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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 Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed]  I would prefer a situation where the Oireachtas through its joint committee held hearings before the Government makes a decision so that we can assimilate all the information from the various experts who have different and conflicting views of the reality. That would be a preferable route. As we grapple with this very difficult issue we must be cognisant of the legislative intent of the people in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. At the same time we must never in any circumstances put any mother at risk by our failure to act or by our actions.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath I welcome the opportunity to participate in this very important debate on the report of the expert group on the judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case. This is a major part of the abortion debate and I am glad to be able to put my views on the record of the House and not to be totally misrepresented as has happened in recent weeks. Of course I offer my full sympathy and support to all the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar. The loss of human life is a total tragedy and our compassion and support must go out to all of them. We need to look at the facts surrounding her death and then make a decision based on the evidence and facts. I do not do hearsay evidence, but I emphasise that the Halappanavar family members must be given the maximum support in their requests.

  Let us be open and honest in this debate and drop the slogans. I have always considered myself pro-life in all aspects of my beliefs and political philosophy. I do not know anyone who is anti-life and we all want to do our best to save lives. We all need to do our best to save mothers and we all want do our best to save babies and young children. That is my view and I feel it is the view of most Members of the Dáil and Seanad. However, life is not fair and can be very difficult at times. There are times for extremely difficult choices and they have to be made. Many of us have had those difficult times in our lives through miscarriages and threatened miscarriages or having a baby with a disability. They have all touched our families, but at all times life is at the top of our agenda. That is why I disagree with many of my colleagues that the issue of abortion is complex. The bottom line for me is as follows. I have two daughters and now, thankfully, a granddaughter. I would do anything to protect, safeguard and save their lives in any difficult pregnancy situation, as would most parents and family members. There are no talks about talks when it comes to one's own family members. Most medical people would do that and if a termination is necessary to save the life of a young woman, I would agree to doing that.

  My clear position is that in cases of women's health, rape and incest, termination should be allowed after the best medical advice involving the people directly affected by it. I know many people who have different views on abortion, but none of them is anti-life.

  There is also the issue of personal conscience and personal choice, something that the political parties should respect. People with different moral and ethical views in very difficult situations should be allowed to have a free vote on this issue. People should not be whipped into making a decision with which in their conscience they disagree. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has said this in the past and I strongly support that position. This is a very personal, private, moral and ethical issue and they should be allowed to have a free vote. Despite that free vote, I believe most people will move towards the consensus in the middle ground.

  As things stand the 1992 X case judgment remains the basis of abortion law. Hospitals can and do carry out terminations where there is a risk to the life of the mother. Suicide is currently accepted as a risk. In the past 20 years the sky has not fallen in with women claiming suicide as grounds for abortion and therefore it proves that women are more responsible than many have portrayed them. It is argued that the Government should formalise this situation and that would be my personal position. I will deal with this later in my contribution.

  In recent weeks the media have made repeated mention of the abortion lobby. Those who want the Government to legislate for the judgments in the X case and the A, B and C v. Ireland case are not the abortion lobby. They are the majority of people in this country and have been so since 1992.

  The suicide issue is at the heart of the problem. If suicide is excluded other medical emergencies become easier to legislate for and control to some extent. However, any mental health advocate knows that suicide can and does form a very real risk during pregnancies. To disallow suicide could make for stronger legislation, but it could also lead to tragic instances where women who are victims of particularly traumatic experiences are left without the support they need and have a life-saving option taken away.

  I acknowledge that my colleagues across all parties in the Dáil have engaged in a common sense and non-emotional debate with no hysteria. We have had a decent debate and an open discussion with all our views on the record.

  Internationally, laws on abortion are diverse with differences arising according to influences of religious, moral and cultural norms. A survey of abortion law in 197 countries and territories published in 2009 found a range of legal regimes with highly restrictive law on one end of the spectrum and abortion on demand at the other end. In the 32 countries with the most stringent legislation, including Malta, Andorra and San Marino, abortion is not legally permitted on any grounds. In the next category, 36 countries permit abortion when the woman’s life is threatened. Ireland is the only country in this category in a developed region with all the others from the developing world. A few countries in the category, for example, Panama and Mali, make exceptions in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormalities.

  Foetal abnormality has been mentioned in the debate. I base what I say on life's experience. As many Deputies will know, I have a daughter with an intellectual disability. We would not swap her for the world and I have many friends in the same position. That was our choice and family consideration. When people have a child with any kind of disability, despite the trauma, sadness and often the deep loneliness, there are many positive sides to it. My other daughter and the rest of the extended family would not swap her for the world. It is important to say that because there are many other people in the same situation.

  Some 36 countries allow abortion to save a woman’s life and to preserve her physical health, and 23 allow abortion to save a woman’s life and to preserve her physical health and protect her mental health. The latter categories include countries such as Israel, New Zealand, Spain and South Korea. Less restricted again are the 14 countries, including India, Britain, Finland, Iceland and Zambia, which permit abortion on the three previously mentioned grounds and also for socioeconomic reasons, with exceptions made variously in cases of foetal impairment, rape or incest. When it comes to rape or incest, or if the health of the mother is at risk, termination should be allowed.

  The remaining 56 countries and territories allow abortion without restriction as to reason, although in many countries certain conditions must be met for abortion to be carried out. For example, many impose gestational limits, most commonly that abortion must be carried out during the first 12 weeks of gestation. Other limitations placed on access to abortion include parental consent where a minor is concerned. Again these are all issues.

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