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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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] The report is limited in scope. If its scope were broadened, a constitutional referendum would be needed to address such issues as the right to health as well as rape, incest and fatal abnormalities in a foetus. All of these issues deserve consideration in a civil society.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank Deputies Mary Lou McDonald and Catherine Murphy for their contributions. I often find in debates of this nature that men should perhaps shut up and listen to women.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Hear, hear.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys Deputy Murphy critiqued the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is a sensitive time in the history of the nation. Before coming to the Chamber, I listened on the monitor to Deputy McDonald describe with passion the hurt the abortion issue has caused for generations. The Government has signalled the importance it attaches to the issue by providing more than 20 hours of Dáil time to discuss it.

I thank Sinn Féin and Deputy Clare Daly for tabling valuable motions earlier this month which allowed us to frame this debate in the context of the actions the Government must take. These motions were tabled in good faith and the Minister and Cabinet are working on this issue in good faith. The Government acted on its commitment in the programme for Government to establish an expert group on the judgment in the A, B and C case. The expert group published its report only shortly after an unfortunate young woman passed away in a Galway hospital. I welcome the Government's commitment to make a decision before the Christmas recess on what action it will propose to take on foot of the report. I also welcome the decision by the Joint Committee on Health and Children to hold public hearings into the issue. It will be important that the committee ensures all sides are afforded an opportunity to speak and be heard.

Abortion divides society and has been a major political issue for the past 30 years. The 1983 referendum on the eighth amendment to the Constitution was only the second campaign in which I became involved. I was also involved in a long and bitter strike at the time. During the campaign, posters were put up on my housing estate and I recall explaining to people in the area that the amendment was in my view wrong. On the evening of the vote, I was in my sitting room when a neighbour knocked on my door and asked whether I could give her a lift to the polling station, which was some distance from my home. I agreed to drop her to the polling station and within ten or 15 minutes of my return, five or six more neighbours, mainly women, had called to my home asking for a lift. I recall that it was not a particularly nice evening. It emerged in the course of our conversations that the husbands of the women had refused to drive them to the polling station because they were not happy with their wives' voting intentions. This incident had a major effect on me. The reason I stated that men should perhaps shut up in this debate is that I find it difficult to stomach listening to men articulate a position on an issue that affects women and their health.

Society has come far in recent years. For the remainder of the time I lived on the housing estate in question, I had the label of "abortionist" hanging over me. The term was used in my presence to describe me, although I am as pro-life as anyone else. Given that people have deeply held positions on abortion, we must respect the feelings and convictions of others on this issue. At one stage, it was dangerous to be a progressive voice in this country. Most Deputies will remember the two referendums on divorce and a time when one could not openly buy contraceptives. It is only recently that the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, LGBT, community, are starting to be recognised and members of that community only now feel comfortable with being open.

Thousands of women who must leave Ireland and travel to England for abortions do not receive any recognition. They are hidden members of our families and society - in my view society is our family. If we are truly caring, we must accept that these women experience torment as they travel alone and endure an abortion before returning and hiding their experience from their families. Many of these women cannot sit down over a cup of tea and discuss this traumatic event in their lives.

Tonight, the House is full of men discussing the health issues of women. Progress is being made, however. The introduction of a gender quota will be an interesting and welcome development that will fundamentally change politics. We have heard about women's influence on the budget. Few women are present for this discussion of a women's issue. It is time we allowed women to make decisions about their own health. I believe every Member of the House will try to show consideration for the deeply held beliefs of others. Fulfilling our responsibility to legislate will be a difficult challenge because Members will come under extreme pressure. However, the least the House can do is legislate for the outcome of the X case.

I will not discuss the detail of Deputy Catherine Murphy's contribution. I am proud of the Labour Party, not of symbols such as the rose but of its members. In the previous general election, some of my campaign workers had holy water and rosary beads thrown at them while canvassing. They are deeply religious people who were shocked to encounter this type of aggression on doorsteps. Their experience illustrates how deeply divided society remains on the issue of abortion. I still recall the bitterness that marked the 1983 referendum and my view on abortion was formed on the basis of experience.

I do not propose to discuss the recommendations of the expert group's report. Instead, I appeal for tolerance and an understanding that others have deeply held views. A fundamental health issue arises in this debate. Moreover, women have a right to make decisions about their bodies.

I would prefer if an equal number of male and female Deputies were present for this debate. Voting in the 1983 referendum, during which men would not drive their wives to polling stations, was not especially long ago. I appeal to everyone to listen carefully to their wives, daughters and sisters because the legislation we pass will affect them and subsequent generations.

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