ULA TDs argue for women’s right to choose

The two ULA TDs to speak during the debate on Clare’s Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) (No. 2) Bill 2012 were Richard Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly. Here is the text of their speeches taken from the government web site:

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: My anger at the failure of this State to vindicate the rights of women over a period of 20 years or more has really risen in recent days. That failure has emboldened so-called pro-life advocates to once again argue about the lives, rights and bodies of women. This is the spectacle we have witnessed in recent days. They are arguing as to whether suicidal feelings represent a real threat to a woman’s life, about when the threat to a woman’s health becomes a threat to her life and what are the best interests of a woman who has been raped, is the victim of incest or has become pregnant with a child with genetic abnormalities. Those discussions are both obnoxious and medieval in nature. Some Deputies on the opposite side of the House have stated that we must discuss the intricacies of these matters. We do not need to do so because it is not possible to make definitive adjudications on psychological matters, on when a threat to a woman’s health becomes a threat to her life, on whether suicidal feelings may lead someone to commit suicide or on when the continuation of a pregnancy represents a real and substantial threat to the life of a woman. The fact that any of these things might come to pass should be sufficient to ensure that the women involved would have the right to terminate their pregnancies. The only way to proceed is to allow women to decide.

Savita Halappanavar should have been allowed to have an abortion because she asked to have one. That is the right we need to uphold and vindicate. In fairness to the Minister, he accepted this and indicated that the current legal and constitutional framework means that even if we legislate for women who are pregnant with children with genetic abnormalities, who are the victims of rape or who find themselves in the other circumstances to which I refer, their rights would not be vindicated. That is medieval. If those in government are serious about this matter and if they really mean what they say when they make statements such as that, then they should indicate that they are going to bring forward legislation to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution. They should also clearly state that a referendum will be held in order to remove these medieval restrictions on women.

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday in which someone said they had discovered the meaning of the word feminism, namely, that women are human beings. We need to establish women’s rights in this regard. The Government – if it means what it says – can commit to holding the referendum to which I refer. In the interim, however, emergency legislation is needed in order to cater for the judgment handed down in the X case. The argument that the Bill before the House is not perfect is not an adequate reason to vote it down. Neither is the argument that we have not had adequate time to consider it and the matters relating to it. If the Government really believes the latter, then it should offer to make time available for us to continue the debate on the Bill next week. If the Government indicates that we can use its time to engage in a non-guillotined debate on the Bill – this would give those opposite and everyone else in the House an opportunity to frame the amendments necessary to refine it – then we will not push the matter to a vote.

The Bill was put forward in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy which we never want to see repeated and in order to expedite matters in respect of this issue. Doctors should never again be expected to operate in a position of legal uncertainty with regard to when they can act in the interest of saving a woman’s life. I wish to put an offer to the Government, namely, that it should extend the debate on the Bill into next week, at which point it can put forward its own amendments. If it does not do this, then it appears that the Government is not serious about this matter and is again guilty of facilitating the type of delays that have marked the past 20 years.

Deputy Clare Daly: Some Deputies have called our Bill scurrilous and that they are disappointed we tabled it. It is absolutely scurrilous that we are back here again and I am disappointed with the Government’s reaction. Much of what has been said could be summed up as excuses, excuses. When we were here in April, the Government told us we would have to wait for the report of the expert group. In April, Savita Halappanavar was not yet pregnant but now the woman is tragically dead. This time we are told the Government needs time to read the report when the whole country read it in last weekend’s Sunday newspapers.

Even if they did not, we have to face it that it is not that complicated. It is a 58-page straightforward report with many diagrams and pictures. That is not out of any disrespect to those who wrote this report. The reason we make this point is that it is patently obvious that we have to legislate. This was the outcome of all the other previous expert groups and that is reality. We are not proposing to take up the opportunity of legislation tonight but to have 20 hours of discussions about it in the coming days. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, said last night, a woman has had a legal right – he called it clear and unambiguous – to have an abortion where her life is in danger including a risk from suicide. Women have had that right for 30 years, yet during this time women have not been able to exercise that right because of the successive failures of this House to legislate for it.

