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Ireland Legislates For Limited Abortion After Death

Ireland Legislates for Limited Abortion After Savita Death
Demonstrators hold placards and candels in memory of Savita Halappanavar in support of legislative change on abortion during a march in Dublin. Photographer: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Ireland’s government published outline legislation allowing for abortion in limited circumstances, including when doctors agree a pregnant woman is at risk of suicide, in what Prime Minister Enda Kenny said is an attempt to bring “clarity” to the state’s position on the practice.

Two doctors must agree a real and substantial risk to the life of a woman exists during pregnancy to approve a termination, according to government documents published in Dublin late yesterday. In cases in which risk of suicide is a factor, three doctors must agree.

“This is an issue that has been very divisive for over 30 years,” Kenny said today. “The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will at last bring certainty to pregnant women and legal clarity to medical personnel who work within the system.”

Successive governments, fearing a backlash in a mainly Catholic nation, have avoided introducing laws to fasten down the meaning of a 1992 Supreme Court ruling granting women the right to an abortion when the mother’s life is at risk. The case of Savita Halappanavar, who died last year of septicemia after doctors decided not to carry out a termination, reignited the battle over abortion, among the most divisive issues in an increasingly secular society.

Right to Appeal

Under the proposal, where the risk to a woman’s life is immediate, only the “reasonable opinion of one medical practitioner is required.” A woman has the right to appeal a decision not to allow an abortion.

“It is not necessary for medical practitioners to be of the opinion that the risk to the woman’s life is inevitable or immediate as this approach insufficiently vindicates the pregnant woman’s right to life,” the government said. “It will always be a matter for the patient to decide if she wishes to proceed with a termination.”

Anti-abortion activists in Ireland opposed the inclusion of a threat of suicide as grounds for abortion, a move they fear could lead to terminations becoming relatively easily accessible. In a 2002 referendum, voters defeated a proposal to remove suicide as grounds for a termination.

Any person found guilty of acting to cause an abortion outside of the parameters in the proposals may face a 14-year prison sentence under the plan, including the woman concerned.

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