Savita Halappanavar who died in Galway, Ireland, on October 28 after her repeated requests for an abortion were refused by the hospital. (PTI)
Dec. 18: Ireland is to legalise abortions when the mother’s life is at risk, including when she is suicidal, weeks after the death of Savita Halappanavar who died after being refused an abortion.
The move is expected to spark a major battle with the Roman Catholic Church. Ireland’s cabinet took the decision today following a huge public outcry over the death of Halappanavar, a pregnant woman in October who died after her repeated requests for an abortion were refused while she was suffering a miscarriage.
The Irish government has decided to repeal legislation that makes abortion a criminal act and to introduce regulations setting out when doctors can perform an abortion when a woman’s life is regarded as being at risk, including by suicide.
Dr James Reilly, the Irish health minister, said that the government was aware of the controversy surrounding abortion. “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. We must fulfil our duty of care towards them,” he said.
“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. We will 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.”
Ireland’s abortion laws are the strictest in Europe and any proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion will stoke furious debate in Ireland, which remains a staunchly Roman Catholic country.
Ronan Mullen, an independent Irish senator, accused the government of “double think” for condemning the deaths of children in the Sandy Hook shooting while showing “no concern for unborn children”.
“I find it entirely appropriate that we would join in solidarity with the people, with the children who died in Connecticut,” he said. “Let’s be sincere about that. And let’s not slip into a double-think either, however, where we forget a whole category of children in our own country.”
Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister, said that draft legislation would be published in the New Year with a timetable of having the legislation ready by Easter.
To ensure the controversial law is passed the government whip would be applied to MPs in the ruling Fine Gael party which is deeply divided over the proposals.
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 new legislation will be drafted to comply with a landmark ruling in the European Court of Human Rights two years ago and a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision in the “X case”. The Irish ruling 20 years ago overturned an injunction preventing a 14-year girl, who had been raped and was suicidal because she could not get a legal abortion, from travelling to Britain to have her pregnancy terminated. She later had a miscarriage but her case did not lead to legal reform.