Minister’s contribution to debate on foetal abnormality was disrespectful to women
87 % are in favour of medical intervention for this condition
Crowds of protesters on both sides of the issue outside Leinster House on Wednesday night: “it is far to complex an issue for grandstanding”. Photograph: PA
I sympathise with the tongue-tied Dáil Deputies repeating “fatal foetal abnormality” at 3am in the morning. “Lethal chromosomal anomalies incompatible with life” is no easier to comprehend, in reality or otherwise.
During the all-night debate, Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White accused Clare Daly of conveniently supporting an amendment for fatal foetal abnormality now, but omitting it from her own proposed legislation. Her response was that she wasn’t aware of how common it was and had no access to the Attorney General.
It seems nobody was aware of the expulsion of women from Ireland to seek medical intervention for fatal foetal abnormality until I wrote a letter to this paper in February 2002, detailing the malign conditions that prevailed. I’m not suggesting the medical profession was at fault, but all I was told from the obstetrician who gave me the news was “not in this jurisdiction”.
The timing and media interest in the context of the 2002 referendum on the X case brought the fatal foetal abnormality issue into public understanding; I never read or heard one person detract from what I had done. There were women who chose to carry to full term with fatal foetal abnormality, but at least they had a choice. I have been grateful that The Irish Times respected my need for privacy all those years, until I gave up my anonymity at the outcome of the Savita Halappanavar inquest, so that I could reassert the State’s undertaking in D v Ireland, that “remorseless logic” would not be applied to article 40.3.3 in relation to the “unborn” and that interpretation of “unborn” may not be applied to an unviable foetus that has no prospect of being “born”.
When I sought answers as to why the issue wasn’t taken into account in the 2002 referendum wording, the office of the taoiseach’s response was “it is not comprehended at this time”. So, if the expert group was not permitted to raise it at Oireachtas hearings back then, one would think some political courage would have prevailed by now.
Eleven years later, taking into account two European Court of Human Rights cases taking Ireland to task; Miss D, a 17- year-old carrying a foetus with anencephaly; a group of brave woman who formed Termination for Medical Reasons in Ireland and spoke publicly throughout the last year; and the death of a woman denied termination of a miscarrying foetus and the national overwhelming support, and you would think that this monumental issue would be “comprehended” by now.
Yesterday evening I stood on Kildare Street in the sunshine and quietly watched the protesters on both sides,of all ages and genders. It was all a bit of a sideshow. It is far too complex an issue for grandstanding, especially on the diametrically opposed television panels at night, where one side is particularly focused on the fear and chill factor. I went to listen to some of the debate, thinking there would be a vote by 11pm. And we all know what happened.
It wasn’t until about 2am that amendment 10 was moved and this important issue was debated for over an hour and a half. If I hadn’t heard it myself, I wouldn’t have believed the manipulative political rhetoric used by Minister for Health James Reilly and White against inclusion of fatal foetal abnormality. The first time Daly spoke on the motion, White interrupted her several times. This wasn’t a spat about bank guarantees or a chance for diversion tactics; as she pointed out, it was disrespectful to the women involved for him to use the platform for confrontation.