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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 Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin] The person who wrote the e-mail continued that it is absolutely disgusting that in this day and age, women are forced to leave their own country to have terminations in cases where their much-wanted baby would never survive.

A lady named Siobhán wrote about a condition called anencephaly, in which the brain and skull do not develop fully. She wrote that on the day of the scan, she found that her baby would not live. While that was devastating enough, she and her husband were then told she could continue on with the pregnancy for a further 20 weeks to her due date and, if she did not wish to do so, she would be obliged to travel to the United Kingdom to terminate the pregnancy as the law in Ireland would not allow anything to be done here. She writes that, consequently, she travelled with her husband to Liverpool and spent a few surreal days carrying on as if all was well with their world while it actually was turning upside down. They met the team in Liverpool's Women's Hospital, who were kind, gentle and compassionate and were sorry Siobhán and her husband had to be there with them. The hospital team gave her a tablet to take and then she and her husband were obliged to leave the hospital for 48 hours before returning. She writes these were 48 hours of trying not to think about what was happening and trying to act normally in a city they did not know while separated from their families and friends, including their two children, aged four and two.

On returning to the hospital, she was given further doses of a tablet every few hours to induce labour and eventually, after 12 hours, her baby was delivered. Siobhán writes that she and her husband held him, named him and cried together for the death of their son. The hospital chaplain came in and blessed him for them. She writes he and all the staff were so sympathetic, caring and understanding at the horrible predicament in which she and her husband had found themselves. She concluded by stating this was her story, which she was sharing in the hope it would bring about change in our country, as the women of Ireland deserve better.

A woman called Ruth, whose child unfortunately had the same condition, wrote she could never have been prepared for what she and her husband were told that morning, as the experts scanned her. Their baby had anencephaly, a neural tube defect that results in the absence of a major part of the brain and skull. The consultant explained that Ruth and her husband had two choices, that is, she could continue with the pregnancy and their baby would die as soon as she was born, or shortly thereafter if the pregnancy got that far, or they could terminate. Ruth wrote that ringing her dear mum and being obliged to break this news to her was utterly heartbreaking. She recalls her mother being so shocked, not by her awful news but by the fact that she and her husband would be obliged to travel to the United Kingdom for termination. Ruth wrote she does not really remember the days that followed, other than the amazing support from her husband, family and close friends. She wrote that she cried and cried and was so angry. The anger was not about their baby's diagnosis, as she had nursed for long enough to realise that bad things happen to people every day, but she just felt so angry that she and her husband were obliged to travel. She wrote she had thought that surely under these circumstances, termination was allowed in Ireland. She wanted to have the chance to stand up in front of a judge and plead her case to allow her to be looked after in her own country, but instead she and her husband were obliged to travel to the United Kingdom with all their grief, feeling like criminals. She then goes on to outline precisely what happened to them but she concludes with the damning statement that although they felt no shame about the decision they had made, this journey made them feel like criminals.

The cases of none of the aforementioned women will be dealt with under X case legislation and Members are only discussing the risk to the life of a mother. Much now has been made of the issue of suicide but it is dealt with under the X case judgment of the Supreme Court. Moreover, it has been reinforced in the referendum results of 1992 and 2002. One cannot come into this Chamber and talk about mental health and suicide ideation or complain about budgetary measures in respect of mental health if one does not, in one's gut, trust a woman when she is suicidal as a result of a situation that brought about her pregnancy for whatever reason. One cannot do this if one simply does not trust her and simply thinks she is telling lies. Despite all the wind expended in this House about mental health and suicide, obviously Members do not trust women because, clearly, they will not be telling the truth. All of the e-mails I received came from devastated women, because they know that abortion is always a tragedy. It is as though women wilfully wished to discard their babies and pregnancies because they are so callous. Members must be clear about this suicide issue. It is part of the determination of the Supreme Court of this land in 1992. It was reinforced by the votes of the people in 1992 and 2002 and it must be part of this legislation. Members cannot walk away from this issue. Perhaps, in the fullness of time, when people stop being so cowardly and hypocritical, Members might return to the amendment that was introduced in 1983 and listen to what I consider to be the wise words of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, in this regard.

The time has passed for talking any further on this issue. I do not want legislation to be introduced to this House via a Private Members' Bill as it must come from the Government and must come from the Office of the Attorney General. Moreover, the idea of a free vote is an absolute nonsense in a modern parliamentary democracy that must deal with issues of conscience every single day. Members deal with issues of conscience each day. Each day they pass laws and budgets that potentially will hurt people but Members know in their guts that sometimes it is for the greater good. Consequently, this idea of a free vote, mentioned earlier by an Independent Deputy and previously by a Minister of State, is a nonsense and cannot be allowed to happen in this situation because the women of Ireland need to know the Government of the day is on their side.

Deputy Eric Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne This is the first time I have spoken on this issue but it is a matter of such importance, nationally and internationally, that it would be remiss of me not to spend some time dealing with the situation that obtains in Ireland today. I am slightly older than the previous speaker, who covered most of the points in great depth. However, in the Ireland of the 1980s, women often did not trust and were so terrified of having their babies in maternity hospitals with a so-called Catholic ethos that many preferred to travel to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin because of its so-called Protestant ethos. Women felt more reassured that they would get better life-saving response and treatment there in a crisis situation. That was a widely held view in the 1980s among those of us who knew there was a distinct difference in ethos between the Catholic maternity hospitals and the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin.

Imagine that in those days, worried women were obliged to travel to Belfast to have amniocentesis tests because of their lack of availability in the Republic. That was 30 years ago and one would have imagined that our maternity hospitals would have progressed to a point where the life of Savita Halappanavar would have been saved and no one could have cited as an excuse that this is a Catholic country. That was the Ireland into which my children, aged 32 and 30, were born, yet here Members are, having this inconclusive and ongoing debate again, for which they need finality.

I believe the hypocrisy and indignity of forcing women from this country to travel to England for a termination, including a 14 year old suicidal rape victim, is an obscenity and a blot on the image of Ireland both nationally and internationally. Ireland is indeed an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, and the recently completed census shows that 84% of the people in the Republic proclaim themselves to be Catholic. However, Members also must note that now more than ever before, Ireland is a highly diverse society. As legislators, they must legislate for the nation as a whole and not just for the religious moral teachings of one faith. Ireland now is a multi-faith society and Members must legislate for such.

It might be useful to put on record what constitutes the Ireland of 2012. Members might note that the group nearest in number to Catholics are those who declare themselves as having no religion.


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