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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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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon] It is essential that we try to separate this report on the A, B and C v. Ireland case from the upcoming reports into the death of Savita Halappanavar so as to provide clarity and safety for mothers-to-be and to copperfasten guidelines for the medical profession.

  Abortion in cases of potential suicide is very much an ongoing debate. It is a particularly grey area and one that is open to abuse. Should this provision be included in any future legislation, it would require medical guarantees and judgments, which would be extremely difficult, given that a decision would have to be made in what would necessarily be a fraught and rushed scenario. The threat of suicide is used as a tool in many different ways. I speak outside and beyond the area of the termination of pregnancy, but the implicit threat of suicide is one that is extremely difficult to rationalise and could lead to abortion on demand in the broadest sense. While there is, as yet, a lack of well-established medical evidence, it is held that abortion can negatively affect a woman's mental health. However, in a recent poll on the X case, 85% of respondents said they supported legislation allowing abortion where the mother's life is threatened, including by suicide; 10% said they would not support it; and 5% said they did not know. On the other hand, a separate question excluding the threat of suicide as grounds for termination was supported by 63%. Such surveys are totally dependent on the way questions are framed and are by no means conclusive.

  While I fully agree with the need for legal certainty and clear guidelines for pregnant women, the issue of threatened suicide is likely to be potentially abused. I do not believe the unintentional death of a baby while medical care is given to the mother should be regarded as abortion. I do not advocate the viewpoint of the Catholic Church or any other organisation, but the church, despite accusations to the contrary, does not teach that the life of the child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother but rather that both are sacred with an equal right to life. In addition, where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of the child at risk, such intervention is ethically permissible provided every option has been exhausted to save both the mother and the child. It is standard medical practice in this country to do everything possible to save the life of a pregnant woman when complications arise. That may include interventions which result unintentionally in the death of a baby. Death in such circumstances does not constitute abortion. As it stands, the Medical Council's guidelines are very clear. Women in pregnancy must receive all necessary medical treatment to protect their lives, even where the death of the baby unavoidably results. The Supreme Court has already established that women with complications whose lives are at risk must have, or be allowed, therapeutic intervention.

  Much abuse has been heaped on the situation in Ireland and the lack of availability of abortion on demand. It might be more appropriate to consider the benefits or otherwise of such a determination by the State. In the UK, for example, 6 million abortions have taken place since the introduction into law there of the Abortion Act in 1967. That is now leading to a situation where people consider it a right to abort a foetus on grounds of sex or even to take matters to extremes, which might be implausible as yet, on the basis of eye colour. What makes it a right of the human condition to abort a foetus at will or on a whim? I hope that will never be the situation in this country where we have forged a medically and morally acceptable protection of the mother, while accepting the right to life of the unborn. We have come a long way in this country since the days when a husband would be told in the same breath that his wife had died and that he had a beautiful baby girl or boy. The reality was often indescribably tragic. A family might already consist of six or more children who would be left without a mother and a grieving husband without a wife. Sense has prevailed and directed our actions. I hope that will continue to be the case.

  I am puzzled by the statement of the Taoiseach late last month that he wanted to get "maximum consensus" to settle the divisive issue of abortion. He further elaborated by saying this is not a matter for any individual parties, this is a matter for the country to get maximum consensus on what is the best and correct thing to do here. I could not agree more but, nonetheless, I am at a loss to know how that can be achieved without a referendum. Such consensus would be extremely hard to gauge without a referendum. However, the Taoiseach has ruled out a referendum and we are told there is no appetite in the country for such. That is not the case and after 20 years of foot-dragging by previous Administrations, we urgently need to gauge the view of the country and to adhere to people's wishes on the matter. There must be a referendum in this case. As a member of the Constitutional Convention, I am particularly aware of the need to engage with the broader context of the Constitution in this matter for the protection of women and the unborn. A blurring of the provision of Article 40.3.3° and the two-patient model it inspires is not the way forward. A referendum is the only way to finally judge the view and wishes of the nation in this matter. I am totally opposed to abortion and would not stand over any legislation that would introduce abortion on demand in this country.

Deputy Patrick Nulty: Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty My contribution will be different in emphasis from Deputy Bannon's but what is important in the debate in this House and elsewhere is that we respect everyone's views. As citizens of a republic, we might have different views that are strongly and sincerely held, and in the best interests of the country. I am also pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is present this evening because he has a strong track-record on these issues over many years. It gives me confidence that he is a Minister of State in the Department of Health when this sensitive issue is being tackled. I wish to place that on record.

The current abortion debate and the tragic cases that are now in the public domain end the convenient fiction that pregnant women in this country receive all the medical treatment they require. Recent weeks have seen an extraordinary outpouring of comment and analysis from doctors who specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology, politicians and commentators. Most significantly, we have heard the testimonies of numerous women on their experience within the health service when pregnancy has threatened their health or lives.

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