Abortion Legislation 2018: Talking to your TDs and Senators

How to lobby your local TDs and Senators on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

This bill is unjust and should not be coming before the Oireachtas at all.   We are asking you to lobby your local TDs and Senators to ask them to vote AGAINST this legislation.

We don’t all have to be experts on the Heads of Bill to talk to our politicians but we do need some basic facts. Most importantly, we need to get across to our public representatives that we want to live in a society that protects and supports mothers and their unborn babies as much as possible.

The people voted in the May referendum to remove the 8th Amendment.  In doing so, they gave power to the Oireachtas to introduce legislation as the Oireachtas saw fit.  The people did not vote on this legislation. Any proposed legislation should be examined thoroughly and debated in detail before becoming law and the Government should be open to changes/amendments where such changes will saves lives and protect women’s health.

Further, it is unacceptable that political parties would muzzle individual TDs by insisting that all proposals have to go through one party spokesperson (as has happened with Fianna Fáil).  It is also unacceptable that the Minister for Health this week sought permission from the Dáil Business Committee to skip pre-legislative scrutiny of the abortion legislation enabling him to push the Bill through the Dáil even faster and without examination.  This is despite the fact that he said last March ‘we will have ample time to debate any legislative proposals’ .  The Minister is now 100% reneging on that promise.

Please see a selection of some possible changes/amendments to the legislation below along with notes for raising with TDs.   Select one or two of these and read the pointers before visiting your TD.  Thank you for your continued support.

You can read the draft Heads of Bill here

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Ask your TDs and Senators to vote against the legislation and to support amendments along the following lines:

1/ Freedom of Conscience provisions for medical and health professionals

The right to freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, protected by the Irish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. No person should be required, by force of law, to take innocent life. Irish doctors, nurses and midwives entered their professions to protect life, not to take it. For the first time in Irish history, a Minister for Health is proposing to force doctors to refer women for abortions. Forcing doctors to become involved in the abortion process against their conscience is deeply unjust.

Many healthcare professionals have called on the Government not to force doctors to refer women for abortions.  The legislation must be amended to remove the requirement that doctors refer women for abortions.

Additionally, the legislation does not provide for any positive right for conscientious objection – it merely says that nothing in the Bill shall be interpreted to oblige a doctor, nurse or midwife to participate in carrying out an abortion. This means employers and professional groups will still be free to impose a duty on doctors, nurses and midwives to participate in abortion. This will put Irish health care professionals in a worse position than their colleagues in Britain. The Abortion Act 1967 provides that no person shall be obliged to participate in an abortion. At the very least Irish law should include the same level of protection for conscientious objection as is outlined in the British Law.

The legislation provides no protection for pharmacists or other healthcare workers who may be required to assist or make arrangements for a medical abortion (i.e by way of pill) or a surgical abortion.

Finally, the legislation provides no protection for medical or nursing students to ensure they are not required to train or be involved in abortions as part of their professional education and qualification requirements.

2/ Prohibition on abortion post viability

Viability is the point at which a child can survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance. This is not a fixed point in time, and with medical advances children are surviving at an earlier and earlier age. If an unborn child has passed the point at which medical technology can support that child outside the womb, there should be an absolute legal prohibition on any abortion at that point.

Shockingly, the Bill contains no express cut off point at viability in the case of abortions under the so called emergency ground, i.e. where a doctor certifies that an abortion is immediately necessary to avert an immediate risk to the woman’s life or of serious harm to her mental or physical health.

In those situations the child should be delivered and all medical interventions necessary should be provided to ensure that the baby survives. We must not become a country where a child’s life is unnecessarily ended when medical technology can intervene to preserve that child’s life.

This is not a pro-life effort to reverse the referendum – during the campaign the Government promised that no child would be aborted after viability. It must be honest and follow up on that commitment.

3/ Abortion reporting requirements

Accurate statistical information is a basic requirement when assessing the impact of abortion on the Irish healthcare system. Virtually every European country gathers information about their abortion system. Our closest neighbours in the United Kingdom gather comprehensive information on their abortion system, such as the age of the mother, the date and location of the abortion, the gestational age of the unborn baby, the type of abortion procedure performed and the reasons for it.

The current Bill has entirely inadequate provisions for reporting on abortions. At a minimum Ireland should collect the same level of data as the United Kingdom.

