Ireland ‘cold, neglectful, lonely’ for women in crisis pregnancy

Harris urges end to ‘tyranny of labels’ as ‘I’ve never met anyone who is not in favour of life’

Minister for Health Simon Harris said:  “I’ve sat in far too many rooms with women who have found this country to be cold, neglectful, lonely and isolating when they have a crisis pregnancy.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “I’ve sat in far too many rooms with women who have found this country to be cold, neglectful, lonely and isolating when they have a crisis pregnancy.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Government has to face the reality that women are having dangerous abortions and take action, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

He told the Fine Gael national conference that “I’ve sat in far too many rooms with women who have found this country to be cold, neglectful, lonely and isolating when they have a crisis pregnancy.”

He said that, regardless of people’s views, “this issue is not going to go away”, and believed it was possible to approach the subject with compassion, understanding and with regard and respect for all views.

The Minister also called for an end to the “tyranny of labels” because “I’ve never met anyone who is not in favour of life”.

Chairwoman of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, Catherine Noone, accused anti-abortion groups of using the Government’s plan to have a referendum as a reason not to co-operate with the committee.

Non co-operation as strategy

Ms Noone claimed they were using their non co-operation as a strategy.

The decision not to retain Article 40.33 in full merely reflected the political reality, she said, given commitments by the Government to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year.

She said this “has now been used by those on the pro-life perspective as grounds for not co-operating with the committee and is essentially part of an overall strategy or campaign”.

“That is a pity, as ultimately it results from a missed opportunity for those bodies to challenge the evidence that has been presented and to get a different perspective on the public record.”

She described the whole issue as “politically a poisonous challenge”.

Ms Noone urged people to engage with the committee’s work. “It’s just not as simple as pro-life and pro-choice anymore. This debate deserves the respect of being more nuanced.”

“The reality,” she said, “is that life happens in a grey area.”

“We have not decided anything substantive and any and every option is still on the table.”

‘Fully confident’

Ms Noone, who said she was “fully confident” the committee would meet its December 20th deadline to report on the Citizens’ Assembly report, said the committee had “really struggled to get medical experts to say the status quo should stay”.

Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, a member of the committee, appealed for expert witnesses on the anti-abortion side to come before the committee so there could be a balance.

Mr Fitzpatrick believed that if the amendment was repealed they would have abortion on demand.

“We’ve an awful habit of following the UK, and in the UK one in five pregnancies has ended in abortion.” If Ireland followed the UK “we’re going to see serious consequences”, he said.

Fine Gael member Geraldine Creegan told about 300 people at the meeting that she had a crisis pregnancy, and “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and I’m not a child killer by any manner or means. The Eighth Amendment is not saving children. There are 3,000 women going to England to have abortions.”

Dangerous situation

She said women were using the abortion pill and they were in a dangerous situation that they were not legalising pills for women.

She added: “God bless Peter [Fitzpatrick] and Bernard Durkan, but they will never have the pain I went through. It’s really a woman’s pain. I will always live with my crisis pregnancy.”

She said she had a seriously disabled sister, who was cared for at home. Ms Creegan believed her father died a young man, when she was 16, because he was worn out with caring for her sister.

Death penalty

Anne Bardon, from Donnacarney, Co Louth, said repealing the Eighth Amendment would be bringing back the death penalty.

Anyone accused of murder would have the best defence available, but not an unborn baby.

She said the campaign for a women’s right to choose was selective. “They’re asking for a woman to have right to choose to kill her own baby.”

Fine Gael committee member Kate O’Connell said that 85 per cent of EU countries had abortion without reason under the 10- to 12-week period.

She said the Netherlands had one of the most liberal abortion regimes, but a very extensive sex education programme in school, and a five-day cooling off period for women considering abortion, and the country had one of the lowest abortion rates.

But former Young Fine Gael chairman Barry Walsh said the Netherlands had 200,000 pregnancies and 30,000 abortions.

He said sex education is compulsory in UK schools and contraception freely available on the NHS, “and if sex education and contraception were the answer there would be no abortion in the UK”.

He asked: “Can we really afford to spend six months talking about abortion?” – when there were so many challenges facing the country.