Harris hopes for 'respectful' abortion debate

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has said that he hopes Ireland ‘can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our wives'.

Commencing the debate on the Eighth Amendment in the Dail on Wednesday, Minister Harris said this is an issue that will challenge Ireland to think about what kind of country it wants to be and what kind of society it is.

He made reference to the many times in history when women, particularly pregnant women, were treated appallingly, such as in the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes.

He also emphasised that each crisis pregnancy ‘is different and each involves a real woman facing a very difficult and very personal decision'.

Minister Harris listed off the number of women from each county in Ireland who travelled to the UK in 2016 for an abortion, and noted that an estimated 170,000 Irish women have travelled to other countries for abortions since 1980.

"These are not faceless women. They are our friends and neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, wives. Each woman is dealing with her own personal situation and making what is a deeply difficult decision. This is not a decision or a procedure that anyone undertakes lightly. Women agonise about it and consider every possibility for dealing with the particular crisis facing them.

"And sometimes they arrive at the conclusion that there is no other option for them but to terminate their pregnancy. When they arrive at that difficult decision, the country we live in, the country we hope has come a long way from the dark events that continue to haunt this Chamber, tells them to get their care elsewhere," the Minister told the Dail.

He said that some people, himself included, have changed their views on this issue over the years.

He also said that he firmly believes that it is possible for this debate to be ‘respectful'.

"Don't dismiss the idea that we can maturely recognise that each of us has deeply personal and genuinely held views, all of which deserve to be heard, to be understood and to be respected. It is an issue that troubles most of us as individuals.

"For some of us, it challenges us to hold what appear to be conflicting views simultaneously. Which of us doesn't value and love human life, and wish to see it protected? Name calling, pigeon holing, stereotyping - these tactics need to be consigned to history. They have only led to paralysis, fear and division," he said.

He warned that there are now ‘new realities' to consider with this issue, such as the fact that some women are now resorting to obtaining abortion pills online.

"Research shows a 62% increase in the number of women from Ireland contacting one online provider over a five year period, from 548 in 2010 to 1,438 in 2015. And that's just one provider.

"Can we just pause and picture what this is telling us? Is it acceptable to any of us that women are once again left in a lonely and scary place sending off for a pill to be sent through the post instead of being able to access the medical advice and support they need? If it is the sad reality that we have been exporting this issue, are we now accepting that women must import their own solutions?" he asked.

The Minister thanked all the members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment and the Citizens' Assembly, who have ‘given us the model for addressing this issue in a rational and measured way'.

"The Committee made recommendations on the grounds on which termination of pregnancy should be permitted in Ireland, if Article 40.3.3 was repealed. They recommend extending the law on abortion to cover cases where the health of a woman is concerned, cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and a broader legal regime that allows abortions where the woman seeks it from her medical practitioner if her pregnancy is under 12 week gestation.

"I am working with my Chief Medical Officer and officials, and the Attorney General to consider how best to translate these recommendations into legislation should that be the wish of the Irish people. It is my intention that in the event of a referendum as much information as possible would be available to people," Minister Harris said.

He noted that once this debate is concluded, he expects to return to Government in the coming weeks with a series of proposals ‘which I believe can deliver a referendum by the end of May or early June'.

"Women become pregnant and it is a joyous thing for many. But it is a terrifying thing for some and a tragic thing for others. Irish women are driven to find their own solutions. Sometimes they put themselves at risk in doing so. As things stand they are often left without help, advice or support at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

"I look forward to a constructive debate on the issues raised by the Committee here and in the Seanad. Let this be a moment people will look back on as one where their representatives confronted one of the most complex issues we have faced as a country with clarity, with compassion and with care," the Minister added.

 

[Posted: Thu 18/01/2018]


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