In a vote in the Dáil on Thursday a Private Members Bill: Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) was defeated. The vote came at the end of two days of debate and significant lobbying by all of the many interested groups connected to this issue.
The background to this debate is that in 1992 a 14 year old girl became pregnant as a result of rape and was suicidal. The government refused to allow the girl and her parents to travel abroad for an abortion. The case – known as the X-case - went to court and the Supreme Court ruled that ‘a termination of pregnancy is lawful if it can be shown that there is a real and substantial risk to the lift, as distinct from the health, of the mother.’
A subsequent decision in 2010 by the European Court of Human Rights also made it clear that there is an onus on the State to legislate under the terms of the 1937 Constitution and the decision in the X-Case.
The Socialist Party TD Clare Daly told the Dáil that she was putting forward this Bill because of a failure by successive governments to legislate on this issue.
It is a fact that there are strongly and sincerely held views on all sides in the Dáil, including within Sinn Féin, and across Irish society on this issue. The Irish people know that this is not a black and white issue but a difficult and complex decision faced by women in very serious circumstances.
The people spoke in referendum and firmly placed the responsibility upon their Oireachtas representatives to deal with the issue by means of legislation.
In our contribution to the debate Sinn Féin TDs made clear our opposition to abortion and our belief that all possible means of education and support services should be put in place. However in the case of rape, incest or sexual abuse, or where a woman’s life and mental health is at risk or in grave danger Sinn Féin accepts that the final decision rests with the woman.
Sinn Féin analysed the Bill. A number of serious concerns were raised about aspects of it, concerns which were also raised by the government in the course of the Dáil debate. These are issues which need to be discussed properly in a considered manner and with maximum cross party consensus to produce legislation.
Sinn Féin believes that the Bill should have gone to committee stage where it could have been discussed further and been amended.
The government has given an assurance that their Expert Group will deal expeditiously with the very complex issues involved and it is their intention to bring forward its own legislation without delay. This is welcome.
It is time for legislation to be finally put in law to protect the rights of women as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992. This should be done in a reasoned, tolerant and considered manner and with maximum cross party consensus.
In my contribution to the Dáil debate on Wednesday evening I said:
“I want to thank an Teachta Clare Daly for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill.
It deals with an extremely difficult issue for all concerned, particularly women faced with the kind of situation that this Bill is trying to deal with.
There are strongly and sincerely held views from all sides in this Dáil, including within Sinn Féin, and across society on this issue.
For my part, I personally am not in favour of abortion.
That is my strongly held view.
I am also strongly opposed to any attempt to criminalise or to be judgmental of women who have had abortions.
No woman wants to be in that position, but it is a reality faced by Irish women.
Irish women are citizens.
I, like all other Teachtaí Dála, am here to serve citizens.
I am here as a legislator, so I have to set aside my personal position and face up to my responsibilities.
I have to deal with the dreadful reality, highlighted by pregnant women confronted with life threatening illnesses, who have had to cope with this awful dilemma.
As a legislator I have to deal with the untenable situation for the medical profession, which has been tasked with making medical judgments without legal protection for medical practitioners.
We have to ask ourselves as elected representatives and legislators if we really want to leave Irish women or the medical profession in the awful predicament caused by the current absence of legislation.
Can any of us even begin to understand or imagine how unfair and unjust this is for a woman or a young girl?
The background to this debate, the X case, provides some painful insights.
It is also an indictment of the way this State treats women and children. Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion.
We believe that all possible means of education and support services should be put in place.
However, in the case of rape, incest or sexual abuse, or where a woman's life and mental health is at risk or in grave danger, Sinn Féin accepts that the final decision rests with the woman.
Sinn Féin has analysed this Bill and a number of serious concerns have been raised about aspects of it.
These include the issue of consent, which needs to be discussed in some detail.
I note the Minister's remarks about this. I have just returned to the Chamber from Deputy Doherty's father's funeral in Donegal, so I have not had the chance to study the Minister's remarks.
I note that he has also raised issues in respect of this, as has our group.
The Government has stated its intention to bring forward its own legislation, but successive Governments have failed to deal with this issue for 20 years.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this State violates the rights of pregnant women by refusing to allow them to receive a lawful abortion in the event that a pregnancy could threaten their lives.
The decision by the European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that there is an onus on the State now to legislate under the terms of the 1937 Constitution and the decision in the X case.
What is for certain is that it is time for legislation to be finally put in law to protect the rights of women as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992.
This should be done in a reasoned, tolerant, considered matter, and with the maximum cross-party consensus.
In this spirit Sinn Féin believes that the Bill should be allowed to proceed to Committee Stage where, as I said, it would need to be amended to deal with the concerns raised in our party.
I take on board what the Minister said and will consider it overnight.
It is important that we approach this issue in its broadest social context.
The Government needs to examine whether its policies are pushing more and more women into positions of vulnerability.
Poor health services and inadequate preventative health programmes will increase the likelihood that women will not know of critical health problems - including cancer - in advance of pregnancy.
Tackling violence against women and upholding the right of every woman and young girl to be free from violence, and safe in their communities and in their own homes, must be a priority.
The Government has yet to even sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
We need to ensure that the State is properly caring for vulnerable young people, including those in care, but it has failed miserably in this regard.
On all of these issues this Dáil needs to stand up for and do what is right for Irish women.