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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 Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy] The most significant issue is whether or not the medical profession have the clarity they need. They have made it very clear that they need clarity on the point at which a termination is permissible so that the 1861 Act will not be hanging over every decision they make in future.

Allied to that, I believe human life is sacred. Both the mother and the unborn child need our protection. I also know that no matter what decision is made, there will be dissenting voices. I sincerely believe, however, that here in the Dáil we will achieve consensus on how to proceed and that political posturing and opportunism will be left to one side so that we can arrive at the best decision and be united in where we go with it.

I reassure those who are concerned that legislation will lead to abortion on demand or abortion by the back door that this is not the case and is not my intention. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have been clear on this. We must make a decision based on the report of the expert group. I support the fact that the Government will be making a decision next week. We will all participate in the hearings, listen carefully to them and ensure that, finally, we get it right this time.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this particularly important debate. Like THE Cheann Comhairle and a number of others I was here when the original debate on this topic took place. I recall with great clarity the strongly held views on both sides of the argument and how they created more division in society than any debate I have known before or since.

I do not know if it is a good thing that I survived the intervening period or not.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer We still enjoy Deputy Durkan.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank Deputy Buttimer. I try to create as much enjoyment as possible in other spheres as well.

  I am conscious, however, that we are having this debate in the aftermath of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. I do not know enough about the circumstances of her death to comment on it. Those circumstances have not been made public, but I hope the findings of a full investigation will be made available to the Houses of the Oireachtas so that we can come to a judgment as to how to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy, if prevention is possible. I do not know that either. It is sad that a tragedy has been the catalyst for this debate. Of course, the bigger issue is the report of the expert group which was heralded long before the death of Ms Halappanavar.

  I am certainly not in favour of abortion. I never have been. I am not in favour of abortion for social reasons or as an optional extra. I believe the people, in their response to previous referendums, were also thinking along those lines. I studied the judgment of the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the judgment of the people in the referendums. It is clear to me that the Supreme Court expected legislation to follow that would give protection, security and assurance to the medical profession, to the people and to pregnant women, who were the people directly affected then and would be in the future. Everyone in the country has had a mother. Some of our mothers are, gladly, still alive.

  Like other Deputies, I have received hundreds of e-mails and letters on both sides of this argument. No matter which side we come down on we will annoy somebody. Our duty as legislators, however, is to make the right decision, having regard to all the evidence available to us, and to read up as much as possible on the issues. To have lived through the controversies of the past is also an advantage.

  I have no doubt of what was expected of the Oireachtas by the Supreme Court. There was an expectation of legislation to protect the three elements I have referred to. Similarly, the Supreme Court did not intend that legislation should give effect to widespread availability of abortion, for social reasons or whatever. I do not think that was anticipated. By rejecting two proposed amendments to delete the element of suicide, the people made it clear they were not happy to delete suicide as a possible ground for intervention in pregnancy. In the backs of their minds, the people remembered that there may be women who would find themselves faced with a situation they could not tolerate. People have varying capabilities when it comes to dealing with pain and stress. Some people can deal adequately with a great deal of pain and stress and some people can not. Should we legislate for only one set of people? We must legislate for all. It is our job to legislate for all creeds, shades of opinion and colours, without exception. I hope we will do that.

  I congratulate the members of the expert group on an excellent report. They have laid out the options quite clearly. My interpretation of what they have said is that we must legislate. We cannot exclude the possibility of suicide. It is clearly laid out for us to accept or reject it, but we cannot reject it.

  The people have said they do not want abortion to be generally available ad lib for everyone in all circumstances. The women, the mothers and the pregnant women of Ireland do not want that either. However, where a rape takes place, particularly statutory rape, the final decision as to whether the unfortunate child should be forced to carry on with the pregnancy should not be taken by a third party, whether that is a court, legislators or the medical profession. The parents, because the child is a minor, and the girl herself should have some opinion as to what should happen. They are the people who will have to live with the aftermath and the consequences.

  There are those who will say the unborn child had nothing to do with the rape and committed no crime. That is true and I am conscious of that, but neither had the victim of the rape. What should we do, as bystanders who are removed from the situation? Should we make the harsh decision that what happened was a bit unfortunate but that the woman must accept the consequences of it? That is not within our remit and we should not do it. It would be very harsh to do that.

  I am quite clear that the opinion of the pregnant woman, or the parents in the case of a minor, should have some bearing on the outcome. I am not going down the road of free choice, but there must be some regard for the view of the woman or girl who is pregnant. After all, when a man goes into a hospital for a procedure how would he like it if the decision whether to receive the procedure were handed over to a third party group, whether psychiatrists, judges, doctors or commentators, to be debated?

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