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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 Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell] I plead with those on both sides of the debate to desist from doing this. It is disgusting. As a legislator I understand people want to express their views, but neither my staff nor the staff of other Deputies and Senators should be subjected to horrific photographs.

The need for legal certainty and clarity for the medical profession is one of the two main issues in this debate. We do not want a scenario where doctors and consultants must consult the law prior to making a decision or providing medical treatment to a woman. This is why we must strike the right balance between the need for legislation and-or guidelines. We do not need another referendum on this issue, specifically on the X case. I would welcome a debate on whether we should legislate for cases of rape and incest, but like Deputy Creed I am not convinced the people would make a clear decision due to the very real difficulties and problems the country has with regard to the number of people committing suicide. This is an issue the House must deal with and attempt to assist those who find themselves under such severe constraints and personal difficulties that they would consider such a course of action.

If we are to believe the polls, 85% of people want action on the X case which would most likely include legislation. As a personal request, I would like the Cabinet to seriously consider repealing the 1861 Act which perhaps was correct when it was written because medical science was not as advanced as it is today, but we are a modern society in a modern world and we can and should ensure sufficient clarity for the medical profession and women throughout the State to know when they are legally entitled to a termination and when a termination is required for medical reasons.

Like the previous speaker I compliment the expert group, particularly Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, for the work done on behalf of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Government. It provided everyone with a huge amount of information in a very clear and frank fashion. I also compliment the group on the manner in which the information was framed because not all of us have the benefit of a medical or legal education and the work the group did on our behalf is greatly appreciated.

If legislation and guidelines are the selected options, as I believe they most likely will be, I do not envy the Attorney General in striking the balance required to frame the legislation correctly to ensure the 85% of people who, if one believes the polls, want action on the X case will be happy while preventing what the overwhelming majority of people including me do not want to see, which is unfettered access to abortion on demand. I do not wish to ever legislate for this. I thank the Minister and the Government for the opportunity to discuss this matter.

Deputy Pat Breen: Information on Pat Breen Zoom on Pat Breen I welcome this opportunity to contribute to today's debate. I acknowledge the commitment of the Minister for Health and the Government to listen to the debate and give careful consideration to the views expressed in the House before any decision is made on the recommendation of the expert report. The issue of abortion is one of the most painful and controversial issues which will ever come before the House. Many of us in the House in all parties have very strong and deeply held views on the matter. The lack of consensus is also reflected in the Irish people who are equally divided. Every day I receive calls from constituents who hold strong and diverging views on how we should move forward. Five referenda have been put before the people and on each occasion the campaigns were bitterly fought. Ireland has seen many economic and social changes in the past 30 years since Article 40.3.3° was first inserted in the Constitution but there has been little change in people's attitude to abortion. It remains a very emotive issue and the country is as deeply divided now as it was 30 years ago.

  The latest situation arose as a result of a judgment of the European Court on Human Rights in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland. The Government established an expert group in January and I congratulate this group on the work it has done. It has made a number of recommendations which must be considered. The debate has been further complicated by the recent tragic events in Galway and I express my sympathy to Praveen Halappanavar on the death of his wife, Savita. The entire country has been deeply affected by what happened. It is important that the facts of the case be established as quickly as possible. Two inquiries are under way, namely, a HSE inquiry headed by an eminent professor and a HIQA inquiry. The first priority is to have a prompt conclusion to these inquiries and ensure pregnant women in the country have the confidence they will receive the best possible care when they enter our hospitals.

  It is not right to apportion blame to the medical profession or anybody else without establishing the facts. We also need these inquiries to conclude as promptly as possible, because some people have sought to exploit this tragedy to force the House to rush through legislation. I do not want go into the specifics of the case. The eyes of the world may be upon us but we should not be rushed. The full facts should be available to us before any decision is made because it is important we get it right. We all know how rushed legislation can lead to bad law. It is important to point out to those observing the debate outside the country that our maternal death rate is one of the lowest in Europe and we have the highest birth rate per capita in Europe.

  Legislating for abortion is fraught with confusion. In 2002 the then Government put a referendum before the people which sought to exclude suicide as grounds for abortion, which was rejected by the people. Last week a RedC poll carried out by the Sunday Business Post reported that 85% of people now support legislating for the X case, which means allowing abortion where the mother's life is threatened including by suicide. However, as in 2002 there appears to be much confusion because the same poll shows 63% of people believe suicide should be excluded as grounds for abortion. Based on analysis of the calls I have received it is clear a substantial number of people have doubts about making abortion available on the grounds of suicide.

  However, there is universal agreement on one matter, which is that everyone wants to ensure where a clear danger to the life of the mother exists every medical intervention is performed to save her life. This right is already enshrined in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. If further clarity is needed for the medical profession in this regard it should be provided and clear guidelines issued. However, legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide is a very different matter. This is a very complex area with many differing views among the medical experts as to whether it is necessary. The suicide rate among women is low and a previous speaker referred to this. It is approximately 4.5 per 100,000 and it is extremely rare for it to occur during pregnancy. According to statistics, between 1980 and 2011 two suicides among women occurred in the three Dublin maternity hospitals, both of which occurred post delivery. One of the women had a long history of depression and the other a long history of substance abuse. It would be virtually impossible to legislate for every eventuality and several questions arise, such as who will determine a woman is suicidal and that her life can be saved by an abortion. Will the view of one psychiatrist be sufficient? Will general practitioners be involved?

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