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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 Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] Some of my colleagues in this House are young enough not to know much about the campaigns and debates of the 1980s and 1990s but both were impassioned. It was often the level of passion which rendered problematic, if not impossible, the task of legislating.

We must now repair the gap, the lack of trust and the uncertainty that has now developed between the people, their legislators and the maternity hospitals with regard to pregnancy. We must make explicit the standards and regulations guiding the delivery of one of the best maternity services in the world. We must, in short, act as the Government pledged it would in the light of the advice of the expert group. How we act will have a powerful if indirect effect on the confidence of women, their partners and families in the consistency and high standards of care provided by Ireland's maternity services.

Let us also face another reality for Irish women. As of this year, more than 4,000 women travel annually out of Ireland for terminations. These are daughters, wives, partners, sisters, mothers, friends and work colleagues. They range in age from the very young - some 11% are teenagers - to the 37% who are aged 30 or older. They are ordinary Irish women who for many different reasons face a pregnancy they believe they cannot continue. Some have sought counselling or support before making the decision but many know that despite the support and promotion of counselling and related services, there is an underlying Irish code of "Don't tell, just go."

The people involved in such cases frequently find themselves ridden by internal contradictions. One woman told me she voted "pro-life", as she termed it, in the 1983 referendum, and she also told me her daughter had a very serious crisis pregnancy, and she had taken her for an abortion. She said, "I voted pro-life to stop irresponsible demands for abortion". That makes sense and it makes no sense, that is, just as it makes sense to say Ireland does not have abortion, it makes no sense when we know Irish women travel to have terminations in our neighbouring jurisdiction. It makes sense to be fearful of change and it makes no sense to brand women as being duplicitous and untrustworthy, likely to claim suicidal thoughts and pull the wool over the eyes of the medical profession in an effort to seek the option of an abortion.

Since when has it become permissible to make such bald and dismissive statements about women and people presenting with serious mental health problems? Since when has it become permissible to resist the idea that pregnancy might trigger or could exacerbate existing mental health conditions? Let us not go there or attribute ruthless, uncaring duplicity to women we do not know and who in the distant future may have a crisis pregnancy. We do not progress in that way.

Where we have progressed it has come through respectful responses to reality. Our attempts to reduce the levels of unplanned pregnancy and provide better support and encouragement - there is history in that regard - to women in choosing to have their babies have, I am thankful, made some progress. We have a long way to go and I certainly favour a more determined and intensive level of attention to the work of the crisis pregnancy unit of the Department of Health. That was formerly an independent agency but it is now working as part of an interdepartmental and inter-agency national action plan.

This debate has specifically been about a failure to act in the wake of the X case and in light of the cases which have arisen since. It has resulted in an unacceptably grey area in medical practice. The masters of some of our maternity hospitals and many other health professionals insist that clear law, supported by equally clear regulation, is essential.

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