The Irish government has been under increased public pressure to clarify its abortion laws since the death last year of Savita Halappanavar, who died of septicemia after being denied an abortion at an Irish hospital. Under the bill released last week, a single physician could authorize a life-saving abortion in an emergency, two doctors would be required to sign off on the procedure if the threat to the woman's life was not imminent, and three doctors would have to approve of the abortion if the woman was at risk of suicide (Pogatchnik, AP/Miami Herald, 5/3).
The bishops disputed the government's assertion that the bill simply codifies existing rights outlined in a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling. The statement referred to the bill as "a dramatically and morally unacceptable change to Irish law" that "would, if approved, make the direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland."
The statement specifically mentioned the provision that would allow abortions in cases of suicide risk. "It is a tragic moment for Irish society when we regard the deliberate destruction of a completely innocent person as an acceptable response to the threat of the preventable death of another person," the statement said.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said the bill is meant to clarify current law. "What we have to do collectively as a society and legislators is make laws that make it clear what is the position for a pregnant woman whose life is at risk, what treatment is available to her," he said (Dalby, New York Times, 5/3).