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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 Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty] For me, as a new Member of the House, he produced a report that was exceptionally easy to read and understand, particularly given the difficult topic on which he had to deliberate.

We have been talking about this subject for years. It is an intimately personal issue. People say all politics is personal but this issue is particularly so. We do not think just about abortion or medical interventions. We are talking about raw emotions and uncanny feelings when discussing the lives of our loved ones, mothers, brothers and sisters. When we are confronted with emotional challenges they generate different feelings in us and in the past number of years this issue has grown to be a very raw subject for some people. I have struggled with it a great deal since Deputy Clare Daly introduced the first Bill on the subject.

I have thought a great deal about the eighth amendment, what it means to me as a human being, a Catholic and a mother and the exceptions to that amendment which we have discussed in recent months, that is, what they are, how we can deal with them and how to be compassionate and not considered cold feeling. I have done a great deal of soul searching in the past couple of months and what I keep coming back to is how much I cherish life - I refer not just to my own life but all life, the lives of the people I love and the lives of the people in our community - and how much respect each of us has for the gift of life. Many people will not feel the same as me but I believe life is a gift and something to be cherished and respected. It must be thoughtfully considered when discussing abortion.

Human beings inserted the eighth amendment into the Constitution in 1983 because they are full of kindness and understanding. That is the way we must approach the current issue presented to us. One would have to be the most unfeeling and uncaring person not to appreciate the pain and tragedy of the loss of Savita Halappanavar a number of weeks ago. Notwithstanding that, however, we must look at the medical treatment and interventions that happen each day for women in this country and stop saying the reason we must deal with this issue is that there is a question mark or some uncertainty in that regard. The uncertainty for many of us stems from the issue of including suicide in legislating for the X case. It is difficult for somebody who has a genuine fear that once the door is open it will not be capable of being closed. Deliberating on this in the Oireachtas committee in the next few weeks will provide us, hopefully, with some type of mechanism or architecture for allaying the genuine fears that exist, particularly for me and some of my Fine Gael colleagues.

At the end of this process I want to find myself in a situation where I can support legislation that will provide for the best medical practice and interventions. The journey I am on at present is to try to understand and appreciate how we can provide in legislation for something which, for me, is as abstract as the ruling which states that where it is a matter of probability there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother it can be avoided only by the termination of pregnancy. I have real difficulty with that. I cannot genuinely understand how that could be a treatment for or resolve any issues for people who are suffering from mental health issues or severe depression. That will be my difficulty over the next few months. However, I am very open minded and willing to sit through the Oireachtas committee hearings on 8, 9 and 10 January and the deliberations and debates in the House thereafter. I look forward to it.

One thing that upsets me in this debate, however, is talk about the differences in when some people believe life genuinely starts. I heard a quote yesterday which sums up the issue for me. It is that we do not grow into human beings, we grow as human beings. I genuinely believe that life begins at conception and that is why this debate and the treatment of this issue must be so respectful. Life is there from the moment of conception and we must tread exceptionally carefully.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I thank all the Deputies for their thoughtful and considered contributions to this discussion. We have heard many differing views and they will be useful in informing tomorrow's Government decision on the option to be pursued to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v. Ireland case. To conclude this discussion, I restate the Government's commitment to implement this judgment and to bring the required legal clarity to the issue of lawful abortion in Ireland. The decision by the Government will be within the confines of Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution and its interpretation by the Supreme Court. The joint committee on health and children, as was mentioned by Deputy Regina Doherty, will commence its public hearings on the implementation of the options chosen by the Government before the resumption of the Dáil in January. We all look forward to that.

  It is important to restate the position. I listened to the contributions and I would not disagree with the majority of them. When the Government decides to legislate or to legislate with regulations and I believe it will be a mixture of both - it is no longer an option to do nothing - it will not meet the expectation of the majority of Irish people. The eighth amendment to the Constitution and the Supreme Court's decision leave us in a position that all we can do is legislate or regulate in such a restrictive manner that there will be another case that will demand our attention in the future. People expect that when the Government acts in this case its action will be encompassing and deal with the issues that face women every day of the week, but that is not the case. What we will be able to do will be so limited that there will be another case.

  When are we going to mature? My position is very like that of the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I am not on one side or the other. Indeed, as the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, correctly said, the middle ground needs to find its voice, and I am very much on that ground. When will we give doctors and the people who treat women certainty in terms of health? We all know that women have completed a pregnancy despite medical advice that it would cause serious impairment of their health for the rest of their lives. It is very difficult to know when one's health deteriorates to such an extent that it will result in one's life being lost. That is the difficulty. When will we allow women, in consultation with their medical teams, to make decisions for themselves?

  The key to all of this debate is the issue of trust. Do we trust our mother, sister, aunt, friend, wife or partner or are we putting women in a position that they will have to feign insanity to do what they believe is the right thing? Nobody wants termination of pregnancy as a contraceptive. However, trust is central to this argument. We will now either legislate or legislate with regulations. Mark my words, however, there will be another incident, and we will have to return and confront this issue again. What we are about to do is far too narrow.

  I genuinely appreciate everybody's point of view on this issue, but more tolerance and debate will be necessary because it is not over yet.

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