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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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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy Zoom on Seamus Healy] The amendment was passed and is part of the Constitution as Article 40.3.3o. Some ten years later, in the Supreme Court case known as the X case, the court found a termination is lawful if, as a matter of probability, a woman faces a real and substantial risk to her life, including through suicide. The decision of the Supreme Court has been dealt with by the people on two occasions, in referendums in 1992 and 2002. The finding of the Supreme Court was endorsed by the public on both occasions.

  The A, B and C v. Ireland case was heard in the European Court of Human Rights in 2010. That, and recent developments, led to the issue arising. The late Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy, in the Supreme Court case of 1992, said the delay was not just unfortunate but inexcusable. How much more inexcusable is it not to have dealt with the issue 20 years later? There are no further excuses for delay. The courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, dealt with the issue and the people have spoken on it on two occasions. Now we have the expert report. Six successive governments have failed to deal with it and this Oireachtas must deal with the issue.

  I welcome the report, which is thorough and detailed on a sensitive issue. I compliment Mr. Justice Sean Ryan and the members of the expert group. It is a difficult area and the report refers to this where it states: "The reasons are not hard to understand. Intense ethical, religious, social, political and intimate personal issues coincide." There are opposing views but there is an absolute and significant majority in the middle ground in favour of legislating for the X case based on the finding of the Supreme Court. The terms of reference of the report are specific and deal with the A, B and C v. Ireland case with the X case in the background. Many people argue that other issues should have been included in the terms of reference, particularly in respect of fatal foetal abnormality and pregnancies arising from rape or incest. The report lists various options and comes down in favour of legislation and regulations.

  With regard to legislation, the reports states: "The issue of how to provide for the X case has been considered by other bodies, who have all concluded that legislation ... is the most appropriate way in which to regulate access to lawful abortion in Ireland." The report refers to the advantages of the legislation and regulations option being that it fulfils the requirements of the judgment, provides for the appropriate checks and balances between the powers of the Legislature and the Executive and would be amenable to changes that may arise from clinical practice and scientific advances. It also refers to a range of other advantages to that option. It has been recommended in previous reports. It is past the time when the Oireachtas should deal with the issue and I hope legislation will be prepared and brought before us in the very near future.

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway I propose to share time with Deputy Ann Phelan. This afternoon, I was very pleased to be able to attend the address by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her visit to Dublin when she spoke about human rights. She spoke very clearly about recognising the need for the human rights of women to be vindicated all over the world. It was a timely speech considering what we are discussing.

Some speakers have picked up on the following sentiment. When we are talking about women and their bodies and the right to medical treatment when they need it, in this country we are often outraged about how women are treated in other countries. The Taliban refuse to let women work, yet, in the 1970s in Ireland, a woman who got married no longer had the right to work. For years, women had to try to get access to contraception so they could plan their families and space children apart. This is something developing countries are getting right with their young women because they understand that if you educate women and allow them to space their children apart, they are in a much better position to provide for them. However, in this country, we grappled with these issues in the not too distant past. In this spirit, I am not shocked it has taken us this long to deal with the issue under consideration.

Another reason is the lack of female legislators in the country. As legislators, we have acted as cowards over the past 20 years. We made extremely difficult circumstances unbearable for women. We colluded with our cowardice to make this country an inhumane place for women. In the spirit of the speech made by Hillary Clinton, we should hang our heads in shame. Let us not forget that, often, we look far away to those whose human rights are not being vindicated. We jump up and down about them, yet we have cases of human rights not being vindicated for half of the population. What did we do? Nothing. As part of this Government, I am proud the Labour Party has campaigned on the issue and has often been targeted by parties for political gain. We took a stance on the issue and continue to do so.

I thank the expert group for its clear report. Paragraph 7.4.3 of the report alludes to legislation and regulation. In the game of politics, we also talk about advantages and disadvantages. Considering what the expert group has written, the only option for legislators is to provide the primary legislation that will allow for regulations. The expert group has helpfully drawn up the advantages and disadvantages of this approach and includes only one disadvantage, which is that it may take a long time to draft legislation. This is not an insurmountable barrier. As legislators, we must act to ensure and vindicate the rights of women.

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