Heated exchanges as TDs consider changes to abortion legislation
Harris says law will not allow women to seek terminations on basis of sex, race, disability
There were heated exchanges as TDs debated proposed changes to the State’s abortion legislation on Wednesday but Minister for Health Simon Harris has not yet accepted any of the 145 amendments considered.
The Oireachtas Health Committee concluded its second day of debate on the 180 proposed amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018.
During an 11-hour sitting on Wednesday, the committee discussed amendments tabled by anti-abortion TDs on matters such as administrating anaesthetic to foetuses before abortions and the “dignified disposal” of foetal remains.
Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said those putting forward such amendments had “little knowledge” of the legislation being discussed and Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly said they were engaging in “deeply disingenuous politics”.
Mr Donnelly said he did not believe some of the deputies were “acting in good faith” and had tabled amendments “we know are unworkable”.
Independent TD Carol Nolan, who was among those who proposed such amendments, said “what’s gone on here today is disgusting and disgraceful”.
She claimed there were TDs laughing while debating an amendment to provide for pain relief to the unborn in the event of a termination. She said those making proposals were “trying to do our very best with an extreme Bill”.
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell criticised an amendment relating to the disposal of foetal remains following surgical abortions and said it would extend to those who had suffered miscarriages.
“I find it offensive as a woman who has been in this situation,” she said. “I don’t want to inform anybody what I have done with my foetal remains, I don’t want to inform the Minister, I don’t want it in legislation and I most certainly don’t want people in this House prescribing what I should do with my used maternity pad, my soiled bed sheets, bath sheets.”
Mr Harris said the amendment was “extraordinarily distasteful”.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the group had drawn up the amendments themselves and they “weren’t fed to us by a political machine or spin doctors”.
The committee also considered the three-day period that will have to elapse between the time a woman seeking a termination is certified as pregnant and the procedure taking place.
Independents4Change TD Clare Daly tabled an amendment seeking to delete the three-day wait from the legislation and said “timely access to abortion is key”. She said it was “patronising” to assume women need this time “to be sure to be sure”.
Mr Harris said there are operational issues that had to be teased out in relation to the three-day waiting period, specifically when the “clock starts ticking”.
He said he did not want to deviate from the three-day waiting period but when exactly it starts is something he is “happy to look at”.
The committee voted against inserting a specific clause to ban abortions on the basis of sex, race or any condition of disability.
Mr Harris told the committee he fundamentally disagreed with the need for the amendment and that it was an attempt to make a section of the legislation “inoperable”. He said the legislation will not allow people to seek a termination on the basis of sex, race or disability.
Peadar Tóibín, who was suspended from Sinn Féin recently after voting against the legislation, proposed the amendment and admitted it would be difficult to implement. However, he said it would send a “wonderful message” to people with disabilities.
Seven members voted against the amendment with Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly abstaining. Ms O’Reilly said the amendment was “unnecessary” and was designed to “restart the debate”.
Separately, Mr Harris said terminations between nine and 12 weeks were likely to take place in a hospital setting. He said a model of care was being devised by the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Physicians.
Mr Harris said he was optimistic that clinical guidelines and models of care would be agreed by the end of the month.
The committee resumes its debate on the Bill on Thursday.