The Irish government has this week announced it will introduce regulations that will clarify the existing laws around the circumstances under which doctors can perform abortions, paving the way for what could be the first legal abortion in Ireland.
The contentious debate over the blanket ban on abortion in the predominantly Catholic country intensified following the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar in October. She was allegedly refused an abortion despite being told she was miscarrying.
Halappanavar’s widow claims that although his wife was in considerable physical pain, doctors at the University Hospital Galway refused to terminate the pregnancy because the foetus still had a detectable heartbeat.
Having been admitted to hospital during the miscarriage, Halappanavar spent three days in increasing pain before the foetus died and was surgically removed. She later died from blood poisoning.
The law reform will allow women to receive abortions if the pregnancy poses a threat to their lives — including from their own threats to commit suicide if forced to continue with the pregnancy. It will be the first time Ireland lawmakers have voted on the issue.
There have been five referendums on the issue since 1983 but because of opposition from religious groups a ruling on legal abortion in cases where a risk is posed to the mother’s life has never been implemented.
Health Minister James Reilly said parliament would receive a bill by Easter, and is expected to vote on it by the northern summer.
“I know that most people have personal views on this matter,”Reilly said in a statement.
“However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. 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.”