Senator Power Speaks on the Report of the Expert Group on the Judgement in the A, B and C Case in the Seanad (6/12/12)

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Senator Averil Power:

I appreciate that abortion is an emotive and sensitive issue. I understand some Members of this House, including some members of my own party, to which Senator Jim Walsh will attest when he makes his contribution, have deeply held moral or religious objections to abortion in any circumstance. However, as legislators, we have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and it is clear from the judgment in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland that the Oireachtas has failed to fulfil that responsibility. According to the European Court of Human Rights, the lack of legislation has resulted in “a striking discordance between the theoretical right to a lawful abortion in Ireland on grounds of a relevant risk to a woman’s life and the reality of its practical implementation”. It is clear from the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that Ireland is required to put in place an effective and accessible procedure to enable women to establish whether they qualify for a termination in the State in accordance with the test set out in the X case criteria. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. It is past time for us to legislate for the judgment in the X case. It is past time to give proper and practical recognition to the constitutional rights of pregnant women whose lives are at risk. It is past time to give doctors a clear legal framework in which they can act to protect mothers’ lives without the chilling effect of the 1961 Act hanging over them.

I welcome the expert group’s report which, like Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, I have read in detail. I have considered each of the options put forward in it. My belief is that a combination of legislation and regulations is the most sensible approach. Primary legislation would give us the legal strength we need on this issue, while regulations would mean the legislation would not have to be excessively detailed. The regulations would put the meat on the bones of the legislative position. I hope legislation will be brought before the House as soon as possible after Christmas, as we have already had too much of a delay on the issue.

However, I am also conscious that when we legislate for the judgment in the X case, we will still be leaving some of the most vulnerable women in the country without the support they deserve – victims of rape and women whose babies have fatal foetal abnormalities which the expert group has stated are generally thought to be outside the scope of the X case. I would like to read from an e-mail I received from a woman who has faced such circumstances:

I had always been someone who said I would never have an abortion – unfortunately I didn’t know what lay ahead for me. I was with my husband 10 years when we decided … to have children. Much to our delight after ten months I finally fell pregnant. I did everything right, I took care of myself [and took]folic acid … My bump grew and I began to feel my lovely baby kick me and move about. I finally received my appointment for my first scan at 22 weeks … and here all changed. When I had my scan I was told that my beautiful daughter had a condition called anencephaly [which meant that she]had no hope of surviving and would die without a doubt. If she survived the pregnancy, she would probably die at birth or within a few hours. To say we were heartbroken is an understatement … How would I cope emotionally? How could I keep growing day by day and feel this baby inside me? How would I deal with the questions from well meaning people – when is your baby due [they would ask me]? How could I watch my perfect baby struggle and die in my arms? After much deliberation, I felt it would be too difficult to continue with the pregnancy knowing our daughter was going to die and I opted for a termination in the UK … Because of our laws, I was not allowed receive any help from the hospital here …. I wanted this baby so much but [I knew] she was going to die – no medical intervention could prevent this. It was the most difficult thing in my life. I had to leave my home, my comfortable surroundings and travel to a strange country …. [it]was difficult enough …. without having the added problems of travelling to the UK …. I could have had all my family around me. I could have had my own comforts. I could have seen my lovely daughter and buried her close to me. Now, I will never know what she looked like and I have no place to visit her.

The lady who sent me that e-mail said she never thought she would have an abortion. However, it is clear from the circumstances she outlined in her e-mail that this is not a black and white issue. My personal experience and the circumstances of my own birth mean I will never support abortion on demand. It just does not sit with me. It is not a choice between two extremes. It is not a choice between no termination in any circumstance and a fully liberalised regime.

It is certainly not a choice between the current Irish system and that in place in the United Kingdom, although Senator Rónán Mullen may have implied that it was. As Senator Deirdre Clune rightly pointed out, that is comparing apples and oranges. Nobody is suggesting we introduce the UK system here. We should legislate for the judgment in the X case, but we should also have a referendum to let the people decide whether abortion should be available to victims of rape and incest and women whose babies cannot survive outside the womb.

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