Senator Fidelma Healy Eames
Speech delivered on July 16th, 2013 in Seanad Éireann
Cathaoirleach, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I want to thank Senators Feargal Quinn and Mary Anne O’Brien for moving my Reasoned Amendment to this Bill yesterday.
This Bill has been a momentous journey for me. I came to this debate with an open mind. I was not and am not part of any campaign, pro-life or pro-choice. From the outset, my sole concern has been to ensure that any changes are in the best interests of expectant mothers and their unborn babies.
Ultimately, this bill is about allowing abortion in the case of threatened suicide. The absence of evidence to underpin this approach for a woman threatening suicide is addressed in my Reasoned Amendment on the Order paper.
A central point of agreement at the Oireachtas Hearings was that abortion is never a treatment for a woman w/ suicidal feelings.
Why then is the Govt ignoring this and proceeding to sanction the taking of an innocent baby’s life when there is no evidence that this will save the mother’s life? Indeed the evidence shows that abortion may damage the woman mentally. I have met women from ‘Women Hurt’, women who’ve had abortions who have confirmed this.
I have also met Ms. C who was only 13 years old at the time she was raped and became pregnant. Her harrowing testimony describes how the HB took her to England for an abortion against her family's wishes robbing her of at least ten years of her life, leaving her with severe mental health after-affects from abortion, including suicide attempts. She had been under the impression that she was going to England to 'get the baby out'. She didn’t know that her baby would die. When she asked for the body of her baby to bury it there was none. She was only 13. This is an outcome of the X decision, a side of ‘liberal, modern, compassionate and caring’ Ireland we don’t like to talk about.
A female Fine Gael member, put it rather well to me last week. ‘If we offer abortion to a woman because she claims to be suicidal and we then find that she is suicidal afterwards, what do we offer her then?’
Surely we would do what we should have done originally.
But by permitting abortion on the flawed suicide ground have we not done her a grave injustice and changed her life path forever?
I found it interesting listening to commentators on the radio congratulating male TDs for making what they termed ‘pro-woman’ speeches in supporting abortion.
It highlighted just how one-sided and prejudiced the debate has become.
What is pro-woman about pressing ahead with a law that runs contrary to the expert psychiatric evidence from two sets of Hearings? This is a serious charge which the Government has not answered.
What is pro-woman about airbrushing out of the debate the stories of women like Ms C? What is pro-woman about conveniently side-stepping the story of Emma Beck, the young English artist who died by suicide after aborting her twins? The coroner at her inquest recommended that women be told about the possible negative effects of abortion before they go through with it.Sound advice – What is pro-woman about ignoring that?
Why did the Govt ignore the real concerns of Sam Coulter Smyth, Master of the Rotunda who works everyday at the coalface? Or the statement of 113 Irish psychiatrists? These are the very professionals who treat people with suicidal feelings every day. Their statement highlighted the deception in this Bill that Abortion is a treatment for suicidal intent.
And it is not in the best interests of women and their unborn babies to railroad through legislation for abortion simply because the Labour Party wanted it.
Have we completely lost it? Have we learnt nothing from other countries? Women cherish their babies. When women are in difficulty, why aren’t we striving to be the most ‘pro-woman country’ in the world by offering them real help and hope instead of violent solutions?
If some of the speeches I heard yesterday were made thirty or forty years ago I’d probably agree with them. We have a shameful past.. But knowing that Ireland now consistently ranks in the top five countries in the world for protecting women in pregnancy, it is disappointing the way some people continue to mislead the public, simply to justify a pro-choice stance.
The Government insists that this legislation is about ‘saving women’s lives’.
If I thought for a minute that the legislation was about preventing a tragic death like that of Savita, I would be supporting it. But it is not. It is disgraceful the way Savita’s death has been hijacked to get abortion over the line. We know that a catalogue of medical errors led to her tragic death. We know that had her infection been spotted in time, that the doctors would have intervened to save her life.
Another assertion in favour of the bill is that it is ‘restrictive’. But it’s only as restrictive as the two-most pro-choice psychiatrists in the country. I am not saying that this law will lead to abortion on request overnight. But, the legislation is based on bogus grounds that in other countries has led to wide-ranging abortion.
