, aunt or any of my women friends. It is time for legislation to be enacted that will protect the rights of these women, as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992.

  The publication of this report is a vital step along this road, but it cannot be allowed to gather dust as so many other reports did down the years. One of the striking things about the expert report is the litany of bureaucratic delays in the 20 years since the X case. The people in 1992 rejected a referendum which would have rolled back the X case and excluded suicide as a ground for a lawful abortion. There was the constitutional review group report in 1996 which recommended legislation. Nothing was done. A Cabinet committee was set up to draft a Green Paper on abortion which proposed seven options and was published in 1999. It received 10,000 submissions. The Green Paper was referred to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which reported, giving three options. This report was then forwarded to another ministerial sub-committee from which nothing emerged.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It did. There was legislation and a referendum.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams There followed a further referendum in 2002 which again tried to roll back the X case judgment-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is not correct.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams -----and was again defeated. We have had 20 years of delay after delay, of reports and referendums and six Governments all dodging their responsibilities.

I earnestly hope this will not be the seventh Government to dodge this issue. This means facing up to the reality highlighted by pregnant women who are confronted with life-threatening illnesses and have to cope with awful dilemmas. The expert report sets out the options for the Government. It is clear from the report and the European Court decision that Ireland violates the rights of its women citizens and residents by failing to provide an accessible and effective procedure to enable them to establish whether they qualify for a lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with Irish law. The decision by the European Court has made clear there is an onus on the State to legislate under the terms of the 1937 Constitution and the decision in the X case.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly With the agreement of the House I will share my time with Deputy Joan Collins.

We have discussed this issue several times in the past number of weeks and I think the Minister and the Government are trying to present it as a positive that we will have 20 hours of discussion on this topic in the next number of weeks. The reality is that we have had 20 years of waiting for successive Governments to legislate for a woman's legal and constitutional right to an abortion in Ireland where her life is in danger, including from a risk of suicide.

Other Deputies have said it is a scandal that this issue has been ignored for so long, which it is, but I see our discussion in the next number of weeks as a further delaying tactic. Every opinion poll and survey and the outpouring of emotion and discussion in the past number of weeks show that people in Ireland support the provision of lawful abortion where a woman's life is in danger, as they have done in successive referendums. Members of the Government are merely saying they will let us know before Christmas what they are going to do about it, and not that they are actually going to do anything. They will simply tell us what they will do. That is not good enough.

This is not rocket science. It is pretty straightforward. We now have the findings of the fourth expert group and - surprise, surprise - they are not dramatically different from the findings of the many other expert groups, because the reality is quite straightforward.

Comparing the actions of the Minister with the reaction of the British Government to the Leveson inquiry tells an interesting tale. The British Government launched an investigation into cultural practices and the ethics of the press. The inquiry presented a 2,000 page report which was published immediately and the Government made a statement on it within hours.

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