Ireland May Loosen Abortion Restrictions After International Outrage

Irish Health Minister Dr. James Reilly

After months of pressure, the government of Ireland has decided to introduce draft legislation in the Irish Parliament that would, along with new regulations, potentially loosen the country’s sharp restrictions on abortion.

The decision has the potential to be extremely controversial in a land where an effective ban remains in place despite a 1992 ruling by the Irish Supreme Court that abortion is legal in some circumstances. It’s the controversy surrounding what those circumstances entail that will finally be clarified by the government:

In a statement this afternoon, [Irish Health Minister Dr. James] Reilly said he was very conscious of the sensitivities around the issue of 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 fulfill our duty of care towards them.

“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 still has a lengthy debate ahead of it in Parliament, where several members of the Prime Minister’s party have already threatened to “vote against any law that liberalises abortion.” Currently Irish law still criminalizes most forms of abortion and does not provide for the procedure to be carried out in cases of rape and incest.

The pressure on the Irish government to act comes from two sources. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in their handling of abortion; the government believes that their new action will bring them in line with the Convention’s provisions. More recently, the death of an Indian woman living in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar, in October catalyzed thousands of protesters to take to the streets of Dublin to call for reform. Savita died of blood poisoning following the refusal of a hospital to perform an abortion, citing the unclear amounts of discretion Ireland affords hospitals to make that determination.