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Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Conaghan: Information on Michael Conaghan Zoom on Michael Conaghan] The 1983 amendment is a cul-de-sac into which we have pushed women’s lives and we have sent them into this cul-de-sac at the most critical time in their lives. For the pro-life movement, the 1983 amendment was the solution to any future challenge. It put two lives - that of the mother and that of the unborn child - on an equal footing but instead of answering any future questions, this measure has made these questions more difficult to answer. While the idea of another referendum on abortion has, to date, been propagated only by the pro-life side, I also believe such an initiative may be needed to provide further clarity.

  The campaign for reproductive rights and women's rights is not new. It did not start last month, last year or even 20 years' ago. A clear legal framework in which pregnancies can be legally terminated has been a political imperative for over 30 years but successive Governments have failed repeatedly to act. I have great admiration for the work of Jim Kemmy. Thirty years ago at the helm of the Democratic Socialist Party, DSP, he charted a practical and courageous course. The DSP was a relatively small party but size did not limit its vision on abortion, Northern Ireland, Europe, workers’ rights, the patronage of schools and many more subjects. The course it laid out on abortion was not a popular one at the time but one would have to admire the courage and foresight that Jim Kemmy and the DSP demonstrated.

  At that time, one church set the moral parameters of political discourse and no established party was prepared to take it on. The orthodoxy at the time was that women had to take their chances and take their lives into their own hands. Jim Kemmy publicly challenged this orthodoxy and our entire political culture, and he paid a political price for it. The position that Jim Kemmy outlined and defended in the face of widespread opposition would have prevented many of the terrible, gruesome situations which have arisen over the past 30 years. He firmly believed that an absolute prohibition on abortion could not be justified as it may be necessary in certain, limited circumstances. Had his course of action been followed, X would not have needed to go to the Supreme Court in such tragic circumstances. Twenty years later, C would not have needed to go to the European Court of Human Rights. Although all the facts are not yet clear, I believe that had Jim Kemmy’s course been followed in 1983, the circumstances of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar may never have arisen. The following is an extract from the DSP's "Outline Policy on Women’s Rights", first published in 1982:

The woman who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy is presented with a catch-22 situation. Does she hide herself in a maternity hostel for 6 months, in the process losing her job or missing essential schooling? Does she face the social ostracisation of neighbours and work-mates for 9 months and then go through the trauma of adoption? Does she try to keep her child and spend many years in a desperate economic struggle, all the time apologising for her child’s existence? Or does she take the boat to England and have an abortion? Thousands of Irish women are annually making the latter choice. Many of these women are pregnant as a result of the inadequacy of contraceptive facilities here. Many are extremely young and pregnant through ignorance due to the lack of adequate sex-education in schools. Some are pregnant as a result of rape. Under Irish law, they are criminals if they opt for abortion. The morality which says to these women and girls that they must suffer the consequences, and which at the same time, ostracises the unmarried or widowed woman who is pregnant, must be exposed for the hypocrisy it is. The D.S.P. while opposed to indiscriminate abortion would consider it as a solution: where a woman’s life is endangered by pregnancy; where pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest; and to the terrible problems of congenital abnormality of the foetus which makes survival outside the womb impossible. The DSP confirms its view that this is a perfectly moral position to uphold in a pluralistic Irish society.

  This policy, considered barbaric by so many when it was first outlined in 1982, appears so reasonable and sensible to the majority of Irish public opinion 30 years later. A generation later, our political culture has broadened and finally caught up, and as we move forward, I suggest that this framework may well be the best guide. This sensible, moral position cost Jim Kemmy his seat in Dáil Éireann in 1982. During this campaign, he was denounced from the pulpit and pilloried by the local press, with the Limerick Leader writing "Abortionist Jim Kemmy is hitting below the belt" and "let the people decide which is the better way – the pro-life way or Kemmy's way of death".

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