Ireland takes first step on abortion

NEW 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 yesterday.

The Irish government will introduce a combination of legislation and regulation in the new year to legalise the procedure as a last resort to save a pregnant woman’s life.

The death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, who was denied an abortion of her dying foetus last month and died of blood poisoning, shocked the country and spurred the government to act on an issue it had delayed for decades.

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Abortion was banned in all circumstances in Ireland by a constitutional amendment in 1983, but when challenged by a 14-year-old rape victim in the “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 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 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 yesterday.

“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 woman.”

A Catholic-leaning campaign group, the Iona Institute, argued it would be both wrong and unnecessary to allow abortion to prevent suicide. Spokesperson Maria Steen said there were alter­native ways to treat women at risk of taking their own lives.

Ms Steen said: “If the government introduces abortion to Ireland on the grounds of suicidal intent, it will have crossed a moral rubicon.”

Pro-choice groups welcomed the decision, but warned politicians must stop dragging their feet. Campaigners, including Irish Choice Network, Choice Ireland, Action on X, Galway Pro-Choice, Cork Women’s Right to Choose and Doctors for Choice, called for a referendum.

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Choice Ireland said the government should legislate for abortion on demand. Stephanie Lord said: “There are 4,500 women that travel overseas for abortion services every year, and many more that order pills online to induce abortions.

“Women’s right to healthcare must also be upheld. It is now time to introduce free, safe and legal abortion on demand”

The government’s decision to introduce a combination of legislation and regulations sprang from recommendations in an expert group report published last month.

It was compiled to set out options on how to respond to a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the so-called ABC case, which found the state violated the rights of a woman in remission from cancer, who was forced to travel abroad to terminate her pregnancy.