Statement on the Expert Group Report
I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is a very complex issue. It is evident that this debate, which has been on-going since 1983, is one which divides the nation like few others. Since my election to Dáil Éireann I would have to say that I have not received as much correspondence on any other issue as this one.
The labels of Pro-life and Pro-choice are regrettable ones. I believe the vast majority of the people in this country do not wish to see abortion on demand. I do not and I feel it’s important to state that.
I welcome the publication of the Expert Group Report whose establishment was a commitment given by this Government. The complexity, sensitivity and multi-faceted nature of this issue demanded that it be properly examined and this is why the Expert Group was set up. Its purpose is not to direct Government policy but to assist by examining and analysing the facts to provide a series of recommendations which can then be considered, accepted, amended and so forth.
At the heart of this debate – but strangely not commented upon to any great extent – is our Constitution and respect for the primacy of law. In 1992, the Supreme Court – the chief interpreters of our Constitution – passed a judgment focusing on the inclusion of the risk of suicide under the definition of the risk to the life of the mother. Therefore, with that judgement it is clear that the highest court in our land has interpreted our Constitution as permitting a termination when the life of the mother is endangered either through physical or mental health conditions.
As the Expert Group Report notes “The Supreme Court decided in 1992 that the Constitution permitted abortion in certain limited and particular circumstances, namely, where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother which could only be removed by terminating the pregnancy.”
The reality is that this judgment has been ignored by several governments now. And as I have pointed out to people who have contacted me on this matter – it is not at all healthy for a society’s Government to ignore the courts. It shows a lack of regard and respect for the primacy of law which I think all right-thinking members of society will agree is a very necessary feature for any democracy.
Other governments have attempted to mitigate the Supreme Court’s decision through referenda which it must be emphasised were both rejected by the people of Ireland.
In the ABC case the European Court of Human Rights found that Article 8 of the European Convention had been violated because although our Constitution contains Article 40.3.3 there is no provision in Irish law to measure or determine the risk referred to in the X case. So, in effect we have uncertainty. And uncertainty is the anti-hero of properly functioning legislation.
The recent, tragic events in Galway have exposed the uncertain environment which is operating. I don’t know the precise details of what happened in University Hospital Galway. Too many people have made assumptions on what went wrong. Whilst not knowing where fault lies I think it’s important to note, for balance, that the hospital, in which I was born, University Hospital Galway, formerly known as the Regional, did not experience a single maternal mortality in 17 years prior to the tragic death of Savita. In that time my 7 nephews and nieces were safely delivered as were countless others.
What we do know for certain is that Savita Halapanavar died before her time and because of this the need to investigate is paramount. It is only right that three investigations are underway – one each by Galway Roscommon University Hospital Group, the HSE and HIQA. I’m confident that these enquiries will determine precisely what happened at UHG which led to the tragedy. Furthermore we must also note that Minister Reilly has not ruled out a public enquiry. However, it’s also important that the staff of UHG is not deprived natural justice. Much commentary in the media, and elsewhere, has been unfair speculation
As with most other Fine Gael TDs I have received postcards on this issue containing a message which reads: ‘Without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless’ and I couldn’t agree more with this statement but I also believe this statement applies to pregnant women as it does to unborn children.
The task before us now is to remedy the uncertainty which exists. The women of Ireland and the medical profession need to know where they stand in relation to the law. The opinions and views of the masters and heads of the maternity hospitals must also be carefully considered as it is these men and women who are the frontline of this issue.
Above all, in addressing the complexities of this issue we must proceed carefully. This issue requires careful consideration because of the far reaching consequences of any decisions taken which will undoubtedly be of a legal, medical, ethical and constitutional nature.