Time for Government to stop talking and legislate
It is time to confront these discredited arguments. Time to face up to the bullying tactics of those who would seek to return us to a time when Catholic doctrine was enshrined in our law; and to acknowledge the disgraceful failure of our political system to acknowledge the pressing reproductive health needs of women – pregnant women with cancer, such as Michelle Harte; and women who have bravely gone public about their experience of fatal foetal abnormality.
The “pro-life” campaign must not be allowed hijack this debate again. They did so after the X case, and pressed the government into holding a referendum in November 1992 to rule out suicide risk as a ground for abortion. It was defeated. In March 2002, following more anti-choice pressure, a referendum to overturn the X case test was again put to the people. Again the people voted to keep the test. Yet still no legislation.
Mr Justice McCarthy’s words were echoed by the European Court of Human Rights in the ABC case in December 2010. It found the State had breached the human rights of a young woman whose pregnancy posed a risk to her life but who had been forced to travel to England. The court stated the need for a “legislative or regulatory regime providing an accessible and effective procedure by which [she] could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland”.
The report of the Government’s expert group on how to implement the judgment of the European court has coincidentally been delivered to Minister for Health James Reilly this week. It was originally expected to be ready by the end of June; that was the understanding of the Labour TDs who voted against Clare Daly’s Bill in the Dáil in April. I was heartened then by the words of the Minister, affirming that this would not be the seventh government to fail to legislate since the X case.
This week we have learned a stark lesson about the urgency of legislation. The report must be acted upon swiftly. It should be given to Cabinet next week. The Government has a deadline of November 30th to report to the Council of Europe on the implementation of the ABC judgment. A firm proposal for Government legislation needs to be made by that date.
Such legislation must be supported by all Government TDs and Senators – and should also be supported by the Opposition. It must clarify the principles outlined by the Supreme Court in 1992, affirmed by referendums and given expression in current Medical Council guidelines.
Legislation is necessary to fulfil our international responsibilities, to provide clarity in our law and most importantly to prevent any further uncertainty for doctors. We need to give doctors clear instructions as to when the performance of necessary procedures, including abortion, may be carried out to save the lives of pregnant women.
The courts have spoken. The people have spoken. A young woman has died tragically. It’s time for us to stop talking and legislate.
IVANA BACIKis a Labour Party Senator