The Health Minister finally gave the 8th amendment speech we all needed 5 years ago

The Health Minister finally gave the 8th amendment speech we all needed

The Health Minister opened the Dáil discussion on the Oireachtas Committee report on the 8th amendment this evening with a rousing speech.

Simon Harris finally articulated what many of us in Ireland have wanted to hear from a government minister for decades - that women deserve the right to choice.

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He began by listing, on the Dáil record, the figures for women who travelled to the UK from Ireland for an abortion in 2016.

"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.

"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.

The Health Minister finally gave the 8th amendment speech we all needed

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"85 per cent 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 were not faceless women, he said.

"They are our friends and neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, wives."

The minister acknowledged the difficulty women face in choosing whether to terminate a pregnancy, but that for some there is "no other option."

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"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."

The Health Minister finally gave the 8th amendment speech we all needed

 

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Minister Harris said that Ireland's proximity to the UK had helped the state "turn a blind eye" to the reality of Irish women having abortions.

'Sometimes, yes, turning a blind eye is the same as turning your back."

He also acknowledged what Irish women have had to endure at the hands of the state.

"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."

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He said he understood the deeply-held views on abortion that exist in Ireland but that the Committee's recommendations "are the basis on which we must proceed on this issue."

The Committee's recommendations included that terminations be allowed:

  • where the life or the health of the woman is at risk

  • up to twelve weeks into pregnancy without restriction

  • in cases of rape

  • in cases of fatal-foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth

 

The Health Minister finally gave the 8th amendment speech we all needed

Other TDs who called for the recommendations be put into law included Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Mary-Lou McDonald, Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Solidarity-People Before Profit's Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith.

The minister's speech wasn't perfect - "they" are not our wives, sisters and friends, Minister, because when you address the Dáil, you're not just addressing men. "They" are us; everyone who needs medical care or support.

Nonetheless, admitting that Ireland has turned its back on pregnant women and making a point of entering the 2016 figures for Irish abortions in the UK were both powerful statements.

Minister Harris, thank you. Thank you for listening, for finally, finally saying what needed to be said, for setting the tone for the debate going forward. We look forward to you being on the right side of history.