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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] As we move to meet this need, we must not segregate women into the selfish majority who are not to be trusted in this area and the tragic few hard cases as to do so would be irresponsible and shameful.

This Government is committed to doing what no Government has done before. We will make the necessary changes to bring clarity to this issue by regulation, legislation or a combination of both. After years of inaction, we will deliver a clear framework for medics and women in their care whose lives are at risk. We must also take some other steps. We must acknowledge in our health statistics information on Irish women who travel to other jurisdictions for terminations.

We must also acknowledge the painful reality for those expectant families who are faced with the news that their baby will not survive outside the womb. These tragic cases of fatal foetal abnormality, as the A, B and C report acknowledges, are generally considered to be outside the principle arising from the X case. I recently met a woman who experienced such circumstances; her story is representative. Sarah and her husband John were delighted to be pregnant in 2009. Scans taken at the Coombe Hospital in the 13th week showed a pregnancy that was progressing normally and later, in the 26th week, that Sarah and John were expecting a daughter. Within days, however, the position changed as a further scan showed a fatal foetal abnormality. The couple's daughter had anencephaly - she was not forming a brain - and would not survive outside Sarah's womb. Sarah suddenly knew that medical treatment which could save her baby was not available and her daughter would not live. She assumed that a Caesarian section would be scheduled because it did not occur to her that anything other than this would happen. However, she then found herself in the twilight zone the Irish health system becomes when such a crisis arises. Sarah's circumstances were not normal and the diagnosis was clear. She was informed she could travel to Britain to be induced in an English hospital. She, her father, who is from the midlands, John and his mother sought and obtained in England the care Sarah needed. Although it was clear to Sarah and her family that her doctors were unable to act in her circumstances, at least they were aware of all the options, which is not the case for everyone. What is evident from anecdotal evidence is that when such circumstances arise, there is no consistency in care, advice or practice.

Some question marks have also arisen about the accuracy of Irish statistics on maternal deaths. We must have accurate data on maternal mortality, the number of diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities and the care given to women in such circumstances. We must face reality by gathering statistics in these areas to understand precisely what is happening in our hospitals. We cannot have grey areas on this matter as the position is not fair on the medics and women involved. As I stated, a review is also needed of the crisis pregnancy division of the Department of Health to identify what more we can do about the continuing unacceptably high rate of crisis pregnancy in Ireland.

Whatever guidelines are developed as a result of the events of recent months, they must be enacted in the common good and respect the fact that the people who live here are of many faiths and none. No patient in a State hospital should be ever told his or her care is driven by anything other than our laws and best medical practice. Let us stop the discourse that is based on the illusion that we do not have abortion in Ireland. What we do not have are the hospital services and legislative framework and the reason the current position is sustainable is that our close neighbour provides both.

Can the legacy of recent weeks and our accumulating understanding of our flawed system lead us to holding a national debate which grasps the reality and complexity of crisis pregnancy? I sincerely hope so.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes I place on record my appreciation of the work done by Mr. Justice Ryan and the other members of the expert group.

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