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Legal protection and clarity needed: McDonald

28 November, 2012 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has this evening called on the Government to recognise the urgency of legislating for the X case to give legal protection and clarity to pregnant women and their doctors.

Deputy McDonald said:
“It is seven months since we last debated legislation to give effect to the 1992 Supreme Court ruling on the X case. Sinn Féin supported the passage to committee of that legislation tabled by Deputy Clare Daly last April. We will again tonight support this bill to go forward to committee.

“We take this position because we recognise the urgency of legislating to give legal protection and clarity to pregnant women and their doctors. We take this position because the inertia and negligence of successive governments on this issue –a basic issue of protecting pregnant women’s lives - must be ended.

“The Expert Group report sets out options for action by government. While it does not make an explicit recommendation, it does make clear that legislation is necessary

“It is worth stating clearly that the circumstances in which a woman may lawfully obtain a termination of pregnancy in this state are very restrictive. The judgement of the Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that only where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a woman might a termination be lawful.

“In other words the pregnant woman must be at real and substantial risk of death and there must be no other means of saving her life – those are the tests to be applied for a termination to be lawful. The X case ruling - and legislation arising from it - is not a formula for a liberal abortion regime.

“It is not a prescription for what is termed ‘abortion on demand’, far from it. Any attempt to describe it as such deliberately ignores and distorts the constitutional and legal realities. Some have said that they fear the inclusion of suicide as grounds for obtaining a legal termination of pregnancy.

“The X case ruling arose because of a real and substantial risk of death by suicide to a teenage girl who became pregnant after being raped. It is important to be precise in respect of the‘suicide threat’ and how the court found on this matter.

“The Court ruled that where the threat of suicide posed a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman and where no other intervention could save that woman’s (or child’s in the case of X) life, then a termination of pregnancy is lawful.

“This is not a prescription for what some have, very inaccurately, described as ‘abortion on mental health grounds’. To suggest that legislation for X is a slippery slope to an open ended liberal abortion regime is just wrong.

“Abortion is a long running and by times divisive issue across Irish society. The sincerely held differences of view are not likely to be reconciled any time soon. That difference and debate can be accommodated in a democratic society. Nobody should fear it.

“But the extension of where abortion might be permissible is not the current subject of debate. What we are dealing with is a Bill that seeks only to give legislative expression to that which is already lawful.

“The abject failure of government and the Dáil to respond to the Supreme Court judgement of twenty years ago, to leave a legal vacuum, to be so cavalier in respect of women’s lives –these are things that cannot and must not be tolerated.

“Clare Daly’s Bill has deficiencies however the necessary changes can be made at committee stage – as is the norm in the processing of legislation through this Oireachtas. The Bills imperfections are not a reason to vote the Bill down.” ENDS

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