Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sue Ramsey MLA speaks against Justice Bill Amendment

12 March, 2013

Apologies for not being here during the early part of the debate. 

I was in Derry representing the health committee at a conference and I was going to say that I think it is important that this debate is conducted in a respectful and reasoned manner, but listening to the radio on the way back it struck me that a respectable debate is not going to happen.

This is a very emotive issue for a lot of people and we need to appreciate that but it is also a reality that some women find themselves having to have medical terminations and we need to appreciate that as well.

Let me for the record once again, just in case there is any confusion state that;

Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion nor do we believe that 1967 British Abortion Act should be extended to the Six Counties.

Sinn Féin believes that where a woman’s life or mental health is at risk or in grave danger that the final decision rests with the woman.

I heard some interviews last week by representatives of other parties saying that they agreed with this stance so if that is true why are we here today. 

The crux of this amendment for me is focused on two issues. One is the access to medical terminations within our current legal framework and the second is around the privatisation of health care. 

The failure in-relation to medical terminations has been that of the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in not bringing forward detailed and appropriate guidelines for health care professionals.

I do welcome however that the Health Minister Edwin Poots has finally brought forward draft guidance to the Executive for consideration at its next meeting.

Whilst I welcome the Guidance I am disappointed that the Minister did not opt to work closely with the committee on the redrafting of Guidance , with a view to maximising consensus in this house. In fact, I like many members of the Health Committee learned about the existence of the Guidance in the media, this is bad practice by anybody's standards. In addition the fact that the Guidance was only brought forward on foot of a judicial review, is an indictment in itself.

Sinn Fein will consider the draft guidance in detail and respond fully at Executive, Committee and at consultation stage.

However the real test for this guidance will be whether it complies with current legislation and brings the necessary clarity to medical practitioners regarding their legal and professional obligations and ensures that a pregnant woman whose life is in danger has the option of having a termination

However as it currently stands it is very much the case that regardless of where medical professionals are working in the North that they lack the clear guidance required for them to know they are operating within the law.

The Minister has left it to the very last minute to even produce guidelines for discussion and it is inappropriate that this amendment has been brought forward before we have discussed and agreed those guidelines.

It is also inappropriate that an issue as important as the guidelines for medical terminations have been tacked on to a Justice Bill which cannot be either the proper vehicle or allow proper consideration of what are incredibly important issues. 

The second issue raised by this amendment is that of private health care.

I am opposed to the privatisation of health care in principle and regardless of which kind of medical procedure is involved.

However, this amendment has not been brought forward to oppose privatisation because if it had been it would apply to all medical procedures and all private facilities.

It would apply to the Mental Health legislation that the Health minister brought to the house yesterday.

It would apply to the millions of pounds the Dept of Health is spending every year on private clinics.

It seems inappropriate to me that we oppose only one specified private facility rather than all private health care.

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