Ireland finally allows abortion in dire cases
12 July 2013
The Irish parliament on Thursday for the first time passed a law allowing limited abortions in the republic.
Despite a marathon debate that continued into Wednesday night, Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his coalition government ultimately pushed through with a comfortable margin the protection of life in pregnancy bill, which will allow for abortions – but only when a woman's life is under threat if her pregnancy continues, or if she is suicidal.
Despite threats of excommunication from cardinals and bishops, the privately devout Catholic prime minister eventually won the vote after a marathon two-day debate in the Dáil.
Members voted by 127 to 31 to legalise abortion in cases of medical emergencies as well as the risk of suicide. The positive vote is attributed largely to Kenny, who despite facing an in-party revolt and threats of social ostracising by the Church went ahead with the legislation.
The bill was introduced after Indian dentist Dr Savita Halappanavar died in University Hospital Galway in 2012 after being denied a termination of pregnancy despite several requests.
An inquest was told that Savita was denied abortion twice despite her requests, as doctors brusquely told here that Ireland "is a catholic country." Savita was convinced that she would die unless an abortion was carried out, but the doctors wouldn't listen.
Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital in Ireland on October 21 and died later from septicaemia and a rare strain of E coli, four days after she lost her baby.
An inquest revealed an abortion would have actually saved the 31-year-old Indian dentist.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion groups have already threatened court cases to challenge the new law.
According to Irish department of health figures released on Thursday, about 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies last year. They included 124 who were under 18.
The new law also does not include women who were raped, meaning grim traffic across the Irish Sea for abortions will continue.
Mara Clarke, director of the London-based Abortion Support Network, a charity that raises money to help women afford the £400-£2,000 it costs to travel and pay privately for an abortion in England, condemned the restriction on an Irish woman's right to choose. She said, "Given that the Irish government has now had more than 22 years to legislate on the X case, I'm not sure what the hold-up is but then I'm not an expert on Irish abortion law.
"I am an expert in what happens to women when access to abortion is restricted. Even if this law is enacted, only a very, very small percentage of women who need abortions will be able to access them in Ireland.
"Women pregnant as result of rape, women with fatal foetal anomalies, couples who simply can't afford to care for a (or in most cases, another) child, will still be left behind.
"This week alone, Abortion Support Network has heard from a woman whose abusive husband hid her passport so she couldn't travel for an abortion, a woman who considered crashing her car to induce a miscarriage, and a couple whose very wanted pregnancy had catastrophic foetal anomalies – and these were only three of the 10 women who contacted us last week."
Anyone procuring or seeking an abortion in Ireland could face up to 14 years in prison.
Terminations For Medical Reasons – the campaign group for women who seek abortions because their babies will die if their pregnancies continue – accused the government of lacking courage to include their cases in the legislation.
During the debate, the Europe minister Lucinda Creighton was expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party. Creighton voted against the abortion law reform and is now expected to lose her ministerial job as well. On her way out of the Dáil, Creighton shook Kenny's hand saying: "I'm very sad, but I genuinely wish Enda Kenny and all the government the very best."
After leaving, she reminded Fine Gael that they had made an electoral promise in 2011 not to introduce abortion into Ireland.
The Fine Gael-Labour coalition government is the first in over two decades to attempt to bring in a legislation introducing abortion.
It has been 21 years since a judgement was passed in 1992 by the Supreme Court in Dublin - is now known as case X, which said abortion should be allowed if there was a threat to the mother's life, including suicide.
The case involved a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission by Irish authorities to travel to the UK for an abortion.
However, successive Irish governments have failed to codify a new law in keeping with the judgement due to strong protests from anti-abortion groups.
Catholic bishops have branded changes to Ireland's strict abortion regime as morally unacceptable, saying, "If approved would make the direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland."