Closing Statement – Heads of Bill: Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013

Tuesday, 21st May 2013


Thank you very much.  The 1992 Referendum was actually my first Referendum vote.  Over the following 21 years, I spent 15 years working in the private sector and then headed up different children and youth NGOs both in a voluntary and professional capacity.  In these roles I listened carefully to the debate around abortion but I never actively formulated a position.   So, I do feel a little bit nervous.  This is the first time I am publically stating how I feel on this issue.

The hearings we [Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children] held in January 2013, and over the last three days, have given me an opportunity to form a definitive position.  I would like to begin by thanking all of the experts, across both sets of hearings, for their informative inputs.  At times we heard from more than one expert from the same discipline giving contradictory evidence. It has been a difficult process to work through but extremely useful.  I would like to thank my colleagues, the secretariat and in particular our chair Jerry Buttimer TD.

I can now say with confidence that I support the Government’s decision to legislate.  This Bill only deals with difficult, rare and complex circumstances.

Of course I have some caveats.  I am concerned about us separating out physical and mental health.  I feel in the wider public debate on mental health that it is a retrograde step.  I believe that that Heads 2 and 4 should be merged. While I have heard conflicting legal arguments and reasoning, I do not believe a sufficient argument has been made to distinguish between the manner through which a “risk of loss of life” manifests. As noted by the Expert Group, a differentiated treatment does not appear to be required for medical or practical reasons.  In the words of Dr McCarthy to the Committee “suicide in pregnancy is real, a real risk, it does happen.”  There is no distinction in Article 40.3.3 and so to distinguish physical and mental health in this Bill would be to alter the law. I do not believe we should have differentiated treatments.

I am concerned about the scope of Head 19.  I think it is extremely broad, in fact too broad.  It covers a wide range of activities including and beyond that previously covered by sections 58 & 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861.  Some of the scope is unclear-what exactly is covered? The penalties are disproportionate.   I have concerns over the appeals process timelines and conscientious objection. I think we need a further discussion to explore these issues.

I am concerned about the silence in the proposed legislation on children, particularly young girls.  I believe we need specific legislation to address many of the issues raised over the past few days.   I am troubled that we will compound voiceless children who are in the care of the State in this legislation.

Our hearings have also highlighted the importance of the forthcoming Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill, which is urgently needed.

I must say I found any association, actual or implied, between abortion in Europe and the Holocaust, to be distasteful in the extreme. Besmirching the memory of millions of murdered Jews by turning them into a pawn in the abortion debate displays a woeful ignorance of the Holocaust, and a woeful disrespect to the memory of the victims.

Whatever one’s opinion on the abortion issue, the debate is between well-intentioned people on both sides of the argument. There are no two sides of the Holocaust.  I would respectfully encourage my colleagues to desist from making this highly offensive connection during the continuing debate.  We must not allow the 6 million victims of a diabolical premeditated attempt to eradicate an entire people to be dragged into this abortion debate.

In ending, I was appointed by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, particularly in recognition of my work on children’s rights.   Advocacy on children’s rights has not been an easy road to travel and therefore on this decision and talking about child protection I did have to consider my position.  I stand here with confidence.  I will continue to constructively engage with care, conviction and compassion.

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