4/ No reduction in the 72 hour waiting period

In recent days it has been reported that the Minister for Health has proposed to reduce or eliminate the 72 hour waiting period before an abortion can be carried out under the section dealing with abortion on demand. During the referendum campaign the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Tanaiste Simon Coveney  promised the Irish people that any abortion legislation introduced would contain “safeguards”, the most important “safeguard” they referenced was the 72 hour waiting period, which Simon Coveney called a “cooling off period”.

Any proposal to remove this waiting period would mean that the government deliberately misled the Irish people as to the “safeguards” during the referendum. Many Irish people cast their vote on the basis of guarantees made by senior members of the government. They must be held to their words; no removal of the 72 hour waiting period should be permitted.

5/ Administration of pain relief to unborn baby before abortion procedure happens where possibility of capacity for pain.

Scientific studies have shown that unborn children can respond to a range of stimuli in the womb. Studies also show that they respond to the infliction of pain. A human society does not inflict pain on defenseless people. Anaesthetic and pain relief for babies undergoing surgery in the womb is generally recommended and some experts say that this should be done from as early as 18 weeks gestation.

The abortion law currently proposed by the government contains no requirement that unborn children are given appropriate protection from pain during an abortion, no matter how late it occurs.

It would be horrific and unnecessary for Irish unborn children to suffer needlessly during an abortion – to prevent this the government must accept amendments requiring that unborn children be given pain relief before an abortion procedure wherever there is any reasonable possibility of their experiencing pain.

6/ Provision of Ultrasound and offer to woman

The government is woefully unprepared to introduce abortion on demand into Ireland. The government has proposed that GPs provide abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, yet the vast majority of GPs have no expertise using ultrasound equipment and lack that equipment. Irish women deserve to have access to ultrasound imaging of their unborn child as part of their decision making process.

An ultrasound scan is a basic element of safe medical practice before an abortion is carried out. It should be made mandatory.

In addition, the law should be amended to ensure that every woman is offered an opportunity to see an ultrasound of her unborn child before proceeding with an abortion. Doctors should not be allowed to deny women even the option of seeing a scan. Studies from other countries have shown that when women see a picture of their unborn child on an ultrasound image many of them reconsider having an abortion.

7/ Parental Notification requirements

Minors who become pregnant are in a particularly vulnerable position. Some may feel that they have no option but to have an abortion. These young women deserve to have the support of their families during a difficult period. The current abortion legislation does not contain any provisions which require that parents or guardians be notified if a minor in their care requests an abortion.

This is clearly at odds with the best interests of a minor to have those who care for her supporting her at a difficult point in her life. The government must accept an amendment to require the notification of parents or guardians so that they may support a vulnerable young woman at a difficult time in her life.

8/ Counselling of women on her options

During the referendum campaign the Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Irish people that there would be counselling and support available for women who request an abortion. These were described as part of the “safeguards” in the proposed legislation. Yet, despite these promises, there are no provisions in the government’s legislation to provide free and accessible counseling to women who are considering abortion.

Unless the government accepts amendments which guarantee in law free and accessible counselling services for women considering abortion, they will have deliberately misled the Irish people during the referendum campaign.

9/ Informed consent (including consideration of parenting and adoption)

Consent to any procedure can only be given when a person is provided with full information about all alternatives. Irish women must be given all the options available before there can be full and free consent to an abortion. There are clear alternatives to abortion that many women may not be aware of when they decide to request an abortion.

There are no provisions in the proposed legislation to provide women with information regarding supports for parenting or placing a child for adoption. If the government truly values the choices of Irish women it should provide them with all information regarding alternatives to abortion, so that their decision is made with full and free consent.

10/ Born Alive abortion survivors protection proposal

Official reports from the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) have shown that children can sometimes survive an abortion and be born alive. In those cases, certain hospitals in England refused to intervene to give lifesaving care to the baby, and instead left them to die in agonizing pain. This practice is barbaric and cannot be allowed to happen in Ireland.

The legislation proposed by the Minister for Health contains absolutely no protections for a baby that survives an abortion procedure. There must be clear provisions to require doctors to intervene immediately to provide all necessary lifesaving care where a baby survives an abortion. Any amendments that protect the lives of tiny Irish citizens who survive abortion must be adopted, it’s a matter of basic human decency.

11/ Unborn infants dignity proposal

There has been significant public disquiet in recent years regarding revelations that children’s remains were buried in unmarked graves in Tuam and other places. The dignity of the child’s remains, at any age, must be respected. When an unborn child’s life is ended through abortion, the remains should be treated with dignity.

