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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe Costello: Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello] It is essential that we, in this House, address in depth the findings of that report and that we give political direction as to how to proceed.

We have reached a very sad situation where the lives of women were at risk down along the line. We have seen what has happened most recently with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. We will not know the full outcome until we receive the final report from the HSE and HIQA. Certainly a strong case has been presented that based on the words of her husband, Savita Halappanavar had been seeking a termination and that no termination was permitted. She had requested it on several occasions but was refused because there was still a foetal heartbeat. The termination only took place after the heartbeat had ceased. In the course of the contents of the womb being removed subsequently, she died, having contracted e-coli and septicaemia.

It was a terrible tragedy that reminds us of the tragedy of the X case 20 years ago where a girl of 14 was abused for two years and then raped. A case was taken in the High Court, which decided that she should not be allowed to travel for an abortion. That decision was overturned in the Supreme Court, which led to further referenda. The outcome of the three referenda that took place was conclusive in the minds of the people. Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution states: "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right." It established, as a right, the right to life of the mother and the right to life of the unborn also. The Supreme Court then interpreted that very carefully in the context of circumstances where there was a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother, which could only be removed by terminating the pregnancy.

Clearly the result of the referendum on which the people voted was that the State should introduce laws that would vindicate that right. It states in a straightforward manner: "guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right." Once the right was spelled out, it should have been compulsory on the State to introduce those laws, but that has not taken place over a very considerable period of time. It has not been addressed by this House or by any Government until now. It is a significant failing of this House not to address the matter of citizens having a right that was vindicated in the Constitution. We can no longer put it on the long finger.

When the matter was reviewed and attempts were made to limit it further by leaving suicide out of the equation, two further referenda enhanced the right by specifying the right to travel across the board and not for any particular purpose, but the right to travel to have a termination of a pregnancy in another country was the context in which it was debated. That is now part and parcel of Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. That was supplemented by a further right to information, including information to a pregnant woman that could be used to facilitate the termination of a pregnancy. There was no provision for pregnancy termination in this country, but the right to information is written into the Constitution.

When Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution is read in its entirety, it cries out to the Legislature to introduce legislation to act on the right ensconced in the Constitution. It is telling us that the only meaningful option and the only option, as envisaged in the Constitution, is legislation because it states that the State shall guarantee "in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right". It is written in the Constitution.

There are four options before us in the expert report and they are addressed very carefully. They are that we could have regulation, guidelines, primary legislation, or primary legislation and regulation. It does not make sense to have guidelines unless they are statutory guidelines, which automatically means legislation. Likewise, it is not possible to have meaningful regulation unless it is statutory regulation. So there is no option other than having primary legislation or primary legislation plus regulation. The constitutional provision is crying out for us to introduce legislation. It would seem it is preferable to introduce primary legislation plus regulation which can deal with changing medical circumstances as medical and scientific developments in the area move on.

I state categorically that as far as I am concerned there is no other choice. We in this House have no choice but to be true to the Constitution, which means that we must legislate on the matter. The sooner we do so the better. The function of the committee, to which we should refer this matter after we finish our deliberations, should be to decide how to frame and formulate the best possible legislation to allow the right ensconced in the Constitution to be vindicated as proposed in Article 40.3.3°.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. Few subjects in Irish public discourse are as sensitive as the subject of abortion, which is the focus of the report of the expert group. Views are polarised on both sides and no solution will ever be found that will satisfy the demand of these polar opposites. However, it is worth noting that the tone of the current debate is much more reasoned than the previous debates on the topic. This debate has been led by those in the centre as opposed to the extreme views held on either side, which is most welcome, as it will allow the important issues to be teased out in a reasoned manner.

At the outset, I state that I have no particular medical or legal expertise or background. As a Member of the Dáil and a representative for Galway East I believe it is important that we all have an opportunity to explain our views on the matter. I would always have considered myself to be pro-life. However, I do not believe in having to fall within the narrow parameters of being either pro-life or pro-choice, which obscures rather than illuminates the issues. I have no issue with or concern over providing legal clarity for doctors dealing with a mother whose life is at risk, which is the minimum for which we should be providing.

One other thing about this that always comes up when one moves on from that is the issue of suicide. To bring that up then means one needs to have much more expertise on that matter. Even having sat in this Chamber for the past hour and heard many different people's opinions and experiences on that, it is not easy to make a decision on it. I heard Deputy Neville, Deputy Twomey and some of the other Deputies who spoke on this. That is why it will be important in January to hear what the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children comes up with and what the legal experts say on the matter.

It has been two decades since the Supreme Court made its decision in the X case and 2013 should not pass without the Government putting the legislation on the Statute Book to provide clarity for doctors dealing with the complex medical issues involved.

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