Fianna Fail TD ‘struggling with his conscience’ cannot support Abortion Bill
Claims abortion will be used as contraception are offensive and ignorant - Harris
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said after the abortion referendum result he had said he would support the legislation but is not sure now that he can . His change of heart came ‘out of fear, quite frankly’. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Minister for Health Simon Harris has described as “horrific and bizarre” a suggestion that abortion will in time be used as contraception.
He described such a mindset as worrying and said these sorts of views were offensive, ignorant, and showed a “fundamental lack of respect for women”.
He was speaking as he concluded the second or introductory stage debate of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill. The legislation gives effect to the referendum in May which provided for the Constitution to be amended to allow for abortion services in certain conditions.
During the debate, Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said that after the referendum result he had said he would support the legislation but “sadly I have been struggling with my conscience on this issue and I am not sure that I can do so”.
His change of heart came “out of fear, quite frankly”.
The Sligo-Leitrim TD said “I fear that this will become the contraceptive of choice for people down the line; not today, next week or even next year, but in time.
“Abortion will become something that is the norm rather than for the hard cases. That is a concern for me.”
But the Minister said “unfortunately some people talking about the issue in this House are using language that gives an insight to a mindset that is worrying”.
Such talk showed a “lack of understanding of the very difficult decision-making process a woman goes through before accessing termination.
“To equate in any way termination to contraception shows a fundamental lack of respect for women. It also shows a fundamental lack of understanding about termination and contraception.”
Mr Harris also cautioned TDs against using phrases such as “those women”. He said “they are women from every town and every community in this country who are looking for help in a crisis”.
“ We need to be very careful we do not use language that stigmatises, and I ask that we reflect on that.”
The Minister confirmed his intention to introduce separate legislation to prevent demonstrations and disruptions, including oral written or visual displays near premises where terminations are provided.
Mr Harris said he originally planned to include the provision in the abortion legislation but feared it could result in delays and would be done separately and be in place early next year.
He also said there had been a lot of misinformation over conscientious objection and calls for doctors or midwives not to have to refer a woman on for care where they have such an objection to providing abortion services.
The Minister insisted that the Bill was “absolutely in line” with the Medical Council’s guide on professional conduct and ethics.
“Let me be very clear. This legislation does not require medical practitioners, nurses or midwives to do anything new or, indeed, do anything more than they are already ethically required to do under their own professional guidance.”
Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said there were many examples of women attending clinics in Britain being intimidated and bullied.
“It’s nobody’s business what a woman does with her body or what choices she makes about her health,” she said.
“Most women do this in consultation with a partner or family members and it is not appropriate for anyone else to try to bully them into making a different decision.”
Independent TD Michael Collins said that “as the Government seems determined to ensure most women terminating their pregnancies do so at home, consideration must also be given to how the tiny babies’ bodies are delivered and taken care of after”.
Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuív said the Minister should correct the use of “pregnant woman” in the Bill, because “we have various genders and transgender”and it was out of line with other legislation.