Valuable debate complete with medical facts, figures
It wasn't the same as it used to be - there was objective information and, for the first time, dispassionate debate
The public hearings of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the options on abortion were the most informative and interesting ever held on this contentious issue. They provided objective facts on Irish medical practice for the first time. We are in a different country and the debate has all changed now.
Anyone under the age of 30 would not have any personal knowledge of the viciousness and divisiveness that was visited on Irish society by the abortion issue in the run-up to the first referendum in 1983. It was the closest thing to the divisions in the Civil War: family member against family member. Indeed, there were busmen and taximen proclaiming their support or opposition to the amendment to insert a so-called pro-life anti-abortion clause into the Constitution.
The attorney general of the time, Peter Sutherland, warned publicly that the proposed wording could be the means of introducing abortion.
The leaders of the Pro Life Campaign, including William Binchy, Caroline Simons and others, derided and abused him. But, so it came to pass. It was that wording, not the Supreme Court, which brought lawful abortion into Ireland.
Anyone under the age of 21 would not know the effect of the X case in 1992 when a 14-year-old girl who was raped was prevented by the High Court from travelling to England for an abortion. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned that judgment. It held that if it was established as a matter of probability that there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and that this real and substantial risk could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy, such a termination was lawful.
There have been more abortion questions put to the people in referendums than any other single issue in the history of the Constitution: including two unsuccessful attempts to exclude suicide as a ground for lawful abortion in 1992 and 2002. The people approved the right to information and the right to travel for an abortion in the 13th and 14th amendments in 1992.
This historical perspective is important to prove the point that it wasn’t the same as it used to be at the abortion hearings chaired by Cork Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer this week. There was objective information and, for the first time, dispassionate debate. And, as Dr Simon Mills and Judge Catherine McGuinness noted in their separate contributions, a middle ground has emerged on the most contentious political issue which is not represented by the so-called pro-life nor pro-choice positions.