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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] This is not even to mention that the medical science of psychiatry does not consider abortion as a treatment for suicidal indication in pregnancy. On the contrary, there is a growing consensus that abortion can actually damage women's mental health in some cases. Do we really want to provide for abortion on grounds that have no basis in medical science? I am no medical expert but I accede to the medical experts. We need to take care not to actually harm women.

We must make haste slowly and give the matter careful consideration. We cannot be bullied or pushed by this frenzy and we cannot be forced. I appeal to the media and the programme makers. I have received some of the nastiest e-mails. I remember the last two referendum campaigns. I was involved in some of them. We had a recent referendum in which opinion polls indicated one thing and the result by the people was completely different. Let us not forget we have an intelligent electorate. There was another opinion poll last week but one must question these opinion polls in the way the questions are phrased and the types of answers they want to get.

We cannot be bullied and while we can have this debate, we must await the outcome of all the investigations. In the fullness of time when we have done the investigations I hope the Indian media, which have castigated us here, might be able to see fit to apologise to our country because we have a pretty proud record on human rights, unlike the record in India and in other parts of the world. I think of Mother Teresa and others who have given valiant service in helping children in that country. We cannot be forced to legislate in an environment of a frenzy of international madness. We must await the facts.

I have heard reports that members of staff of University Hospital Galway and their parents have been subjected to all kinds of allegations. We are not a democracy if we are going to be pushed into legislation without the facts. We live in a modern world of fast communications. I challenge some of the pro-choice groups over last week's behaviour and over the people involved, whether knowingly or unknowingly, at those gates. They were there again last night and they threatened to come to my town and Deputy Tom Hayes's town last week, and we had to have a huge Garda presence. I challenge the people who organised the rally and invited them down. We must have responsibility for our actions and cannot allow mob law. We cannot allow a frenzy to push us into voting in a particular way.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance. I add my voice to the call for cool, calm reflection. We should await the outcome. I salute those working at UHG because we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is challenging to work in any hospital and life-saving decisions are made on an hourly basis. We have to await due process.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I am glad to have this opportunity to comment on the report of the expert group on the judgment of the A, B and C v. Ireland case. The reason we have this report at all is that Labour insisted on it being part of the programme for Government. For 20 years now, the Labour Party has been a strong, and often a lone, voice on the need to act on the judgment in the X case. The Labour Party has never been silent on this matter. I have the scars on my back from this debate. I am only too well aware that this issue has been with us for 20 years. This is the first Government that has decided we are going to deal with it. Six previous governments have, shamefully, in my opinion, neglected and failed to act on the 1992 Supreme Court judgment. As the Minister for Health has said on the record of the House, this Government will not be the seventh.

  None of us needs reminding of the tragic circumstances that propelled this issue back into the national and international headlines. Savita Halappanavar's name has now become a sad chapter in Ireland's history. When Savita and her husband came to Ireland they did not plan on becoming household names. Their plans were simple, the same as every ordinary couple who work hard and plan to start a family and build their lives together. The appalling tragedy of her death has touched a nerve across the country. Along with other Members of this House, I have never previously received so many letters, e-mails and telephone calls on any one issue. Ordinary people are appalled that this could happen. I am sure all Members of the House experienced a similar response, often from people who had never previously contacted a Deputy.

  For me and my colleagues in Labour it has without doubt highlighted the need to deal with the legacy of the failure to act on the judgment in the X case. While we still do not know the exact details of Savita Halappanavar's case, it has once again become starkly obvious that there is no clear guidance in this area. We do not yet know whether her life could have been saved, but it is clear that medical staff are being forced to work in a grey area. Staff in all our hospitals are forced to make life and death decisions every day. It is a fearsome and sobering responsibility, and it is only fair to those staff and to their patients that they are free to apply their expertise and make those critical decisions within a clear legal framework. Doctors and consultants should be able to act in the best interests of their patients without having to second-guess the outcome of a possible court case. They do not have the time nor should they have the responsibility to interpret the provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann and make an informed, safe and, crucially, lawful decision on a medical dilemma that may face them.

  The majority of the correspondence I have received has called for legislation, a view with which I concur. Legislating for the judgment of the X case has been a long-standing policy of the Labour Party. I have read the report in detail and nothing in it has changed my view that legislation is required. I was of that view at 16 years of age when this issue first came to public prominence, and little did I know at that stage that a full 20 years later I would be one of the people required to address this issue once and for all in this House.

  As I said, the majority of the correspondence I have received has called for legislation, but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that I have also received correspondence expressing a different view and, by and large, that correspondence has been important to me. It is important we respect everybody's opinion. I know that this is a very difficult issue for some people and that their gut instinct is to shy away from any legislation which would allow for abortion even in the most limited circumstances. Equally I am sure that they would not in a million years wish to see a mother dying unnecessarily. Their fear, if I understand it correctly, is that any legislation could effectively lead to abortion on demand. I speak honestly in saying that this is a red herring.

  Our Constitution as it stands now expressly forbids termination of pregnancy except when there is a direct threat to the life of the mother. That cannot be changed without a referendum carried by a majority of the people. I hold my own views on that and I believe that sometimes in very limited circumstances, a termination can be the least bad option available. However, they are views for another day.

  Leaving aside the prospect of a referendum and returning to the Constitution as it stands now in the aftermath of the judgment in the X case, I believe we are confronted with one fundamental question. What constitutes a direct threat to the life of the mother? The only honest answer I can give to that is that I do not know. I am a politician, not a qualified medical practitioner. I cannot make those decisions nor should I be making them. However, what I can do and what I should be doing as a politician and a legislator in this House is to provide a clear legal framework to allow those who are qualified to make such decisions the autonomy to do so.

  As we are all aware, Deputy Clare Daly recently introduced a Bill and, while I welcomed the debate it generated, I do not believe it was the finished article in terms of what is required now. The best and most appropriate place to draft legislation of the complexity required to address this issue fundamentally and definitively is in the Office of the Attorney General.


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