The Irish government on Tuesday announced that it would bring in legislation to allow for abortion in cases where the mother’s life was at risk.
The decision follows widespread outrage over the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian-origin dentist, who died after being denied abortion by doctors at a government hospital despite repeated requests, though her life appeared to be at risk.
The move would also bring the Irish law in line with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which held that it was in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.
At present, abortion is illegal in Ireland except when the mother’s life, as distinct from health, is at risk. But a lack of clear guidelines has meant that doctors refuse it even in genuine cases.
The proposed legislation and a new regulatory regime will be based on the recommendations of an expert group set up to advise the government on how best to implement a 20-year-old Supreme Court judgment supporting abortion in life-threatening circumstances, including a risk of suicide.
Ireland’s Health Minister James Reilly said the government was “very conscious of the sensitivities” around the issue but was also committed to the safety of women. “I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life,” he said.
The government would also 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.”
The Irish Times said the government was expected to allow “the fear of suicide as a ground for abortion, but may not provide for rape or sexual abuse,” neither of which formed part of the Supreme Court ruling.
Abortion in the deeply Catholic Ireland is a highly divisive issue, but the tragic death of Savita forced even sections of pro-life campaigners to rethink.