NEXT Thursday, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013, which I introduced during the last Dáil, will be discussed in a two-hour private members debate and voted on the following week.
It is a piece of legislation to permit pregnancies to be terminated in Ireland in the rare but tragic cases where parents are given the worst news possible, that the foetus has a condition which is incompatible with life.
Presently in these situations, the woman can either continue the pregnancy until the foetus dies, or face the expensive and unsupported journey to another jurisdiction to have the pregnancy terminated, often having to smuggle the remains home in the boot of a car, or wait for ashes to arrive in a Jiffy bag from DHL.
On June 9, the UN Human Rights Committee found that a woman in Ireland who was forced to make that decision in 2011 was subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. They said that Ireland is obliged to prevent similar violations of human rights from occurring.
Contrary to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s statements, this is binding on Ireland. When the country signed up to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, we accepted the competence of this independent body to interpret the Convention.
The fact that their decisions are not enforceable in Irish courts can never be used as a justification for non-compliance. To be compliant we must ensure effective, timely, and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
It is against this backdrop that I re-entered the bill, which is identical to the bill presented by my colleague Clare Daly last year, who will move my bill next week, and I was delighted that it was selected.
These are no longer matters of opinion — it is a fact that Irish women’s human rights are being violated. Failure to act makes us complicit in this violation.
For years, we have heard a litany of Government ministers and TDs offer sympathy to the couples involved, wring their hands, and agree that “something” must be done. But they have done nothing. Doing nothing is simply not an option anymore.
Roughly two diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormality are made in Holles Street alone each week. The Liverpool Women’s Hospital sees between two and four Irish women every week, with a five-week waiting list. Each week’s delay is subjecting more and more people to cruel and inhumane treatment.
When the bill was moved last year, the Government relied on the advice of the Attorney General, which suggested that it was unconstitutional as a result of the Eighth Amendment. They are again seeking her opinion this time round.
I want to see that opinion published. It cannot be used as a fig leaf to cover the inaction of politicians.
The truth is that all it is an opinion. Actual unconstitutionality can only be determined by the courts. So why not allow the bill to pass, get the President under Article 26 to refer it to the Supreme Court?
The Constitution allows 60 days to have the matter determined. If they agree it is compatible with the Constitution, then we can — at least in these circumstances — end the inhumane treatment of Irish women.
If they find it is not constitutional, then we will only be in the situation that we are in now.
I am pro-choice, and believe that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is for the woman herself to decide.
It is not acceptable that any politician would advance the argument that they cannot support my bill because of the Eighth Amendment, and then refuse to call for a repeal of that amendment. Such a stance makes that individual complicit in human rights violations.
But it is not either/or. We can pass this bill, and we should repeal the Eighth.
Enda Kenny has talked about new politics and a new democracy. He has talked about a free vote in relation to the issue of abortion. The time for talking is over. In 1983 the whip was not imposed. Why not now?
The members of the Independent Alliance who are part of the Government have demanded a free vote. The Fine Gael deputies, many who have made promises to those who have been affected by this issue, have to follow suit.
When Clare Daly moved this Bill last year, she received an email from a woman who travelled to England to terminate her pregnancy which would not survive outside the womb.
She said it was the hardest and worst time of her life, and something that she would never forget, but what hurt her most was feeling so let down by her country and its politicians that would allow this cruelty go on. That’s the choice that every TD will have to make on this bill.
We can’t stop the pain and heartache that women and couples in this situation will experience, but we can ensure that they are supported by medical professionals in their own country, surrounded by family and friends.