The assurances given by the Minister that this will not happen here are just assurances. They carry no weight once the law is passed. There is nothing in the legislation itself to prevent two pro-choice psychiatrists from signing away the life of an unborn child once they claim it is their “reasonable opinion”. Given that there are no appropriate clinical markers to judge whether or not the intervention is necessary, they are free to sanction as many abortions as they wish. This absence of any objective standard by which medical practitioners must form an opinion is in my Amendment.
What does this say about our concern for the right to life of a defenceless unborn child? To me, it shows a failure to recognise the humanity and existence of the unborn.
The legislation before us, for the first time in our history, allows the direct and intentional destruction of unborn human life in situations where there is no medical evidence to support that intervention.
It saddens me that some who voted for the legislation in my party call it a ‘pro-life’ Bill. The Labour Party has campaigned for 21 years for X case legislation. Their campaign was never about life-saving treatments for women. It was always about the provision of abortion in Ireland where the life of the baby is ended.
That’s exactly what this Government’s bill provides for. Let’s not pretend otherwise. And Labour won’t stop there, they are already campaigning for repeal of the 8th Amendment.
And it is significant that the decision in X is not binding because the X case was not argued, a fact clarified at the Hearings from legal experts. Furthermore, the ECHR, does not require Ireland to legislate for X (Section (iii) of RA), but rather to clarify the existing provisions for pregnant women. We can do this w/out legislating for X.
This legislation, I contend, is unconstitutional. It provides no advocate for the unborn. There is no equality for the baby consistent with Article 40:3:3.
The Bill fails to adhere to international standards about conscientious objection.
There are no time limits. The bill allows for abortion up to birth. If as Minister Reilly says that viable babies will be delivered alive, why wasn’t an amendment taken on this in the Dáil? This is a horrendous scenario.
The legislation will have a profound impact on our culture. There is absolutely nothing consoling or hopeful in the Bill. It sanctions the ending of human lives rather than trying to do everything possible to safeguard life and in the process it deceives the expectant mother .
There has been far too much emphasis placed on the assurances given by the Minister, to assuage people’s consciences, and far too little focus on what the bill actually permits. There are no ‘pathways to care’ offered for suicidal women. They were refused at Dáil Report stage despite Lucinda Creighton’s best efforts.
My own personal story has shown me the great chance life is. Today I am a mother of two great kids because two other mothers chose life. I know that life is a gift. Our responsibility as citizens and legislators is to look out for one another, particularly the most vulnerable in society. This legislation goes to the core of everything we stand for. We have an obligation to welcome everyone in life and protect everyone in law. The very least we can do for future generations.
The amazing advances in ultrasound technology illuminate the truth that the unborn child is a human being. In 1967, when the abortion law was introduced in Britain, politicians could have pleaded ignorance to the humanity of the unborn.In 2013, we don’t have this excuse.
I don’t want to lose the Fine Gael party whip but I do want to exercise my human right to make a conscientious decision. Almost every western democracy provides for a free vote on moral issues like abortion. Why don’t we have the confidence to trust our parliamentarians to make the right decision, without a whip?
I have been a committed member of Fine Gael for many years, the party that made a solemn promise to voters not to legalise abortion. It saddens me greatly that Fine Gael has broken this promise.
In the words of Thomas More: “Any public servant who would forsake his private conscience for the sake of his public duties, leads his country down the short route to chaos.”
In closing, I want to quote from a woman who emailed me. She said: “This Bill is particularly important to me because I am a woman, I am a psychologist and I’m pregnant. This legislation is meant for me. It is meant to make me feel more protected in pregnancy, but it does not. I know that as things currently stand in Ireland, without any legislation, that I will not be denied any treatment needed to save my life even if it leads to the unintentional death of my baby. I feel fully protected by that.”
Who could argue with that clarity? A clarity that I fully accept is reaffirmed in Sections 7 & 8 of this Bill.
So with a heavy heart and aware of what it will mean for my future in Fine Gael, but knowing that I have the best intention for expectant mothers and their babies, I cannot support the Bill as it stands.
Colleagues, Senators on all sides of the House, I ask you to support my Amendment.
I want to thank you all for listening. I appreciate the depth of feeling expressed on both sides of this debate.