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Irish Justice Minister Calls His Country’s Abortion Restrictions ‘Unacceptable Cruelty’ To Women

By Sy Mukherjee  

"Irish Justice Minister Calls His Country’s Abortion Restrictions ‘Unacceptable Cruelty’ To Women"

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A protest candle lit vigil for the late Savita Halappanavar outside Belfast City Hall in Ireland. (Credit: AP Images/Peter Morrison)

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter isn’t mincing words about his country’s restrictive abortion laws. On Wednesday, Shatter said abortion rights legislation awaiting President Michael Higgins’ signature is inadequate, and that the Irish legislature’s refusal to permit abortions for victims of rape, incest, and pregnant women with fatal fetal abnormalities amounts to “unacceptable cruelty.”

Shatter’s comments came during a speech at Ireland’s Rape Crisis Center. He emphasized that forcing women to bear fetuses that are a result of rape or incest is cruel and only forces them to travel to England to meet their medical needs. He added that it is wrong to make women give birth to fetuses that have no chance of living.

“I believe it is a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman in circumstances where she has a fatal fetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated … knowing it has no real prospect of survival following birth,” said Shatter. He also called for a future referendum to expand abortion access to women who find themselves in those situations.

The deeply Catholic Ireland’s abortion laws have long amounted to a total ban. Earlier this month, lawmakers passed the nation’s first-ever bill expanding abortion rights in response to global outrage over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died after being denied an abortion at an Irish Catholic hospital. President Michael Higgins has yet to sign the bill but has previously indicated that he will.

Although the bill is historic, critics say it offers minimum protections for women who might need an abortion. The law only permits abortions if a woman’s life is at stake, and suicidal women who fall into that category must have their mental health status verified by a panel of three doctors before they can be approved for the procedure. Lawmakers withdrew proposed amendments adding the exceptions for rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities that Shatter is calling for because they were too controversial.

The Irish populace disagrees. Opinion polls on abortion taken this year show that 80 percent of the country’s residents favor allowing women who are victims of incest, rape, or have a fetus with a fatal defect get an abortion, according to the Globe and Mail.

Countries with strict abortion laws have recently been the targets of global scrutiny. In El Salvador, another Catholic nation, a 22-year-old woman was being forced to carry a fetus without a brain. External pressure finally led the Salvadoran health minister to allow the woman to terminate her pregnancy with a “C-section,” rather than an abortion.

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