The Irish government announced Tuesday that it will seek a legislative path to making abortion legal in cases where the mother's life is at risk.
The Irish Times reports that the government of the majority Roman Catholic country will introduce a combination of legislation that will redefine abortion's legal status, and enact regulations describing with "clarity and certainty" when doctors can perform an abortion. The announcement comes just more than a month after Savita Halappanavar, a woman who was having a miscarriage, was refused an abortion and died in an Irish hospital after suffering from blood poisoning. Halappanavar's death kicked off a wave of public outcry, including a demonstration in which an estimated 10,000 people marched across Dublin to show support for changing Ireland's abortion laws.
"I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfil our duty of care towards them," Dr. James Reilly, Ireland's health minister, said in a statement.
Ireland banned abortion under all circumstances in a 1983 constitutional amendment. Nine years later, the ban was challenged and the Supreme Court ruled that termination of pregnancy was permissible when the mother's life was at risk, including from suicide.The Irish government has since avoided clarifying the circumstances under which the mother's life could be judged to be at risk, clarity that the new legislation and regulations will seek to provide.
The Guardian reports that the reforms are expected to allow abortions where there is a medical risk to a woman's life or when she is thought to be in danger of killing herself, but it is not clear whether the law will allow for terminations in cases of rape or sexual abuse.
While the reforms are being hailed as a significant step forward by some, other critics said the legislation does not go far enough. In an interview with The Huffington Post UK, Mara Clarke, Director of Abortion Support Network, which helps women in Ireland gain access to abortion, said the changes would not help the most women.
“The vast majority of women who need abortions – women who’ve been raped, couples whose wanted pregnancies have catastrophic foetal anomalies, women and couples who simply can’t afford a child, or, in most cases, another child – will still have to travel and pay privately for abortions,” - Clarke said.