I outlined my position previously in the Dáil following publication of the expert group report last December and there is no point in my reiterating the points I made on that occasion. I support the Bill, which is restrictive and will ensure that terminations do not become much more common than they are at the moment. Many of the e-mails I received referred to Lord David Steel’s legislation in the UK. I have spoken to many people about it. That legislation allowed for terminations based on mental health issues, which broadened the basis for abortion to include socio-economic reasons and people’s economic circumstances. The Bill before us is much more radical. It is totally different from the UK legislation to which I referred.
It has been suggested that women will dupe psychiatrists, which is an insult to women. It is also an insult to the psychiatric profession. We must have much more faith in women and also in the mental health service. Much of the debate on this aspect of the issue has been about what has been termed “suicidal ideation”. However, section 9 refers to “suicidal intent”, “where there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide”, which is more to do with suicidal intent than suicidal ideation. I spoke to a number of people about how one would differentiate between the two. It was explained as like being in a room on a fifth floor. Someone could walk into the room and say he or she is suicidal but if he or she walked to the window and stood on the window ledge and was about to jump then that is suicidal intent rather than suicidal ideation.
In section 9 we deal with what is freely available in this country currently, due to the judgment in the C case. In that case there was one psychiatric report and the High Court found that C was entitled to a lawful abortion on the grounds that her life was at risk because she was suicidal and that the risk would increase as her pregnancy advanced. Section 9 specifies that at least three medical professionals are required to unanimously decide that there is a real and substantive risk of the loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Bill does not address some issues. I understand the reasons, given the limitations set by the Constitution and the X case ruling. Women should not have to travel to the UK if they choose to have a termination in cases where the baby they carry is not compatible with life. I dread to think the horror such parents go through, having to leave their country when faced with such a difficult time in their lives.
I have spoken to women who have had terminations and who have regretted it, but I have also spoken to women who could not have a termination in this country and had to travel overseas. That should not have been necessary. I accept we cannot deal with the situation under this legislation but perhaps we could deal with it in future. Similarly, in cases of rape one must ask whether the horror of victims should be compounded by forcing them to travel if they believe they cannot continue with the pregnancy. The Bill does not provide for such cases but I bring my views to the attention of the Minister so that we might be in a position to alter the legislation in the future. A referendum could be put to the people to make a decision in that regard.
I have always had a problem with the language used to describe people, such as pro-choice and pro-life. I am very much pro-life but I am also of the belief that people should have a right to choose. It is a very personal decision for women and families. Consequently, I will support the Bill. In some circumstances it does not go far enough but we are restricted by the Constitution. I hope that some day a proposed amendment could be put to the people for their decision.