Changes to Irish abortion law backed by MPs

IRISH MPs have strongly backed a proposed law that would end decades of confusion over the right of women to receive abortions in life-threatening cases.
Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister. Picture: GettyEnda Kenny, the Irish prime minister. Picture: Getty
Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister. Picture: Getty

Prime minister Enda Kenny easily prevailed yesterday with a vote of 138-24 in favour as he sought all-party endorsement of his Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which will allow for abortion in very limited cases, including threat of suicide.

The change in the legislation was sparked by the death of Indian national Savita Halappanavar after suffering a miscarriage at University Hospital in Galway last October. Staff at the hospital refused to abort the foetus as it had a heartbeat, telling Mrs Hapappanavar’s husband that Ireland was a “Catholic country”.

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Her death reopened a two-decade debate over how Ireland should deal with a Supreme Court ruling that abortion be permitted when a woman’s life is in danger.

Abortion is a particularly sensitive issue in Irish politics. Four members of the ruling Fine Gael party last night defied Mr Kenny and voted against the proposed legislation.

Mr Kenny issued a stern defence of the legislation, saying it was not possible to remove the suicide clause. He also rejected demands for a time limit to be applied to when a termination can take place.

“To those who fear that this bill is the first step towards a liberal abortion regime in Ireland, I say clearly that this extremely restrictive bill is the only proposal that will be brought forward by this government on this issue,” he said.’

The Catholic primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady denounced the bill as “a legislative and political Trojan horse, which heralds a much more liberal and aggressive abortion regime in Ireland”.

He said that “as well as involving the deliberate killing of an unborn child, this bill by promoting abortion risks creating the very symptoms of suicidal feelings it claims to address”.

Pro-choice group Choice Ireland released a survey of university students that found 88 per cent believed abortion should be allowed on some grounds, including 40 per cent who thought it should be freely available. Fifty-six per cent identified themselves as Catholic.

The bill faces its final passage next week.

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