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Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan] I am sure the findings of those reports will have an impact on the deliberations the Oireachtas will have on that matter in the coming months.

I hold a pro-life position but I believe fundamentally in the aim of the 1983 amendment to the Constitution, namely, the protection of the life of the mother also. In my conversations with women who had terminations in this country due to being gravely ill, I was struck by their overwhelming view that such a position should be protected into the future. I have been struck also by the number of women I have spoken to in recent months who hold strong pro-life views but who recognise the need for legal certainty for medical practitioners in dealing with cases where the life of the mother is under threat. I understand the Government is proposing to deal with those particular circumstances in the new year. That is something that arguably should have been done before now and the current Medical Council guidelines provide a basis under which legislation in this area can be formed. Most people who hold similar views to mine would be of the opinion that those guidelines should be included in legislation, regulation or a combination of both. That is not something with which people have any particular difficulty.

The issue that causes the most concern, certainly for me, is suicide and psychological well-being. In other jurisdictions, most notably the nearest one to this country, the inclusion of loose terminology on the matter of the psychological well-being of the mother when abortion legislation was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1967 has led to a situation in the UK where abortion is freely available. From talking to people on all sides of the argument, and particularly those most affected, who are young women of the age to have children, I do not believe anybody who wants to have abortion freely available as is the case in the United Kingdom.

We are charged with providing a solution that recognises the 1983 constitutional amendment and the subsequent decision of the Supreme Court in the X case judgment, and provides a legal framework both for women and medical practitioners in ensuring that amendment is reflected in the law of the land. A number of interesting analyses were carried out recently. Many of us were briefed recently by Professor Casey from the Mater Hospital who has analysed births in the Dublin maternity hospitals since 1980. Approximately 700,000 births occurred in those hospitals in that 32 year period and Professor Casey's figures and analysis suggest that in that time just two women who had been in contact with the maternity hospitals in Dublin committed suicide. I believe it was the head of Holles Street maternity hospital who commented recently that suicide is very rare but it does occur. We have to develop a system in this country that acknowledges that while suicide might be very rare, it can occur and that the necessary legal protections are in place for practitioners, mothers and suicidal mothers to ensure their medical and health interests are protected.

This debate has been ongoing for the duration of my life having been born at the end of the 1970s. The abortion issue arose periodically at intervals in the past 35 years. It tends to bring out the worst in proponents on both side sides of the argument, namely, those with strong pro-life and pro-choice views. An irrational debate occurs in which most of the population tend to hold more middle ground views that are much more understanding of the circumstances in which people find themselves and tend to be of the view that the right to life of the unborn should be protected also.

In the United Kingdom, approximately one out of every five pregnancies results in a termination, which is an incredibly high statistic. I do not believe that the majority of our people want a regime which would lead to a similar development in this country. I believe, from extensive discussions I have had, that the majority of people want a clear legislative framework underlining the existing Medical Council guidelines. That should happen, and the Government has outlined a course of action over the coming months which will lead to that being put in place.

Regarding the options outlined in the expert group report, it appears there is very little disagreement on the matter of physical threats to the life of the mother. The only issue arises in the area of psychological threats to the life of the mother. My opening position, and it is the position I have garnered from medical practitioners here in terms of their view of the operation of any new legal framework, is that everything is done in practice in our maternity hospitals to protect both lives. If it becomes apparent at a particular juncture that the life of the mother can only be saved by a medical termination, that is what happens at present. That view is the one most reflected in my interaction with constituents and with people who have concerns about this area, particularly in recent months. It is probably the most emotive issue this country has faced in the past 30 years and it is one on which people hold very strong views. My views are not rooted in a religious perspective.


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