Contribution to Debate on the Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Resumed)

December 7th, 2012 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome this opportunity to contribute to today’s debate. I acknowledge the commitment of the Minister for Health and the Government to listen to the debate and give careful consideration to the views expressed in the House before any decision is made on the recommendation of the expert report. The issue of abortion is one of the most painful and controversial issues which will ever come before the House. Many of us in the House in all parties have very strong and deeply held views on the matter. The lack of consensus is also reflected in the Irish people who are equally divided. Every day I receive calls from constituents who hold strong and diverging views on how we should move forward. Five referenda have been put before the people and on each occasion the campaigns were bitterly fought. Ireland has seen many economic and social changes in the past 30 years since Article 40.3.3° was first inserted in the Constitution but there has been little change in people’s attitude to abortion. It remains a very emotive issue and the country is as deeply divided now as it was 30 years ago.

The latest situation arose as a result of a judgment of the European Court on Human Rights in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland. The Government established an expert group in January and I congratulate this group on the work it has done. It has made a number of recommendations which must be considered. The debate has been further complicated by the recent tragic events in Galway and I express my sympathy to Praveen Halappanavar on the death of his wife Savita. The entire country has been deeply affected by what happened. It is important that the facts of the case be established as quickly as possible. Two inquiries are under way, namely, a HSE inquiry headed by an eminent professor and a HIQA inquiry. The first priority is to have a prompt conclusion to these inquiries and ensure pregnant women in the country have the confidence they will receive the best possible care when they enter our hospitals.

It is not right to apportion blame to the medical profession or anybody else without establishing the facts. We also need these inquiries to conclude as promptly as possible, because some people have sought to exploit this tragedy to force the House to rush through legislation. I do not want go into the specifics of the case. The eyes of the world may be upon us but we should not be rushed. The full facts should be available to us before any decision is made because it is important we get it right. We all know how rushed legislation can lead to bad law. It is important to point out to those observing the debate outside the country that our maternal death rate is one of the lowest in Europe and we have the highest birth rate per capita in Europe.

Legislating for abortion is fraught with confusion. In 2002 the then Government put a referendum before the people which sought to exclude suicide as grounds for abortion, which was rejected by the people. Last week a ReDC poll carried out by the Sunday Business Post reported that 85% of people now support legislating for the X case, which means allowing abortion where the mother’s life is threatened including by suicide. However, as in 2002 there appears to be much confusion because the same poll shows 63% of people believe suicide should be excluded as grounds for abortion. Based on analysis of the calls I have received it is clear a substantial number of people have doubts about making abortion available on the grounds of suicide.

However, there is universal agreement on one matter, which is that everyone wants to ensure where a clear danger to the life of the mother exists every medical intervention is performed to save her life. This right is already enshrined in Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution. If further clarity is needed for the medical profession in this regard it should be provided and clear guidelines issued. However, legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide is a very different matter. This is a very complex area with many differing views among the medical experts as to whether it is necessary. The suicide rate among women is low and a previous speaker referred to this. It is approximately 4.5 per 100,000 and it is extremely rare for it to occur during pregnancy. According to statistics, between 1980 and 2011 two suicides among women occurred in the three Dublin maternity hospitals, both of which occurred post delivery. One of the women had a long history of depression and the other a long history of substance abuse. It would be virtually impossible to legislate for every eventuality and several questions arise, such as who will determine a woman is suicidal and that her life can be saved by an abortion. Will the view of one psychiatrist be sufficient? Will general practitioners be involved?
Will it require the involvement of a second psychiatrist? Will a panel of experts be involved? There are many questions that need to be asked here. At this stage, I am not convinced that abortion on the grounds of suicide should be part of any legislative solution and I will take a great deal of convincing that legislating in these cases would be watertight so that it would not lead to abortion on demand.
Like other Deputies, I have reservations. We all have our own personal experience. I will not discuss it but given my own personal experience, I value life very much indeed. I value every minute of life.
I am pro-life and anti-abortion and I do not want to see abortion available on demand in this country. All I hope is that our views and concerns can be taken on board and that a solution can be found to the European court judgment which should try to satisfy all of us.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate today. It is very sensitive for many. Like Deputy Creed, I would have liked the hearings to have been held before the Cabinet makes any decision. I hope the Minister might take those views on board.