Laws allowing limited access to abortion will be
introduced in Ireland, the only EU member state that bans the
procedure, following the death of a woman who was refused a
termination, the government said today.
The death last month of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who
was denied an abortion of her dying foetus and later died of
blood poisoning, shocked the predominantly Roman Catholic
country and spurred the government to act on an issue it had
delayed for decades.
Abortion was banned in all circumstances by a constitutional
amendment in 1983, but when challenged by a 14-year-old rape
victim in the so-called "X-case" nine years later, the
Supreme Court ruled a termination was permitted when the
woman's life was at risk, including from suicide.
Successive governments sidestepped the politically divisive
issue of clarifying the circumstances under which the
mother's life could be judged to be at risk. Some members of
the ruling Fine Gael party have indicated that they may not
be able to back the new legislation.
"The drafting of legislation, supported by regulations, will
be within the parameters of Article 40.3.3 of the
constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X
case," the government said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The legislation should provide the clarity and certainty in
relation to the process of deciding when a termination of
pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and
substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of
The death of Halapannavar, an Indian living in Ireland,
highlighted the lack of clarity in Irish law that leaves
doctors in a legally risky position and re-ignited the
abortion debate, leading to large protests by both pro-choice
and pro-life groups outside parliament and around the
The European Court of Human Rights said in 2010 that Ireland
must clarify its law, a ruling which led to the commissioning
of an experts' report which said a woman was still only
lawfully entitled to an abortion when there was a real and
substantial risk to her life.
Members of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's conservative Fine Gael
party, including minister for European Affairs Lucinda
Creighton, have expressed particular misgivings that the
inclusion of suicide in any new legislation could lead to
abortion on demand.
There was no specific reference to the risk of suicide as
grounds for an abortion in the government's statement which
said further decisions would be made at a later stage
relating to "policy matters that will inform the drafting of
Kenny has said that he expects the government to vote as one
on the issue, meaning that any defectors could be expelled
from his party.
While this would be unlikely to threaten the government's
large majority, it would be a blow after the junior coalition
Labour Party, which has campaigned for a clarification of the
country's abortion rules, expelled its fifth member in less
than two years last week for voting against budget cuts.