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 Header Item Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2012: Messages from Select Committees
 Header Item Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage [Private Members]

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 784 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tony McLoughlin: Information on Tony McLoughlin Zoom on Tony McLoughlin] Rather than continually highlighting what they see as mistakes, his detractors should acknowledge his efforts in both the central and local government area to reduce numbers and introduce real reform. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

Estimates for Public Services 2012: Messages from Select Committees

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes The Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for Public Services for the year ending 31 December 2012 - Vote 32.

  The Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for Public Services for the year ending 31 December 2012 - Votes 20 and 22.

  The Select Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for Public Services for the year ending 31 December 2012 - Vote 31.

Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage [Private Members]

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I propose to share my time with Deputies Joan Collins, Joe Higgins, Healy and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I am sad and angry to be here again to speak on this issue. We said in April when we introduced legislation on this issue that if the Government did not move on it, we would move on it again, a scenario we hoped would not happen. Sadly, here we are.

  We had to listen earlier to the fanfare from the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, which was more or less along the lines of the following:

Sure what is the rush? We have the report now - the media had it a week ago - and we will decide what to do about it before Christmas. We do not have to do anything before Christmas, but we will decide what to do and then we can sit around and talk about it for three days in the Joint Committee on Health and Children."

This is put forward as some sort of big concession.

  We must be clear on this. This issue was on the agenda of the House for discussion this week, but was bumped to next week because of the budget. Now the Minister tells us, framing it as a concession, that it will be addressed next year. The Taoiseach talks about more time and the need for consensus and the need to move forward carefully. The Minister let the word "legislation" slip out in an interview earlier, but he quickly corrected himself. We know there is no certainty coming from the Government on this. The same arguments we have been hearing over past decades are being repeated. We hear the same arguments we heard when we moved our Bill previously: "Give us more time." This is not good enough. The person who does not have time is Savita Halappanavar. How many other cases must we wait for? When we moved a version of the Bill earlier this year, this woman was not even pregnant. Now she is dead. Must we wait for another such case? Almost two years ago, the Council of Europe found Ireland guilty of violating the human rights of women by failing to provide for our constitutional right to abortion where our lives were in danger, including the danger of suicide. This was two years ago. The response to that and to the requests of the Council of Europe for interim measures was that the Government was looking at it. This is not good enough.

  The findings of the expert group are no surprise. They are exactly as we knew they would be and as found by the other expert groups and by the Supreme Court. In order to secure a woman's right to an abortion in these very limited circumstances, we need legislation. That is the simple, uncomplicated fact. Our Bill provides a basis for that legislation. We do not say our Bill is perfect, but it is a start. If the Government does not take this start tonight - we are all aware any legislation it plans is only in the commencement stages - the legislative process will not start until at least another four or five months from now. That is not good enough. The only negative opinion expressed by the expert group on legislation was that it might take a considerable period of time to bring it forward. We have saved the House that time by providing the basis upon which to start. That is all we propose. Let there be no doubt about it - against the backdrop of increased austerity, the option of the boat or the plane will not be available for sick women in this country in the intervening four or five months. If we do not begin the process of legislation tomorrow, we will be condemning women and their doctors to the same legal grey area that has been the subject of an outpouring of emotion from women and the medical profession on the airwaves over the course of the past month.

  How could anybody say this Bill is rushed? For me, the saddest part of moving this Bill is that it does not even begin to deal with the majority of reasons thousands of Irish women must choose abortions every year. It does not deal with the circumstances of pregnancies arising out of rape or incest, the decisions people must make because they are too young or too old, or many other diverse reasons. It does not deal with the circumstances of women who have contacted all of us because their foetuses had fatal abnormalities and the State had condemned them to carry them to full term or be exported in secret with stigma and shame.

  It is a scandal that the House cannot move legislation to deal with this - to deal with simple medical procedures that are, in reality, a private and personal matter between women and their doctors. The reason for this is the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. We will champion the call for the repeal of the eighth amendment, but sadly, that is not the subject of today's debate. The first vital step we must take is to legislate for the X case. This Bill is not simply a reintroduction of the Bill we tabled earlier this year. We listened to what the Government said at that time and have made relevant amendments to the Bill which satisfy the concerns aired.

  The first thing our legislation does is to remove the validity of the Offences against the Person Act in the area of medical treatment of women who need an abortion to save their lives. This is a necessary provision. Second, the Bill lays out clear criteria for doctors in assessing the risks for pregnant women so that where two doctors have an honestly held and reasonable belief that as a matter of probability there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman, they are legally empowered to carry out an abortion. In the case of suicide, it would require the opinion of a consultant psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist or a combination of both of these to make that medical call. I am aware the expert group has suggested a different combination of medical practitioners, and that is fine. The Bill can be amended on Committee Stage to take into account the best medical decisions. We agree with the expert group that these are medical decisions between women and their doctors. All we can do as legislators is provide the primary basis on which that can be done. Our Bill allows the option, after that, of a further opinion, either from a medical practitioner of her choice or via a referral from the other doctor. It also allows for the establishment of an appeals body, the details of which would rest with the Minister for Health in order to give it validity. That body should operate on a timely basis, coming to its decisions within one day, because we are talking about circumstances in which women's lives are in danger.

  As the Minister can see, by accounting for these issues we have provided a primary legislative basis which can be built upon and added to by regulation as recommended by the expert group. This is not really that difficult. Every other jurisdiction manages it.

  Section 7 of our Bill allows for a medical practitioner to object conscientiously to participating in these procedures, provided the woman's life is not jeopardised and provided the practitioner provides information and refers the woman on to somebody else who will carry out the necessary medical treatment. Conscientious objection should not apply to a hospital or to somebody not directly involved in the medical procedure.

  Two other issues we address in our Bill were ones the Government highlighted earlier as being in need of change, namely the areas of consent and offences.

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