It is not petty point-scoring but last week the Opposition supported a call for legislation in this area and tonight we provided it. We are not saying it is perfect but it is a start. Failure to make the start tonight means inevitably this legislation will be delayed for another six months. Is there another woman who is not pregnant now but who may find our six-month delay has tragic consequences for her down the line?

We have had to listen to quite a few excuses tonight. I take offence at Members from Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party who lectured us about being divisive and that we need to get 83 votes to get this through. If those two parties supported us for a start, we would be well on the way to getting 83 votes for the Bill. What is their point? What are they hiding behind? The Government pleads with us to withdraw it, saying we are being divisive. We are not. We are offering our Bill to the House to make it the collective property of all of us and to send a signal to women, the Irish people and the people of Europe that we as a Parliament will begin to take action on a matter we have ignored for so long.

It is all very well for Ministers to claim they have a roadmap for action. We have had this map for some time. What we need is the car’s ignition to be turned on. The problem is there has been a huge amount of talk rather than action. It is regrettable the Government will not allow this Bill pass Second Stage. On this, as well as several other issues, this House is out of touch with people in society. We have had an outpouring of emotion with ordinary citizens demanding we take action as they are sick of us talking about it. I received one e-mail from a woman who described herself as a mother, a daughter, a woman who has been through a life-threatening pregnancy that resulted in abortion. She told me she protested for the first time since she was in college as she never felt so moved to stand up and be counted in her life. She has just had her second child, a beautiful baby girl, and this is not what she wants for her or her country, for which she is usually proud. Another woman wrote to me, “As a woman with grown-up children, I thought I had lost the urge to fight. Well I am telling you now, I have refound it”. Another women wrote, “I want legislation. Please do this for me, for the child I am carrying, for my grandchildren who one day will be Irish”.

Irish people have evidently moved on with regard to this issue. What this discussion really shows is that the campaign to repeal the eight amendment to the Constitution starts here tonight. Let me say this to Deputy Keating who could not be bothered to stay to listen to the debate: it is not about just removing the eight amendment but to provide for legislation for free, safe and legal abortion in this country. That is not walk-in, walk-out abortion. What an insult to women and their doctors to describe all the many and difficult reasons that women face when choosing whether to have an abortion. Many of these reasons are complicated; all are valid. How dare Deputy Keating slander women in this regard. Against the backdrop of increased austerity, our delay on this matter will jeopardise more lives. People will not have the money for the boat or the plane to go to England and will be forced to resort to emergency medication as described by Deputy Halligan.

I am embarrassed our Bill could only legislate for the X case. It gave us the start to do that, however. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, correctly last night said that even if this legislation is passed or the Government comes up with legislation in six months’ time, we will still have one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the world. We will still not be dealing with the thousands of women who every year have to leave this country for an abortion. We will not be providing for those who become impregnated because of rape or incest or for women with fatal foetal abnormalities. The Minister for Justice and Equality described this as an indefensible cruelty.

However, the Minister in his reply to this Bill, put his hands up in the air stating this is a not a matter for government. If it is not, then for whom is it a matter? The Minister with responsibility for equality said women are not equal as they have a limited right to health and bodily integrity. That is not enough in a modern civilised society. The people in every corner of this country will not tolerate women being treated in this way. The reason we are treated in this way is because of this clause in the Constitution, which restricts our right to health.

We know our Bill tonight is only the first step but it is a necessary one to deal with this long overdue issue. We are not bringing abortion into Ireland. Irish abortion already exists for thousands of women every year. What we are asking for is an end to the hypocrisy and to allow people treat this private and personal matter as one of personal choice between them and their doctors. We, along with all the people who have been in contact with us over the past several weeks, will not rest until the House starts to deal with these issues. I am not withdrawing the Bill. We want to press it, not as a panacea but as a signal to our citizens and future generations, as well as to the eyes of the world looking in on us, that we are at last beginning with some seriousness to address this long overdue issue.


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