Updated: What TDs said during the abortion debate

TDs views on the Eighth Amendment on the record

A Dáil debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution resumed late on Tuesday night, having run for two days last week. These extracts are from statements made by 43 TDs during the proceedings in the House.

Róisín Shortall (Social Democrats)

I think the vast majority of people in this country believe nobody has the right to insist that in the case or rape or incest a woman who suffers from either of those awful experiences should be prevented from taking whatever action she believes is right in terms of whether to terminate that pregnancy that resulted. The only way to provide for people in that situation would be abortion being available up to a certain point.

Eamon Ryan (Green Party leader)


There have been different views in my party over the years. It is a complex and highly important issue. My party’s view changed some years ago. I support repeal, but I have good friends on the other side of the debate. I agree with them that life does start at conception. I believe that what we tried in 1983 was not the correct thing to do and has not worked. That has been clear over the past 35 years.

Michael McGrath (Fianna Fáil)

I appreciate the evidence given by the medics and I think it has to be taken on board in respect of the practical difficulties of differentiating between where a risk to the health of a mother becomes a risk to her life. We have no option but to deal with that. I would favour replacing the existing (Article) 42.3.3 with a constitutional protection for the unborn but which enables and permits the Oireachtas to legislate within certain confines...it is my view that the right to life of the unborn should remain in the Constitution in a practicable and workable manner.

Mary Butler (Fianna Fáil)

“I cannot understand how anyone could be told with no restriction as to reason to terminate a 12-week-old baby carried by her mother. It bears pointing out that this will go beyond the position in Britain where the abortion act of 1967 still requires two doctors to form the opinion that an abortion is necessary to prevent a risk to the mental or physical health of a woman. .....I, Mary Butler, TD from Waterford in the 32nd Dáil, will never be in favour of stopping a heartbeat.

Imelda Munster (Sinn Féin)

The amendment is a relic from a bygone era. It was outrageous in 1983 and it remains a bar to equality now in 2018. We have come too far to allow it to remain unconstitutional for women in Ireland to access health care. The amendment's consequences should be remembered. In the X case, the State dragged a child, who had been raped and was pregnant as a result, through the courts, to hold her prisoner and force her to remain pregnant with a rapist's child. Women have died because of the amendment and that is the truth of it. Repealing the amendment will mean women will not have to die in the shameful, sad way Savita Halappanavar and other women had to.

Danny Healy-Rae (Independent)

Many people do not know what happens when an abortion is carried out. People should educate themselves on this. Many people have not done so. It is really hurtful. It is really so bad. What the abortionist does is inject the baby twice, first to paralyse it and then to stop its heartbeat. I believe that is murder. I believe that is wrong. I could not do that. I will not be part of that.

Alan Farrell (Fine Gael)

I would not have said any of this a few years ago, but I believe we can no longer accept that shipping women to the UK and further afield is acceptable nor is it acceptable to fail to provide proper health care to the women of Ireland when they come home.

Eamon Scanlon (Fianna Fáil)

As a father I feel that the best way I could properly love and support my daughter or any other relation or friend in crisis pregnancy is if I also supported the little child that she was carrying. It is possible that we could want to reach out and care for the welfare of a pregnant, perhaps frightened girl or woman while also caring for the baby which depends on her decision.

Jim O’Callaghan (Fianna Fáil)

I would be slightly concerned about a proposal to amend the Constitution to provide that this one issue should be the exclusive preserve of the Oireachtas. We need to remember that the courts are the fundamental protectors of the rights of citizens. It is one of the great achievements of the Constitution that the courts are there to play a supervisory role in respect of legislation that is introduced by this House. For that reason, I would be loath to have a situation develop in which the courts would have no supervisory role in respect of a fundamental right that is referred to in the Constitution.

John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)

I have no problem placing a choice in the hands of parents who are carrying a child that will not live. They should have the opportunity to exercise a choice that they would rather not have to make. Equally, as a legislator, I cannot support any legislation, inside or outside the House, that would see the purposeful destruction of a viable pregnancy. We are all products of the background against which we grew up. I am not a particularly Catholic person, despite my name. I am the ultimate à la carte version.

