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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 Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor]   After more than 20 years of inaction, the Government needs to legislate on the Supreme Court ruling. Such legislation will not only protect our medical professionals in their decision making, but also give mothers and, indeed, fathers certainty about their rights. This is an emotive issue, but it is vital that it be debated in a calm and measured manner. I do not believe that any Deputy present wants to see abortion on demand in Ireland. It is not what the Irish people voted on in three referendums.

  We must be aware that, by legislating for the X case, we are merely maintaining the status quo in terms of the availability of terminations for medical reasons. It is necessary because it will provide legal footing for the medical profession. Regulations must be introduced along the current medical guidelines to assist the profession further.

  From a personal perspective, I would also like to see the terms of the Supreme Court ruling extended to the health of the mother, not just the risk to her life. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of C. It found that while there was not necessarily a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman due to the pregnancy, her health could have been affected by the pregnancy due to the cancer treatment she was undergoing. This matter is worth considering.

  Having listened to my constituents, members of the public and other Deputies who have spoken in the House on this matter, the element of suicide appears to be one of serious concern. I understand how these concerns can arise but I remind the House of what my colleague, Deputy Neville, stated, namely, that the risk of suicide decreases during pregnancy and, therefore, this risk, although real in the sense that it can occur in very rare cases, is not likely to increase the number of terminations undertaken.

  Furthermore, I must agree with Deputy Neville, in that we must put our faith and trust in our mental health psychiatric services and their ability to diagnose correctly a genuine suicidal case over someone who dishonestly claims to be suicidal in order to obtain a termination. The expert group report sets out a number of options in this regard and I tend to agree with the suggestions regarding two psychiatrists and one obstetrician assessing the woman before a decision on termination is made.

  The issue of suicide was put to the people in 1992 and 2002 and we must listen to their voices. As Deputies, we need to put our personal and moral beliefs aside and act as legislators by correcting this anomaly, which has existed for the past 20 years.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The next slot is Fianna Fáil's. There being no Fianna Fáil presence in the Chamber, I will call on the next presenting speakers, Deputies John Lyons, Seán Kenny and Eamonn Maloney. They can exercise their speaking options.

Deputy Seán Kenny: Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny Deputy Maloney has asked me to go first. He will return in a few minutes.

I wish to express my deep sadness at the death of Savita Halappanavar and to send my condolences to her husband, family and friends. I say this as a parent and a grandparent.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the House on this issue. It is only right that every Member is able to express his or her views on the report and to have his or her constituents hear the voice of those they elected to represent them. Like other Deputies, I have been contacted by hundreds of my constituents expressing their views on the matter. I thank them for doing so. I have never received so many representations from constituents on a single issue, which speaks volumes about how seriously the people view the matter of the X case.

As someone who remembers the 1983 referendum, I welcome the calm and rational debate that is taking place. Those of us who disagreed with the wording in 1983 were subjected to a great deal of aggravation at the time, some of it in the workplace. Thankfully, we can debate this question today with greater maturity and tolerance.

As Mr. Justice Seán Ryan stated in the report, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that an existing constitutional right had been identified by the Supreme Court in the X case and that it was logical and rational that this right would be available and enforceable in law. Article 47 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires the Oireachtas to implement the European court's judgment. As this State ratified that convention, we cannot make excuses for ignoring the report.

Many of the representations I have received have been incredulous, asking why the Oireachtas has failed to take action on the issue of the X case for two decades. The simple fact is that the Oireachtas failed to address the case. I am glad that those who are now Members of the Oireachtas will finally ensure that the X case will be addressed.

Having carefully read and considered the expert report, I believe that what the Oireachtas must do is obvious, that being, to enact legislation to address the X case correctly. The best method of doing so is to enact new legislation, not amend existing legislation. The new legislation should be accompanied by regulations that govern the technical and procedural aspects of how to provide for a lawful abortion.

There are groups and individuals who believe that regulations will be enough to address the requirements that the European court has laid down. Others believe that there should be another referendum to remove any right to an abortion, especially in the case of suicide. I do not support the former view and the latter option was attempted a decade ago, when it failed. Therefore, we must act within the Constitution's current provisions.

Some individuals have contacted me to express their wishes to see legislation introduced that widens the provision of abortion in order to deal with cases where termination of a pregnancy is permitted for medical reasons beyond the scope of the X case. These cases occur where the pregnancy has a fatal foetal abnormality, where there is no chance at all of life outside the womb. I am sympathetic to this point of view and I have indicated to the Minister for Health that situations such as this need to be considered.

Such cases are generally thought to be outside the scope of the X case and may well be outside the scope of the Constitution. Will the Minister for Health consider this particular area of abortion legislation to verify whether that is the case? Women in these situations must endure a difficult physical and emotional crisis. If they choose not to endure that crisis, which is entirely understandable, they must travel outside the State. That is wrong.

Suicide is a real factor that must be considered when legislating for the X case. The X case hearings accepted testimony from mental health professionals regarding the state of mind of X. Beyond that dreadful case, however, suicide is not something that women will lie about in order to obtain abortions. On the matter of abortion legislation and suicide, every Deputy must ask himself or herself whether he or she trusts women. When it comes down to it, all Deputies do trust women. Therefore, the House must accept that suicide is a real factor that must be covered by the legislation.

Following on from the matter of suicide, there is a concern about legislation leading to what is termed "abortion on demand", as indicated to me by some of my constituents. I wish to address this concern. Abortion on demand cannot or will not happen under any legislation that will be enacted as part of the expert group process. It would not be unconstitutional and, therefore, would not be legal. What must be considered also is the question of trust in medical professionals, who are required by society to behave ethically. All Deputies believe that medical professionals, including mental health professionals, act ethically.

I am certain about one aspect of the issue relating to the Offences against the Person Act 1861, namely, that no reasonable person wishes to see a woman who obtained an abortion go to prison for any length of time. It would be inhumane. Women who seek abortions seek them because they are in crisis. That crisis should not be something that results in a prison sentence.

Time is required to develop legislation but I would stress that a reasonable amount of time is needed as opposed to an undue amount of time. The Oireachtas must act without delay. I am certain that whatever action is taken by this House on foot of the expert group report will be challenged in the Supreme Court by those who do not wish to see any action and who will try to undermine the outcome of the work done by the expert group. Therefore, the legislation must be legally robust. This would be in the best interests of the State, Irish women and all of the Irish people.

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