‘Increased abortion reality’ may follow its introduction - Ronán Mullen

Harris happy with level of preparedness to treat women ‘with care and compassion’

Senator Ronan Mullen (left) and  Mattie McGrath TD, with pro-life supporters behind, speaking to the media on Kildare Street, Dublin on October 12th, 2017 Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Senator Ronan Mullen (left) and Mattie McGrath TD, with pro-life supporters behind, speaking to the media on Kildare Street, Dublin on October 12th, 2017 Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

There were sharp exchanges in the Seanad debate on abortion legislation when Independent Senator Ronan Mullen questioned the truthfulness of the Minister for Health Simon Harris in turn accused the Senator of being “offensive”.

There was some heckling against Mr Mullen during the debate on terminations in emergency situations, as the Upper House considered committee stage amendments to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill.

At the outset of the Bill the Minister said he was pleased at the level of preparedness for the introduction of abortion services in January and he agreed with comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that “it takes time for services to embed and evolve and be fully implemented”.

But the Minister said services would be introduced in January to “ provide care and compassion”to the 372 women who would seek a termination next month.

Mr Harris said they would do this “regardless of what we do with the law, because we know nine travel every day and three take the abortion pill”.

In the debate, Mr Mullen said there was no provision in the legislation “requiring even a consideration of saving unborn life in an emergency situation”.

Late-term abortions

During the abortion referendum campaign voters were repeatedly told there would be no late term abortions, he said and quoted Mr Harris stating in the Dáil that ‘it is important to be clear and truthful that in cases where there is foetal viability early deliver and the full range of neonatal care is the reality’.

Mr Mullen said “it is impossible to conclude Minister that you have been truthful now in the light of what the Bill now says”.

He asked “what protects against abortion right up to birth on mental health grounds” and said it was “bizarre” that in situations where there is abortion on grounds of mental health that the medical practitioners does not have to be a psychiatrist.

He said psychiatrists were not allowed to prescribe treatment on obstetric matters “so why would we allow obstetricians and other to do so in respect of mental health matters”.

The Minister told the Senator “we don’t need you to protect pregnancy because women do that, women are the greatest protectors of their pregnancies”.

And he said it was “particularly offensive” of Mr Mullen to pick a section of the Bill linked to emergency situations when a woman was at risk of dying or of serious harm.

Risk to life

The Minister said section nine of the legislation referred to risk to life and health of the mother and “specifically talks about an abortion only being allowed where a foetus has not reached viability”.

“The only place in the Bill where that is not the case is the emergency provision. Your efforts to say ’including mental health’ as though that’s some sort of made up thing over there is setting this country back 50 years.”

After six hours of debate Senators had dealt with more than 20 of 63 amendments after parties agreed to group them.

The pro-choice moderating the House agreed for the most part to leave it to the Minister to respond to amendments from Senators opposing the legislation.

The Seanad had earlier rejected Mr Mullen’s amendment linked to emergency cases where a foetus is viable, by 30 votes to six.

He then objected to the section being passed, describing it as “very cruel and dangerous” but it was adopted by 32 votes to five. Mr Mullen, Independent Senator Brian O Dómhnaill, Fine Gael Senators Paul Coghlan and John O’Mahony and Fianna Fail Senator Diarmuid Wilson opposed its passage.

Debate on the legislation continues today (Tuesday).