Sunday 22 July 2018

Simon Harris: I felt ashamed at abortion treatment and changed my view

Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Health Minister Simon Harris will support abortion on demand up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, the Irish Independent can reveal.

For the first time today, Mr Harris outlines in detail his personal views on the topic, revealing that until recently he saw no reason to change Ireland's restrictive laws.

The minister, who will be in charge of drafting the legislation to govern abortion laws in the event of the Eighth Amendment being repealed, said: "I came in here [to Leinster House] thinking that there wasn't a need for change in this country. Genuinely, I didn't believe it."

Mr Harris (31) said three events changed his attitude, starting with the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.

"I was a young, new, male TD. I remember the awful situation with Savita Halappanavar and the real questions that raised about the Eighth Amendment," he said.

"Then I remember attending a briefing in Leinster House with the group 'Terminations for Medical Reasons'. It was mums and dads who had found themselves carrying a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality.

"I've never before left a briefing so moved by it. Here was a situation where I'm very proud of this country, I love being Irish, I love living in this country and I love representing this country as a member of the Government, and - yet here was a situation where I was really ashamed at how these people were treated."

The third incident was the case of Amanda Mellet, who was 21 weeks pregnant in 2011 when she was told the foetus had congenital defects, meaning it would die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Ms Mellet travelled to the UK to have a termination, and staying for just 12 hours due to her financial situation.

In June 2016, the UN's Human Rights Commission ruled that Ireland had subjected her to "discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

"I met Ms Mellet and her husband," said Mr Harris, who publicly apologised to her in the Dáil last year. "I sat in that room and listened to a story that wouldn't make me proud of how we deal with this."

He went on to say: "Abortions are a reality, whether we like it or not, for thousands of women.

"Not only is Irish women going abroad a reality, but now you have women here using the abortion pill.

"Some estimates put it at up to 2,000 a year.

"As their Health Minister surely I should be concerned that they are taking a pill in a non-regulated fashion," the Wicklow TD said, adding: "In that sense, I'm clear in my thinking on it."

The Department of Health is currently working on legislative proposals that could form the basis for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in May or June.

Mr Harris described the timeline as "very tight" because any proposals brought forward would have to be debated in the Oireachtas.

However, he said: "It's doable and desirable. I don't think the country needs a referendum campaign that goes on and on and on forever."

The minister added: "The idea that anybody under the age of 50-odd has never had a say on this or their voice heard and yet lives in a country where the constitutional position is extraordinarily restrictive compared to many, many other countries. I don't think that's democratic.

"I think we should have an opportunity for my generation and indeed generations above me to have that say. This is not going to go away."

Irish Independent

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