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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 Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer] I welcome the publication by the Irish Catholic bishops' committee earlier this year on their day for life where they again reaffirmed that the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb would be preferred to that of a mother and that by virtue of their common humanity the mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life. This report should be read by everybody in Irish society.

I join Deputy Charles Flanagan in saying that the Government should make this report available because the report will form the template of the debate we will have later. It is important that people are informed irrespective of their viewpoint. Chapter 3 of the report goes into great detail about the historical development of our law. It goes into each of the pertinent court cases, the background and the legislation involved in each referendum. It also looks at the all-party committee reports and Green Papers. It looks at each of the times when we, as a society, have considered the issue. For anybody who is unsure of the exact legal provisions or who wants a balanced and detailed overview of how our law has evolved and developed, chapters 2 and 3 are essential reading.

Before the report sets out its recommendations, it outlines four guiding principles. These principles have been based on a position that "the State is entitled and, indeed, obliged to regulate and monitor the exercise of [the existing constitutional provision] so as to ensure that the general constitutional prohibition on abortion is maintained". For those who are worried about the motives of the report and what will happen next, I hope that acknowledgement offers some comfort. The report is about working within our constitutional provision; it is not about changing our Constitution.

The termination of a pregnancy, whether by direct intervention or as a consequence of medical treatment, is a profound and serious matter. In all of our discussions, regardless of where we are coming from, we cannot lose sight of that. If medical professionals are saying they are faced with difficulties posed by our current situation, we have an obligation to make this position clear. We have heard from women who have faced similar difficult decisions, and we have an obligation to give them clarity. We must provide clarity and certainty, and we must end the mind games and vitriol. No matter where we stand in the debate, we must ensure the position is clear and unambiguous and that doctors know what they can and cannot do.

As citizens and legislators we must end the uncertainty, create certainty and give a sense of confidence to the medical professionals and the women of the country. As I said in the debate on the Private Members' Bill, let us put aside our political differences and ideology, whether we are pro-choice, pro-life or in the middle. The issue is far too important to be bedevilled by the playing of a game. For 30 years it has bedevilled Irish society and political life. There has been a failure on all sides to debate this issue maturely and act on it. It behoves all of us, who have an interest in humanity and life, to be calm and to debate the issue, as we are about to do as a Parliament and, more importantly, as a society. We need a thought-out, considered and timely response to the report of the expert group, and today is part of that process.

The Government has given its clear intent on what will happen in the next few months. Following this debate, the Government will decide on which options it will take. From there the parliamentary process will begin to consider the guidelines, statutory regulations or legislation as is required. In the new year I, as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, and my colleagues on that committee will hold a series of meetings on 8 to 10 January. We will consult widely and listen, and we will debate maturely. We will do so in the interests of the people. That is why I, as Chairman of that committee, and my colleagues will not be found wanting. We will meet next Thursday in private session to discuss how we intend to proceed, and that will be done on a cross-party basis. Our hearings will be fair and there will be a process of dialogue to ensure a wide range of voices are heard. We will consult wisely and widely. People will be asked to make a contribution.

Today's debate is necessary for us as a society. I hope it has been a constructive debate. I pay tribute to the parliamentarians in this House who have been constructive. This issue is far too important to be used to try to score political points. The outcome of what we do will reflect our views as a society. I conclude by quoting the words of Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton We have reached a certain position after many years and we are where we are right now. I have met people and we have all been lobbied strongly on this issue. I have met people from the Pro-Life Campaign. One of its documents states:

The most important option not contained in the report is to reverse the Supreme Court decision of 1992, which would allow for abortion up to birth [according to it]. If people do not want to introduce such an abortion regime in this country, this is the only political option and it has to be confronted.

That is one option. After having had two referenda, I am not sure the people would agree with what the Pro-Life Campaign wants. My feeling is that they would not. I met some people from the Pro-Life Campaign and they said the same. They said they thought the people would not reverse the Supreme Court decision of 1992. We could possibly have a "preferendum" on it or some other kind of poll. I note that recent polls agreed with that. Putting that aside for the moment, we are where we are. The Medical Council guidelines published in 2009 state:

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother. Under current legal precedent, this exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide. You should undertake a full assessment of any such risk in light of the clinical research on this issue.

That is the current situation as interpreted by the Medical Council in its guidelines and advice to its members. Recent research has found that 94% of people say that doctors are trustworthy, which is good.

  The fifth progress report of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution makes for fascinating reading. Five minutes is not much time to give to this matter. That report refers to rare and complicated cases and states that protecting the life of the mother is paramount. It states that the scientific basis for medicine changes regularly. It also states that suicide rates in pregnancy are low at one sixth of the expected rates for women who are not pregnant and one 20th of actual rates. The numbers are small and the risk is small. Some of the experts who gave evidence in 1999 and 2000 said there is no failsafe way of saying a person will or will not commit suicide. They spoke about intervening to help individuals, to treat depression, to help stop drinking and so on. They also maintained that suicidal thoughts can be transient. Some experts maintained that the majority of people, who attempt or threaten suicide, are actually not mentally ill. They may have some kind of psychosis or feel they are a bad or unworthy person. They also quoted a Finnish study that indicated that abortion increases the chances of a woman committing a suicide after the abortion. Interestingly they said that an abortion will not undo rape.

  Having said all that, we are still where we are legally and constitutionally. They talk about the law of the land and, as the Medical Council has stated, the basic law is our Constitution and it trumps every other law. Any law this House might pass must be in compliance with this, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has ruled and only the people in a referendum can undo what it decided. Now we are where we are and we have to abide by this. There are issues here. For instance the fifth progress report referred to the difference between abortion and miscarriage. It also states that a baby after 24 weeks is probably viable and that doctors at that stage are obliged to recognise that and to do everything they can to save a baby's life after 24 weeks.

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