National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Debate Resurges Over Ireland's Abortion Laws Amid Case of Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman

Debate Resurges Over Ireland's Abortion Laws Amid Case of Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman

December 22, 2014 — A case in Ireland in which a pregnant woman who has lost all brain function is being kept on mechanical support despite her family's wishes has reignited debate over the nation's abortion restrictions, the AP/CBS News reports.

Irish Abortion Laws

According to AP/CBS News, Irish medical law requires physicians to grant equal status to the woman and the fetus (AP/CBS News, 12/18).

Last year, Ireland's Parliament legalized abortion when the procedure is needed to save a woman's life, including when there is a threat of suicide because of the pregnancy. However, the law does not allow abortions in other instances, including rape, incest, fetal anomaly or when there is no prospect of the fetus surviving outside the womb (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/15).

On Tuesday, Irish lawmakers "overwhelmingly rejected" a motion to make abortion legal in the country, the AP/CBS News reports. Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the current abortion law has "a chilling effect on doctors," adding, "Difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple or next-of-kin where there is no capacity, and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now made on foot of legal advice. That isn't how it should be."

Case Details

According to AP/CBS News, the woman lost all brain function after experiencing a blood clot. The fetus is currently at 16 weeks of development; a fetus is not viable outside the womb until about 24 weeks.

The woman's family wishes to end mechanical support, but physicians will not do so because they are legally required to protect the fetus (AP/CBS News, 12/18). The hospital and the woman's family are both exploring the legal issues involved (Phelan, Irish Independent, 12/17).

Dublin's High Court is scheduled to consider the case on Tuesday (AP/CBS News, 12/18).