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Fine Gael)

I would prefer if there was no need for abortion, all pregnancies were carried to full term without complications or the devastating news of fatal foetal abnormality, people who did not want to become parents used contraception all the time, girls and women were not raped and there were no victims of incest. I could go on but irrespective of what my preferences are, the reality is that abortion takes place in Ireland every day both legally - for medical reasons - and, more worryingly, illegally.

Maureen O’Sullivan (Independent)

We have not really heard the voice of the father. We have heard that women must be allowed to make decisions about their bodies, but I think the role of the father must also be taken on board. I have met and heard from fathers who did not want their partners to have terminations. They were prepared to take the baby on board when he or she was born. Equally, some fathers want terminations but their partners do not. While this is primarily an issue for women, there has to be a space for male voices.

Mick Barry (Solidarity)

A woman who asserts her right to control her own body is not an extremist. She is merely a sane and sensible member of the human race. The only extreme position in this debate is the one held by those who argue that women should continue to be forced to go abroad, who say that women who take abortion pills must be denied medical help and supervision, and who refuse to close the door on the principle that women, in certain circumstances at least, should be forced to bear children against their will.

Richard Boyd Barrett (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

We just want the referendum so it will no longer be the case that church, State, politicians or anybody else can poke their noses into the private business of women and are given the right to interfere with the lives, the futures, the bodies or the medical treatment of women. That is what we have at the moment and we are still debating to what extent should the State retain the right to tell women what to do. That debate, tragically, is not over.

Pat Buckley (Sinn Féin)

I would hate to see my daughter being in a predicament where the State dictates to me, my wife, my mother or my mother-in-law and says, “you cannot do this”, knowing that my daughter’s life could be in jeopardy. These are the realities of what is happening in life. I am serious. Do we want to go back to that? My God, it is probably one of the most shameful parts of the history of this State. I appeal to people out there to be realists when it comes to this. It is not about our political careers; it is about doing the right thing.

Kathleen Funchion (Sinn Féin)

The Eighth Amendment affects more than just a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland; it goes much further than that and impacts on the provision of health care for women in pregnancy, as it places restrictions on the treatment doctors may provide. That issue sometimes gets lost in the debate. It is about basic health care. We would not deny such health care to a group of men, therefore, why should we deny it to our women?

Seán Crowe (Sinn Féin)

A few months after the referendum Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old girl from Granard in Longford, died giving birth beside a grotto in Granard. Many decades later, I still have the image in my head of that child dying at that grotto. The public was outraged at the death of this young, vulnerable woman, but in death she was forgotten. Compassion and understanding were set aside by the State and the church.

Helen McEntee (Fine Gael)

We do not even have to listen to legal expertise; we just have to read what was said in 1983 by the then attorney general Peter Sutherland. He may have had his own views and opinions but he said clearly at the time that the wording was ambiguous, unsatisfactory and would lead inevitably to confusion and uncertainty. He said it could be argued that neither a fertilised ovum, a fertilised and implanted ovum, an embryo or even a foetus prior to the time when it is independently viable, that is, up to 25 weeks, would come within this definition.....the consequences were that there could be no constitutional prohibition on abortion prior to this stage in pregnancy.

John Halligan (Independent Alliance)

Making abortion illegal does not stop abortion. Instead, it stops safe abortion. If men could become pregnant, abortion would be as easy as getting Smarties or becoming infected by food poisoning. Members should not cod themselves. Abortion would have been in this country 20 years ago if that was the case.

Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil)

It is untrue to say the issue before us is whether there will be abortion in Ireland. The Eighth Amendment does not mean that Ireland is a country without abortion. Retaining the Eighth Amendment will not make Ireland a country without abortion. Nothing we say or do here could make it a country without abortion.

Peter Fitzpatrick (Fine Gael)

I want to be honest and do not want to attack anybody personally, but the truth is that the committee spent most of its time simply undermining and attacking the Eighth Amendment and spent no time at all looking at the good the Eighth Amendment has done in saving lives...If we go down the road of repeal, it will not save lives. Rather, it will end lives. We all know this to be true. This is why I am so opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Kate O’Connell (Fine Gael)

Some people only feel comfortable with terminations being allowed in cases of rape, or incest...If a person agrees with abortion “in certain circumstances”, it is not abortion they have an issue with, it is the type of sex women have. Are we saying that because these women had a man, and then a pregnancy, forced upon them that by virtue of the suffering they endured, they are more deserving of a termination? Why must a woman suffer, be violated and terrorised before people feel compassion for her?

