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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 Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes] They have done the State a great service, not just in terms of the way in which the report was written, but also the way in which the options were clearly set out therein. I encourage everyone to read the report. As the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, stated, it is written in clear language and people both inside and outside the Houses will understand the full import of its contents.

I will outline where our responsibility lies. The Houses of the Oireachtas comprise the elected representatives of the Irish people. As legislators, we have a duty under the Constitution to act when the situation demands it. We have delayed for far too long. Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court outlined what needed to be done. Over the years, many medical professionals working in this area have also called for legal clarity. Most recently, the European Court of Human Rights has demanded action.

The failure of successive Governments to act has put the lives of women at risk. Too often, we only respond when a crisis develops. This generation of legislators is now called upon to exercise its duty. We must not be afraid to do so. Legal clarity and a full, proper legislative response to the issues contained in the X case ruling of more than 20 years ago are required.

We are faced with the complex work of drafting a legal framework. Our work must be guided by the Constitution and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it. We have a duty of care to this and future generations of women. Women are not some abstract concept. They are our wives, partners, daughters, mothers, sisters and neighbours. They are the ones who must take on the joys and burdens of child bearing. I sometimes believe that, if men had the responsibility, there would be few children in the country. We must do everything possible to lessen the fear and risk for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. In this debate on these complex issues, I will give greater weight to the opinion of women in all of its diversity.

We also have a duty to provide greater legal clarity to doctors and other health professionals. We must accept that it will never be possible to provide for each and every eventuality. In a real life risk situation, the wishes of the person carrying the risk must be given the greater weight.

We must also be guided by a thoughtful, ethical approach and by respect for human life in all of its forms. Science and medicine should inform our thinking, as should our cultural and belief systems. Science informs us that life is a continuum. Human life has its beginning during the process of fertilisation, during which each of us obtains a unique genetic heritage. However, on an ethical and philosophical level, it is important to distinguish between potential and actual. That new beginning is not yet an actual human being, but it has the potential to be so. A human being is a process of becoming, through gestation, birth and beyond into a full adult life. Article 40.3.3° on the unborn's right to life expresses the strongly held view of the people that all human life deserves respect and protection.

The abortion debate in Ireland and other countries has been characterised by extremes. At one end of the debate is the absolute right of the mother to choose irrespective of the stage of pregnancy or the development of the unborn. At the other extreme is the view that a full human being is created at fertilisation and that its life must take precedence over the health of the mother irrespective of the circumstances. Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of recent Irish history that the so-called pro-life campaign and its refusal to listen to others facilitated the introduction of abortion to Ireland.

I reject both extremes. I reject absolutes. Life is not lived in some kind of ideal world of platonic absolutes. Life is not lived in black or white. Life is lived by real people in real time. In the midst of enjoying the pleasures and happiness that life brings, we must also deal with the mess that comes from being human.

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