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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019


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TONIGHT WE SAW a debate on abortion chaired by Vincent Browne on TV3. The debate came on the same day that the Expert Group report was presented to Cabinet by Minister for Health, Minister James Reilly.

Arguing against legislating for the X Case on tonight’s show were: Breda O’Brien, Patron of the Iona Institute and columnist with the Irish Times, and William Binchy, Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College & Legal Advisor to the pro-life campaign

Arguing in favour of legislating for the X Case were: Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Affairs Editor at the Irish Independent, and Ivana Bacik, Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Trinity College.

The debate was pre-recorded at 8pm and was broadcast at 10pm on TV3. Here’s everything as it happened:

First up is William Binchy, who says legislating for the X case judgement is not the way we should go. He says we should have legal support for medical practices in Irish hospitals which treat mother and child as two patients.

Binchy says that the Irish people are perfectly entitled to decide we don’t want our hospitals to be turned into “abortion mills”. He says that it is a political question – and that rushing to legislation because of the Expert Group would be the wrong way to go.

The discussion turns to psychicatric issues for pregnant women, with Binchy saying that studies have shown that abortion as a practice in this area of ‘suicidal ideation’ actually causes more issues and more suicide. He calls it a ‘bad medicine’.

Binichy is Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College & Legal Advisor to the pro-life campaign. Up now is Legal Affairs Editor at the Irish Independent, Dearbhail McDonald.

McDonald says the X Case is the law as it stands. She says we have a duty to give legal effect to X, or go back to the people.  She says the Government does not have the option to do nothing.

Breda O’Brien, Patron of the Iona Institute and columnist with the Irish Times, is up now. She says that there was a split in the pro-life side during the last referendum.

O’Brien says that with the Expert Group report, they have given four different options and made it ‘crystal clear’ that they only want one option, legislating for the X Case. She describes X as a ‘flawed judgement’ where abortion is seen as a treatment for suicide.

Ivana Bacik, Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Trinity College, says she feels like “we have gone back in time” during this debate.

Bacik tells O’Brien – “I didn’t interrupt either of you”. She says that it is demaning to women and the psychiatric profession to suggest that legislating for the X Case may lead to pregnant women ‘faking suicide’. “I accept we need to legislate” to insure that there is not a ‘grey area’, she says.

Bacik says it is very clear that legislation plus regulations “is the only way”. This government is not putting a regerendum to overturn the X Case, says Bacik, it will be legislating.

Binchy says he will “unpick” Bacik’s argument. McDonald then asks why we are governed by a law from 1861.

O’Brien says that the law would make it “extraordinarily difficult” to establish if there is a real risk of suicide or not for a pregnant woman. She says that if there is not a single cause for suicidal feelings in a woman, “are we now going to say we are going to legislate to allow people to be pressured into abortions if somebody else wants it?” Bacik says this is scaremongering, and that diagnosing a suicidal intent is a routine process for a psychiatrist.

Bacik says that if the sort of issues that O’Brien was talking about – women suffering mental health problems as a result of abortion – was the case, given the amount of Irish women travelling for abortions, we would have “enormous mental health issues” in the country. She says 4,000 women had abortions in English clinics and gave Irish addresses last year.

O’Brien calls this a tragedy, and says she does not want to legislate to increase this number.

After Bacik and O’Brien go head-to-head on statistics, McDonald says that in a country that has a chronic rate of suicide, this may be a reason the Irish population, when this issue is put to them, have resisted moves to exclude the risk of suicide.

O’Brien asks what did we protect Irish society from “by taking this child to England”, in reference to the X Case. She says women need security, comfort and help – not this along with something that may increase their difficulty in certain situations. Bacik says O’Brien can be “as patronising” as she likes, but women in Ireland are ‘voting with their feet’ and travelling to England for abortions.  Binchy says O’Brien was humane, not patronising.

Browne asks if it is true that research shows overwhelmingly that there is never a threat to a pregnant woman’s life because of a threat of suicide – if that is true and evidence supports that view, why then don’t you trust a psychiatrist to certify that a woman is not eligible for an abortion?

Binchy says when we hear doctors speak, to what extent are they speaking medically and to what extent are they espressing their own values? Browne again asks about a situation where a qualified psychiatrist says that there is a threat of suicide, and that abortion can only be the way to save the woman’s life.

O’Brien says that in that scenario, you are “laying that psychiatrist open” to a situation where they say it was only way to prove her life was in danger and “that is a different set of difficulties”.

We’re on an ad break right now – want to catch up on tweets? Search for #VinB on Twitter by clicking here.

Browne opens the second part of the programme with a question about the element of subjectivity when determining the real threat of suicide – and about the pro-life fear that if abortion in the case of a real threat of suicide is allowed it would “open the floodgates”.

McDonald says that she finds the suggestion that pregnant women would fake the threat of suicide “most offensive”, and says that psychiatrists are in the best place to assess the level of risk.

O’Brien says there are lots of problem with the X Case and it is flawed and it will lead to bad law. She says that giving people the democratic right to vote on it would be a good idea.

Browne asks, do we have to have a referendum on this every 10 years?

Binchy says we do, if the alternative is that hospitals will be designated as places that abortions will be carried out. “It’s to save women’s lives,” Bacik counters.

Bacik says that in the medical council guidelines there is a clear directive for doctors – but that is not enough. She says clarity can come through legislation.

O’Brien says that Fine Gael don’t have a mandate to legislate for suicide as a grounds for abortion.

She adds that there is a higher court than the Court of Justice, and it is the court of conscience.

Browne asks O’Brien if the government says they have got to respect the decision in the previous referendums, does she then believe the government should go on and legislate? What I would like legislation to do is enshrine current best medical practice, she replies. That is what is proposed, McDonald and Bacik say in unison.

On to the party whip and free vote.

I believe there should be Government legislation through Government process, says Bacik, saying she doesn’t think there should be a free vote.

The issue of individual conscience is mentioned – and O’Brien says if people listened to their conscience, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now. McDonald appeals for cohesion at government level.

Binchy again mentions abortion mills, where a ‘well mother’ with a ‘well child’ could avail of an abortion.

It’s an issue that divides people, says Binchy of abortion – because at the core of the issue is a human rights issue.

Should a woman be criminalised if she ends her pregnancy? Of course not, says Binchy. Nobody wants women to go to jail for life, says O’Brien.

O’Brien says she spoke to an obstetrician who couldn’t deal with the fact that she was fighting to save babies’ lives on one floor of the hospital, but ending their lives on another. She says the person “wanted to have a society where that wouldn’t happen”.

The debate begins to wind up, and Browne asks Bacik and McDonald to give their closing arguments.

Public opinion in Ireland has moved on, says Bacik, and there is a clear consensus emerging that legislation is the best way to deal with the A, B, C judgement.

McDonald says that she believes there is a means of clarifying in law the situation regarding abortion, while protecting our values, and showing some sort of compassion towards women in crisis pregnancies.

And that’s that – the TV3 abortion debate comes to a close. While there was a bit of talking over each other, some talking back (and some exasperated looks and throwing arms to heaven), the host Browne seemed happy that all sides got their point across.

Why not leave your thoughts on the debate in the comments below?

The debate will be discussed on Vincent Browne’s show on TV3 now.

There was some talking over people, some exasperated looks, and some throwing of arms up to heaven,  but host Browne seemed happy with the results.