The government has been critical of the manner in which children’s remains were treated in the past – we must not repeat this in the future. The dignity of the child requires that we adopt an amendment to the abortion legislation that prohibits any sale or any use of remains for scientific research without written parental consent and that ensures that their remains are treated with respect.

12/ Prohibition on pre-natal discrimination (including gender selection and disability)

Discrimination is deeply divisive for any society. The government actively funds campaigns against discrimination in all areas of life. However, when it comes to discrimination before birth, the government is silent. During the referendum campaign, the Minister for Health promised the Irish people that children with disabilities would not be targeted for abortion if the law changed. Yet, his legislation contains no prohibition of abortion based on disability.

In other countries we have seen the insidious practice of ‘sex-selective’ abortion. Because of the scale of the problem our neighbours in Britain have given consideration to prohibiting abortion based on the sex of the child. Yet again, the Minister for Health has proposed no such prohibitions on discrimination in his legislation.

If the government is serious about combatting discrimination it must adopt amendments that ban all forms of discrimination against unborn children.  

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General Pointers for lobbying

(i) Decide what points you want to make

Acquaint yourself with the information above. Pick out points that appeal to you and make one or two of them.   Be sure to ask your TD to vote AGAINST the abortion legislation.

(ii) Be in control

Instead of having the Representative putting forward his/her opinion and putting questions to you during the whole meeting, have two or three statements or questions prepared. Formulate your own questions but one example could be:

“We’re asking you to consider voting NO to this legislation.  There have been times in history where things became legal even though they were fundamentally unjust and contrary to human rights.  This legislation allows for abortion in extremely wide-ranging situations. Please consider voting NO.”

“In light of all of the evidence that the unborn child can experience pain during abortion (the exact gestational age is a matter of debate) don’t you think it is very reasonable that we would supply anesthesia to the unborn child prior to abortion in any cases where there is even the slightest chance that the baby might experience pain, e.g. after 20 weeks?”

Put these to them courteously and respectfully and wait for them to answer.  It is important that they are challenged in this regard given the enormity of what they are considering doing.

(iii) Remember your objective

You are asking them to vote NO to the legislation and support amendments to the legislation as per the briefing notes above.  Remind them that the people voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, not for this legislation. Seek a commitment from them before the end of the meeting to do so.

(iv)  Tell your own story

We all have some personal experience that re-affirms our commitment to a culture of life – whether a crisis pregnancy in our household, a friend or acquaintance who was adopted or born in challenging circumstances. We all know people whose lives and families were saved because of the 8th Amendment.  Some of us know women who have had abortions and regret that experience or women who were pressured into having abortions.  Some of us have worked or lived in England in hospitals or counselling environments and have seen what an abortion culture looks like. Many of us may have come across women and girls hurt by abortion in our personal , family or work lives. Some of us have worked with premature babies and have seen life at its most vulnerable.  It is important to share those kinds of experiences with our public representatives.

(v) If you feel out of your depth/uncomfortable don’t be afraid to say:

I’m not here to argue with you. I just wanted to let you know that abortion is never okay for mothers or unborn babies and I vote pro-life.

(vi) If they ask you a question to which you don’t have the answer say:

I can’t answer that right now but I would be happy to get the answer for you right away and get back to you.  (Please then get in touch with us by emailing education@prolifecampaign.ie)

(vii) Tell them you are a pro-life voter

Tell them that you voted for them because of the pro-life commitment given before the last general election (if applicable) and you will be voting on pro-life lines again and that you hope that you will be able to vote for them.

Other Practical Tips

(i) Go into TDs in twos.  More than two can be intimidating for the TD.  Less than two can be intimidating for some people.

(ii) Find common ground with your TD if you can.

(iii) Please be moderate and respectful at all times.  Politicians remember and recount the bad experiences they have with lobbyists.  We have to bear in mind that though this is a highly emotive issue, we have to focus on our goal which is to convince the politician that the right thing to do is to adopt an analysis that saves as many unborn lives as possible.

(iv) After your visit, please drop your TD/Senator an email thanking them for their time – no matter what the outcome.

(v) Please send us a brief outline of how you got on or if you need us to follow up with anything. Email us on education@prolifecampagin.ie

(vi) Do your best and thank you!

Remember, if you have any queries about lobbying, please email us on education@prolifecampaign.ie