As Ireland Considers Loosening Its Abortion Ban, Prime Minister Receives Letters Written In Blood

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny (Credit: The Guardian)

Ireland’s prime minister says he has received letters from anti-abortion activists calling him a “murderer” as his administration considers including an extremely narrow exception to the country’s total abortion ban. Enda Kenny says that some of the letters have been written in blood.

“I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer, that I am going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies,” Kenny said on Wednesday, explaining that he has also received threatening messages. “I’m getting medals, scapulars, plastic fetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system, and it’s not confined to me.”

Spurred by the international outrage surrounding the death of Savita Halpannavar — an Indian woman who died after being denied an emergency abortion in an Irish Catholic hospital — Kenny approved legislation in April that would allow women to access abortion services if their life is in danger. On Wednesday, Ireland’s ministers signed off on a completed form of the legislation, and the parliament hopes to enact it before adjourning in July.

But, even though Ireland’s amended abortion law is still incredibly harsh — it doesn’t include any exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal defects, and women’s health advocates caution that it’s only an incredibly small step toward greater reproductive rights — the deeply conservative nation has erupted into controversy. Abortion opponents in Ireland claim that any exceptions whatsoever to the nation’s total abortion ban will pave the way for future legalization efforts. Ireland’s Catholic bishops have urged the government to block the legislation, arguing that allowing dying women to access reproductive care is “not necessary to protect women.”

But the country’s powerful Catholic leaders stand in sharp contrast to public opinion. A recent poll published in the Irish Times found that 89 percent of the population wants legal abortion services to be available in cases where a woman’s life is in danger. And the Irish people favor greater reproductive access than the current legislation provides. Eighty three percent support legal abortion in cases when the fetus won’t be able to survive at birth, 81 percent support legal abortion access for victims of rape and incest, and 78 percent support legal abortion to protect a woman’s health (not just her life).

The Guttmacher Institute has found that restrictive laws banning abortion don’t actually lower abortion rates. Women who need to terminate a pregnancy will find a way to do it regardless of the law, but they may end up risking their health to do so. Women’s health activists in Ireland help educate women about how to travel to other countries in Europe and obtain abortions there, but they could face up to 14 years in prison if they’re caught.