“I welcome the opportunity to speak on what is a very sensitive issue, particularly for women because women do not own their own personal physical integrity and sexuality in the same manner that men do. Therefore, it is an issue that has to be handled with care. I see the introduction of this Bill not only as premature but, unfortunately, as serving not to enhance any debate but just to rehash traditional entrenchment of positions. Given the country has been dogged by this issue for decades, waiting until the expert group reports back would have been more helpful and would allow dialogue across the board, not just among politicians in this Chamber. It is a tough issue. When one thinks about it, one immediately thinks about the people affected, in particular the 4,500 women who feel they have to travel to the UK to undergo termination procedures. These are the people we represent, so it is not a case of “them and us”. As legislators in Parliament, we try to think of all our citizens and take everything into account as we make laws and decisions on behalf of the nation. We are moving and have moved away from an Ireland where morality was shoved down people’s throats. The question is whether responsibility for people’s moral conduct falls on the shoulders of Government or whether we go down the road of talking about the personal responsibility of the individuals involved. We have heard strong arguments why there might or should be abortion in circumstances beyond the X case, including cases of diagnosed problems with the foetus, which could see the baby die shortly after birth or during the pregnancy. There is no point in repeating the details of those sad cases. They were personal experiences and they cannot be used entirely as a basis to change what amounts to the fundamental principles of a country. Legislating purely on the back of hard cases does not necessarily make for good and proper laws. I will be voting against the Bill, which I believe is untimely. However, it does open a debate and I welcome that aspect. There are some questions I would raise during the debate.
The major objection to abortion in Ireland is religious but the rest of the Western world has no objections in this way. In the book Free and Female, dating from some decades back, Ms Barbara Seaman put abortion as part of the lifelong struggle of women for effective contraception and to be able to take control of their own bodily integrity. That is both liberal and feminist. When we legislate, we do it with an all-inclusive paradigm for our society. In short, it is not for the majority alone. I am against abortion in any form. The grace of God is so liberating and provides so many options to get the best out of life despite our fallen nature, and we all have that. Having said that, it is an ideal to aim for. In an ideal world, there would be no unwanted pregnancies and no unwanted babies. However, we are far from living in an ideal world. An honest and a scriptural view is that things are getting harder for people, so what then for the weak in our society? The western or First World is championing a freer and more autonomous society. The freer and more autonomous people become, the more responsibility they assume for their lives. They exercise that freedom by rejecting authority that seeks to nanny them. Therefore, the dialogue we have has to be, first and foremost, about taking responsibility, particularly for women because, in fact, they are left carrying the baby or not. In the first instance, there is a need for dialogue about not getting to the situation where abortion is contemplated. In fairness, in this day and age, nobody should be having unsafe sex, with AIDS and all the sexually transmitted diseases we know about. That has to be questioned as well. How well and how much are we respecting our own lives and our own bodies in the process?
There was certainly a time when much was prohibited on moral, religious and “the good of all” grounds. To cite an example, contraception was limited to married couples on a doctor’s say in the Ireland of not too long ago, but that is no longer the case. It is hard to believe that not so long ago, notwithstanding our knowledge of the rise of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, it was illegal to sell condoms from a vending machine to encourage safe sex, but we changed the law in that area also. What changed in our society that allowed us to get to that point where we would change the law? Moreover, how destructive was that change, if at all, given these were foundations of our religious beliefs in the past? Homosexuality is yet another example of this. Perhaps the Irish, like the rest of the world, are maturing to the point that they can be trusted with freedom of choice. In fact, although divorce became legal, marriage still remains very popular in Ireland and throughout the world, including the USA. It could be argued that when people are free to abort, they will fight harder to keep their unborn babies by choice and they will value their pregnancies. For those who do not, and I believe them a minority, they will be free to choose what to do with no legal pressure. In other words, any legislation will not make a good Catholic choose abortion against her conscience. Abortion as murder, and therefore sin, which is the religious argument, is no more sinful from a scriptural point of view than all other sins we do not legislate against, such as greed, hate and fornication, the latter – fornication – being probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country. At the end of the day, however, it is the nature of religion to fuss over appearances above the truth and the inner state of the person.”
Deputy Michelle Mulherin of #fornicationtax fame – this is her speech in full. Reading it back you might actually think she was in favour of access to safe and legal abortion on the premise that the government shouldn’t legislate against sins. However her heavy religious rhetoric has masked everything and made her the centre of many a twitter joke.
Speech is in relation to #actiononx debate in Dail Eireann which took place on 18th & 19th April 2012.