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Ireland To Consider Law Allowing Abortion When a Woman's Life is at Risk

Ireland To Consider Law Allowing Abortion When a Woman's Life is at Risk

December 19, 2012 — Irish officials on Tuesday announced that new laws and regulations will be introduced to legalize abortion under circumstances that pose a serious risk to a woman's life, including potentially the threat of suicide, the New York Times reports.

The announcement comes amid public outrage over the death of Savita Halappanavar in October after she was denied an abortion at an Irish hospital. Although Halappanavar was miscarrying and in severe pain, the hospital refused to provide an abortion because a fetal heartbeat was detectable. She died of septicemia a week later (New York Times, 12/18).

Although Ireland's Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that abortion should be permitted when a woman's life is at risk, successive governments have failed to pass legislation to clarify the ruling. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Ireland to specify what the Supreme Court's ruling means in practice (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/19).

In this week's announcement, the government said a new law would provide "clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman" (Alpert, "World Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/18).

Health Minister James Reilly said the legislation would "clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child" (Robertson/Smith-Spark, CNN, 12/18).

Reilly said the nation's parliament would begin hearings on the issue in January. Legislators would receive a bill by Easter and be expected to vote on it by summer, he added.

About 4,000 women per year travel from Ireland to England to obtain abortion care, according to the AP/Sacramento Bee.

Opposition

Catholic conservatives in the country strongly oppose the suicide provision in the proposed regulations, despite assurances by Reilly that the government would make sure that "the issue of suicide is not abused."

The country's four Catholic archbishops in a joint statement called on lawmakers to oppose a suicide provision in any legislation. About 12 parliament members from Prime Minister Enda Kenny's party already have said they oppose any access to abortion, meaning that he might have to reach across the aisle for support (Pogatchnik, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/18).