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Labour stands ready to legislate

Posted on November 28, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Last night Minister of State Kathleen Lynch spoke in the Dáil about the publication of the Expert Group report on the A, B and C v Ireland judgement saying that Labour stands ready to legislate. You can see what she said in the accompanying video or read her speech which is detailed below. You can read the report at this link.

I wish to thank Deputy Daly and her colleagues for raising this important matter in the Dáil and for their valuable work in attempting to frame this complex legal and medical issue in a legislative proposal.

The Government shares the concern expressed by Deputy Daly in her Private Members Bill that pregnant women whose life is at risk can access appropriate medical treatment, including lawful termination of pregnancy. And, as this House heard last week, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened and that we can fulfil our duty of care towards them.

The Government's commitment to this issue is clear and is reflected in the agreed Programme for Government which committed to establishing an expert group to examine these issues and to make recommendations to Government on how this matter should be properly addressed.

The Expert Group report was published today, which I welcome. It can be found on the Department of Health's website and will be debated in this House next week. I would urge all Members of this House to read the findings of the Expert Group's report. I believe that all of us here present should be afforded the opportunity to study the Report in detail before being called upon to vote on any legislative proposals on the matter.

There will be no guillotine for the Dáil debate. Every Member will get an opportunity to add to the discussion. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children will also hold three days of public hearings on the report in the New Year, prior to the Dáil resuming.

I do not believe that today, on the day the Expert Group report has been published, that is appropriate to be considering or voting on what is effectively an attempt to pre-judge its recommendations.

As I said last week during the debate on the Sinn Fein motion on the Supreme Court ruling on the X case, we now know that there is a solution in sight and that action will be taken.

The Expert Group Report, which we now all have at our disposal, is a very detailed and comprehensive report. It provides very interesting background information on the topic of termination of pregnancy in Ireland. It lays out with stark clarity the current legal provisions governing termination of pregnancy in Ireland, and sets out four options for the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

The Report provides a very clear analysis of the legal, constitutional, ethical, and medical issues to be considered. It also lays out in a simple and concise fashion the advantages and disadvantages of each option available to us for the implementation of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

Most importantly, the report is clear, in my view, that the option of legislation with regulations will satisfy the requirements of the implementation process of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. In my reading of the report, we now have a clear roadmap for action.

As has been stated in this House recently, by both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health, this issue was been with us for 20 years and this is the first government that has decided we are going to deal with it. Six Governments in this State have failed to act on the Supreme Court judgment in 1992. This will not be the seventh.

However, legislating for the X Case is a serious and legally complex issue. As such, every comma and full stop will be subject to intense scrutiny and may be subject to a challenge in the courts.

Legislation in this area requires the most careful and expert drafting. The most appropriate place to do this is in the Attorney General's office.

While Deputy Daly's Bill is welcome in facilitating debate it is not appropriate that it forms the legislative basis for this particularly complex area.

Indeed, the Expert Group report pointed out that "due to the nature of this legislation, the process of drafting and democratic scrutiny is likely to take a considerable period of time." This is a sensitive issue and it is proper and right that it is given the attention it requires.

Therefore, I support the Government decision to oppose this Bill.

While the Expert Group report sets out a number of recommendations, it sets these out by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each option. The report's findings, in my reading, state that the recommendation for legislation with regulations would likely satisfy the requirements of the implementation process of the judgement in the A, B and C v Ireland. It is my reading of the report that legislation is the preferable route for action.

According to the report, legislation with regulations "fulfils the requirements of the judgment; it provides for appropriate checks and balances between the powers of the legislature and the executive, and would be amenable to changes that might arise out of clinical practise and scientific advances."

It is important to point out that the Oireachtas will have the opportunity to discuss and vote on all the relevant details of any proposed legislation in this area. I hope that the Government will be supported by the Opposition, especially those who have been so clear in their desire for action in relation to this issue.

While the Government is committed to acting on this report with a decision to be made before the Dáil recess and the hope to implement that decision in the New Year, it is clear that any proposed legislation for the X case will be a complex task.

The Expert Group is helpful in that it discusses the various complex issues than can arise and sets out a number of measures that could be implemented to address each issue.

For example, the report states that - "the Supreme Court in the X case specifically recognised risk of suicide as a legitimate basis for permitting termination of pregnancy where the other criteria were satisfied. This principle was upheld in two subsequent referendums on the issue." However, it goes on deal with and reject the arguments often put forward that the judgment in Attorney General v X establishes a right to the abortion at any gestational age.

The Expert Group argues that, actually, the judgment indicates that where a woman has a pregnancy that places her life at risk and her foetus is or may be viable, she may have a right to have the pregnancy brought to an end but not a right to insist that the life of her foetus be deliberately ended and that this approach also reflects an obstetrician's medical obligation to care for both his/her patients, i.e. the pregnant woman and the foetus. So, for example, a pregnancy that has reached or is approaching viability could be terminated by early induction with appropriate neonatal care to follow.

Even from a cursory analysis, it is clear that the Report of the Expert Group provides a wealth of expertise, both medical and legal, and that this considerable resource now at our disposal should not be ignored.

Finally, it must be stated that our responsibility as legislators is not simply to draft legislation, no matter how well intended. It is our responsibility to pass legislation so that it gets on the Statute books. To do that legislation must gather 83 votes in this House. We should remind ourselves that last April, when Deputy Daly first introduced this Bill, there were 20 votes in favour, a far cry from the required number of 83. That is because not one political Party or Group, apart from the Labour Party, has a unified policy on this issue.

The Labour Party has been the only party with a clear and unified voice on the need to legislate on behalf of the X Case. We stand ready to legislate now.

I am confident this will not be the seventh Government to ignore the need to act on Supreme Court ruling on the X Case. There is a government commitment to have a decision before the Dáil breaks up for Christmas, and there is a commitment to implement that decision early in the New Year, following the Oireachtas Health Committee hearings.

I have no doubt that the Report will stimulate an extremely interesting Dáil discussion next week and I trust that, following on from the events in recent weeks, we will be able to have a thoughtful and considered debate on this sensitive issue that has divided Ireland for at least three decades now.

It is for all these reasons that I believe that a vote to support this Bill is not appropriate at this time.

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