The Irish cabinet has reached an agreement on a controversial bill on abortion, which for the first time will allow limited legal termination, as part of legislative changes promised after Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died following a miscarriage last year.
The historic new bill, which will have to be passed in both houses of the Irish Parliament, will allow for limited legal termination where there is a threat to the mother’s life.
Savita, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital Galway and died of blood poisoning four days after delivering a dead foetus. An inquest into her death last month was told that her two requests for termination were turned down on the grounds that Ireland is a “Catholic country“.
The Irish government, which was already reviewing the country’s stringent laws on termination, had reassured the public on arriving at a consensus on the issue following international outrage over Savita’s case. New laws would mean that hospitals will have clear, legal guidelines when they considered requests for an emergency termination.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has deeply divided the government of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and some Catholic conservatives within his own party have vowed to reject the bill.
While the new bill allows for maternal protection, including in cases of a credible threat of suicide, it does not include cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.
In cases of suicide, a mother-to-be could in effect have six doctors reviewing her application, which has also come under criticism. Some groups, such as the Centre for Reproductive Rights Europe, have altogether denounced the suicide aspect of the bill.
Although the legislation is expected to pass in the two houses — the Dail and Seanad — with the support of Sinn Fein and Independents, there will be some backbenchers in the main coalition party, Fine Gael, who will vote against it.
According to Irish media reports, at least 11 women leave the Republic every day for an abortion in Britain. Under current Irish law, abortion is criminal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother.
The Irish Roman Catholic Church has strongly condemned proposed legislation to liberalise abortion as a move to .“licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby“.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has welcomed the decision and called on the government to go further, making the termination of pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities also lawful.