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

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 3

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Thomas P. Broughan): Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and Deputy Seamus Healy are sharing the allocation of 15 minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett It is very depressing that we are debating this issue 20 years after the terrible circumstances of the X case and have done nothing in the interim. Successive governments have not had the courage to deal with the issue after the tragic circumstances following the rape of a young teenager. The State attempted to prevent her from travelling abroad to have an abortion. The Supreme Court ruled that where there was a threat to the life of a woman, she had the right to an abortion. That view has been confirmed in referenda and attempts to limit that right as set out in the X case judgment have been rejected on two occasions by the people. The opinion polls in the past week or two confirm that the majority believe at the very least that where there is a threat to the life of a woman, she has the right to have an abortion. In spite of the clear legal position and a clearly expressed view on the part of the majority in the country, politicians have still failed to do anything about it. I believe the decision of this House to vote down on two occasions an attempt to bring forward a Bill that would allow for that legislation to be passed is more of the same cowardice, delaying tactics, refusal to respect the law and the wishes of the people and crucially the rights of women.

It has taken successive tragedies, the most recent being the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar who died begging for a termination, which she was denied. The obstetricians and gynaecologists, people who know more than the public about these matters, say there is a legal problem which has impeded medical practitioners from being sure they have the legal right to intervene to save a woman's life because of the failure of politicians to legislate on the issue. It is shameful that we have failed to do it. We have had successive admonitions by the Supreme Court. The now deceased Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy, the European Court of Human Rights and in March of this year the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have all told us that we must act and yet we have failed to do so.

As far as I am concerned this report adds nothing at all. It tells us what we knew - we need legislation. It gives us options - legislation, legislation, or legislation. We need legislation. We needed it 20 years ago. We must get on with the work and provide the legislation that we should have had 20 years ago. It is particularly depressing that this failure has resulted in people dragging up almost medieval arguments.

People say this is a sensitive and divisive issue. It is at one level. It is very sensitive, when one sees tragic circumstances such as the X case, the C case and the case of Ms Savita Halappanavar. Everybody is entitled to his view, when it comes to his life, his freedom and the right to decide what to do with his own body. All of the problems arise from the fact that people seem to think they have the right to decide what other people do with their lives and with their bodies, specifically they think they have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies, with their lives with their health. We get into arguments that I do not believe we should be having about when a threat to one's health becomes a threat to the life of the individual. There is no conclusive answer and no matter how many doctors sit down to tease out the law, one will not get the right answer.

In life as opposed to the law there is no distinction between health and life. One can die from the flu. Will a person definitely die from the flu? No, but millions die from it every year. One cannot draw a distinction and we should not attempt to do so. We are in a legal limbo as a result of the X case and we must draw this distinction and in so far as we are tied by the Constitution we must say if there is a possibility that a woman might die, she must have that right. We can push that far within the constitutional framework and we should do so. If we do not we are playing with the lives and bodies of women. We must push it as far as we can go in order to safeguard the rights of women.

No man can have somebody else intervene in his medical treatment. If a man goes to the doctor, the doctor identifies his condition and sets out how it should be treated. The man can then make a decision on the treatment. With women, it is different. That must end. A woman's welfare and life must be safeguarded. One cannot have a situation where other people make these distinctions and because of this we must repeal the eight amendment to the Constitution. At the minimum, we must repeal the law dating from the 19th century that criminalises abortion. We have known this for 20 years and it is confirmed in the report of the expert group. Can we make progress on it? We must repeal the eight amendment so that the only people who can make these decisions in any sort of fair way that truly respects the welfare and autonomy of the individual and safeguards the life of the woman is women. That is the right we must uphold and vindicate.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Thomas P. Broughan): Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Deputy Healy has six and a half minutes.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report of the expert group. It is both a difficult and sensitive issue, with which we must deal with compassion and understanding. The issue must be dealt with urgently. We simply cannot continue to put women's lives at risk. We cannot have a situation where the medical profession is unclear as to the legal position of the professionals on this issue. This Government must take its responsibilities seriously and in my view legislate urgently on this matter.

We have been discussing this issue for 30 years, dating from the referendum on the right to life of the unborn.

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