Harris: 'I hope we can no longer tolerate' the 8th amendment

The Dáil and Seanad have been debating the Oireachtas report

Harris: 'I hope we can no longer tolerate' the 8th amendment

Simon Harris. Photo: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The Dáil has held its first debate on the Oireachtas Committee report on the 8th amendment.

The Health Minister Simon Harris said Oireachtas members were coming face to face with history.

Mr Harris gave an opening speech - listing the amount of women in each county who traveled for an abortion last year.

"Real women like the 36 from County Carlow who travelled to the UK for an abortion in 2016, or the 38 from Mayo, the 69 women from Tipperary, the 85 from Wicklow, the 241 from Cork or the 1,175 women from Dublin.

"Women from every county in the Republic of Ireland travelled to the UK in 2016. I think we need to acknowledge them all.

"Forty-nine from Kerry and 130 from Kildare. 21 from Leitrim and 20 from Roscommon. 69 from Wexford.

"Thirty-three from Cavan and 15 from Monaghan. 99 from Limerick. 53 from Clare. 38 from Westmeath. 63 from Donegal. 113 from Galway. 44 from Kilkenny. 42 from Laois. 83 from Louth and 100 from Meath. 28 from Offaly and 29 from Sligo. 16 from Longford. 56 from Waterford.

"In 2016, 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK alone and we know that Irish women travel to other countries like the Netherlands too.

"Over 1,200 of the women who went to the UK were aged between 30 and 39 and over 1,500 were aged between 20 and 29. 255 were aged 40 or over.

"These are not faceless women"

"Ten were girls under the age of 16. 230 were teenagers. Over half of the women who travelled were married, in a civil partnership, or in a relationship.

"85% of the women were between three and 12 weeks pregnant. It is estimated that at least 170,000 Irish women have travelled to other countries for abortions since 1980.

"These are not faceless women. They are our friends and neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, wives.

"Each woman is dealing with her own personal situation and making what is a deeply difficult decision.

"Because this time around, let's be honest about this - this is not a decision or a procedure that anyone undertakes lightly.

"Women agonise about it. Women 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."

Health Minister Simon Harris speaking in the Dáil | Image: Oireachtas screenshot

"Turning a blind eye"

Minister Harris said there needs to be a change to the Constitution.

"We also come face to face with our history.

"A history that continues to unfold, and continues to hold up a mirror in which we sometimes do not like what we see.

"Whether it's the damp cold of the Magdalene Laundries creeping into our bones, or the sundered silence of Mother and Baby Homes being broken - or the glimpses of what was an all-too-acceptable culture exposed by the Kerry Babies case.

"All of these things are connected. Connected by the way we as a country have treated women, particularly pregnant women."

He questioned what the State would have done if Ireland was not next to a country that 'helped us turn a blind eye'.

And Minister Harris said the State needs to stop sending women abroad for abortions.

"In 1992, we formalised the right of Irish women to travel for an abortion, we formalised the right for them to obtain information about it, but we’ve been temporarily exporting women in crisis for a lot longer than that.

"I can’t help but wonder what we would have done if we didn’t have a neighbouring island to help us turn a blind eye.

"And sometimes, yes, turning a blind eye is the same as turning your back".

"I hope, I really do, that as a country we can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives.

"Ultimately, there is always a deeply personal, private story behind each individual case, which I believe is a matter best served by women and their doctors".

Michael Healy Rae | File photo

Most of the speeches in the Dáil were in favour of repeal - however Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae was a dissenting voice.

"People voted for the 8th amendment, in huge numbers, it has saved many lives.

"It could be 100,000 lives, it could be 50,000, it could be 5,000 saved by the 8th amendment.

"It means that there are thousands of people who are living in this world today, who are walking the streets today thanks to that amendment - and then we're talking about repealing it".

The committee has recommended a law change to allow unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

A number of protesters also gathered outside Leinster House earlier.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that repealing the 8th Amendment might not, in and of itself, be enough to allow law makers introduce such legislation following any referendum.

He said the Attorney-General has advised the Government that other parts of the Constitution may also protect the right to life of the unborn.

Reporting by Sean Defoe, Jack Quann and Michael Staines