Jonathan O’Brien (Sinn Féin)

I am probably one of those who are damned forever now, because I considered myself pro-life and I will probably never be allowed to use that label again. To be honest, given some of the stuff I saw outside the gates today, some of the vile posters outside the gates at the moment, it’s probably not a tag I would ever want to use again. I now consider myself a realist when it comes to women’s health care.

Lisa Chambers (Fianna Fáil)

If you are against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, that means you want no change and want to maintain the status quo. That means that if a woman has been raped, you are content for her to be forced to remain pregnant against her will. It also means that if a young girl is pregnant as a result of incest, she should be forced to continue that pregnancy. It means that couples who are expecting a much-wanted baby and who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality will not be cared for here at home. That is what being against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment means - that you are happy for the status quo to be maintained.

Bernard Durkan (Fine Gael)

The recommendation is not in fact abortion for all. It is simply providing for something that is happening in any event, happening illegally as it stands now, with all the consequences in the event of something going wrong.

Clare Daly (Independents4Change)

The Taoiseach made the point in apologising to Joanne Hayes that we are in a different place from where we were in the 1980s, but it is the same place. It took 34 years to apologise to Joanne Hayes. Thirty five years later, we are standing over the Eighth Amendment and we still have a situation where abortion is criminalised.

Jan O’Sullivan (Labour)

I campaigned in 1983 against the insertion of the Eight Amendment into the Constitution...It was a truly horrendous campaign for everybody, particularly for those involved on the side I was on...It would have been simply unthinkable not very many years ago for a Minister for Health to stand up in the Dáil chamber and give the numbers of women from every county in Ireland who had travelled to Britain for an abortion.

Louise O’Reilly (Sinn Féin)

I do not think there is a person in this State who wants to go backwards on this issue. We are all talking about journeys. I think we all agree that we have to go forward. We might not agree on how far forward we should go. Some people want to go one stop, two stops, three stops or 50 stops ahead. My party is still engaged in an internal discussion on this matter. That will continue, which is appropriate. It behoves all of us to take a look at the past, to consider what has happened since 1983 and to reflect on the society we have and the society we would like. We need to think about our daughters, granddaughters and sisters and look at what the law does to them.

Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fáil)

A lot of people who are looking in this evening would be more comfortable with allowing abortion on the grounds of rape and incest as opposed to the 12-week recommendation as it has been presented. That said, I will most definitely support a referendum when a vote is called on that in the House. I believe in democracy and that the people themselves will choose. I have only one vote and I urge everyone else to vote. This is a very divisive and emotive issue and the Oireachtas should enable the people to have a referendum and allow them to have their say. I did not vote in the last referendum and I would like to have my say in this one.

Hildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)

I wish to be categorical, in that no matter what the House or, ultimately, the people decide, the abortion pill will still be available and will continue to be used. Let us not close our eyes to that fact. Do we do the usual Irish thing of ignoring it and pretending it goes away or do we do the courageous thing and actually deal with it by taking the only practical option, namely, legalising and regulating the abortion pill up to the medically recommended limit of 12 weeks? I accept the differing views within the House and the wider country. I wish that I could have come to a different conclusion, but the evidence simply is not there to say that the status quo is sustainable.

Seamus Healy (Independent)

In 1983 I publicly opposed and voted against the Eighth Amendment. I did so because I believed then, as I do now, that it would have seriously detrimental effects on well-being, health and, indeed, lives of women, and that it would give rise to widespread uncertainty and confusion in legal and medical terms. Sadly, that is exactly what happened. We have had numerous referenda, Irish and European court cases and, sadly, deaths of women.

Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats)

I believe this will be a difficult campaign. I hope we will have a referendum, if not in late May, then in early June. I hope it will be for straightforward repeal, which I think will encourage more people to get out on one side or the other. I respect the fact people come from different viewpoints and have different opinions. I think the tone has been set by the Citizens’ Assembly, by the committee and also by this House tonight. I hope that lead will carry out into civil society groups and the wider public. A very important point is that we need to bring the information we heard into a much wider forum. The responsibility for this lies with the media, with political parties and parliamentarians and with civil society groups, which I believe will be the main drivers in this campaign. As I said, I believe anything other than straightforward repeal would be a monumental mistake and I hope that is a decision we will see sooner rather than later.

Michael Healy-Rae (Independent)

We are at a stage now where if a person becomes pregnant and they want to have the child, all the supports are there. If they cannot see their own way to keeping the child, there are so many parents and young people in this country who would give anything, even the last euro in their pockets, to have a child of their own. They might not be able to have a baby for one reason or the other but they would love to bring up a child... If tonight were to be my last night in the Chamber, saying these words, I mean it from the bottom of my heart that I want to stand up for the unborn children of the future.

Mick Wallace (Independent)

Abortion is already a reality in Ireland and has been for a very long time. We just outsource the services to the UK. Some 170,000 women that we know of have travelled for abortions since the Eighth Amendment was introduced. We know that, in 2016 alone, there were approximately 3,000 requests from Ireland for abortion pills online. One may not agree with abortion in certain or any circumstances but it is already a reality, and we owe it to women to legislate for it.

Thomas Pringle (Independent)

We need to acknowledge that every situation is unique and that we should support women no matter what choice they make about their bodies. For me, it is a fundamental human right for someone to enjoy bodily autonomy but right now in this country only men can enjoy that right.

Catherine Connolly (Independent)

I am here tonight to proudly add my voice to say the amendment simply has to go. It is time to trust women to make decisions. I make my comments in the context of the centenary celebration of women getting the right to vote.

Bríd Smith (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

I wish to make a strong appeal to those who think that protecting the Eighth Amendment means they are protecting something precious. They are not. All they are protecting is the dark history of this country. They are not going to protect any unborn foetus or potential child by protecting the Eighth Amendment. We cannot force women to be pregnant when they do not want to be.

Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity-People Before Profit)

At the very minimum, that legislation must provide for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. If anybody thinks that repeal can be avoided or that we can put it off until the autumn or until next year, if that was even contemplated, there would be a revolt among young people.

Brendan Howlin (Labour)

My party has been at the forefront of social change for as long as I can remember, in campaigns that look amazing in retrospect such as to provide for legal contraception, to allow for divorce and, most recently, to provide for marriage equality. All, in their time, were strongly resisted. All, in their time, came to pass. Often we discover that the people’s thinking on social policy is more advanced than that of the elected Members of these Houses. Let the people decide this matter.

Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin)

The Eighth Amendment was in effect a constitutional coup and the reactionary codification of the suppression of women. That is what happened in 1983. In the decades since, women in Ireland have had to live with the abusive outworkings of the Eighth Amendment.

Gerry Adams (Sinn Féin)

I have my own position on abortion. As a legislator, I have no right to impose that view on anyone. It is not for any of us here to cast judgment on anybody for doing what they feel they need to do. It is for women to make that judgment. I believe they are fully capable of doing so and are entitled to do so. Those who are opposed to abortion are entitled to their opinions. They are equally and fully entitled not to have terminations. Everyone has the right to choose.

Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil)

We have been exporting our problem for a long time. It is our duty to address this issue. With the best will in the world, and although people have varying opinions on this, we cannot do anything other than what we have legislated for already unless we repeal, amend or replace Article 40.3.3°. We have to change what is in our Constitution. That will be the first step towards addressing this issue.

Simon Harris (Fine Gael)

In 2016, 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK alone and we know that Irish women travel to other countries such as the Netherlands as well... These are not faceless women. It might be convenient for us sometimes to think that they are. They are our friends, neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, and wives. Each woman is dealing with her own personal situation and making what is a deeply difficult decision because this time around - let us be honest about this – this is not a decision or a procedure that anyone undertakes lightly. Women agonise about it and consider every possibility for dealing with the particular crisis facing them, and sometimes they arrive at the conclusion that there is no other option for them but to terminate their pregnancy.