1 May 2013

Ireland agrees abortion bill: but only to save mother’s life

After tense talks, Ireland’s cabinet agrees a bill to allow abortion to save a mother’s life. But pro-choice groups tell Channel 4 News the victory is small and will only help “minority” of women.

Ireland agrees 'life-saving' abortion bill (G)

The historic proposals for limited abortion in the Republic of Ireland were agreed late on Tuesday night after six hours of negotiations.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the controversial new bill would provide certainty to women and doctors.

It follows the death of Savita Halappanavar in October last year, who died of blood poisoning in a Galway after being denied an abortion and was reportedly told: “This is a Catholic country”.

The Protection of Maternal Life Bill would ensure that doctors could perform an abortion in an emergency and be acting within the Irish law – in cases like Savita’s.

It is a testament to how truly horrific the situation currently is…that this proposed legislation is actually a victory – Mara Clarke, Abortion Support Network

The bill proposes that three doctors can unanimously agree that an abortion is necessary if suicide is a risk to a woman’s life. On appeal of the first decision, another three doctors are required to approve the decision, meaning that six doctors could be required to sign off an abortion in the case of the threat of suicide.

Abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal abonormalities for the foetus, are not included in the bill.

Law ‘not being changed’

The issue has divided Ireland’s coalition government, with some members of the main Fine Gael party saying they will not vote for it. Other groups were particularly concerned that the inclusion of the threat of suicide would create “abortion on demand”.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted that it was not an attempt to change the law, and that the governement was merely legislating for a 1992 Supreme Court ruling. The now-famous X case involved the rape of a 14-year-old girl, and judges ruled that abortion should be permitted when a woman’s life was at risk, including from suicide.

“The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth.

“And the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the Protection of Maternal Life Bill will continue within the law, to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply in the future.”

Economy of abortion

However pro-choice groups were not wholly happy with the bill.

“It is a testament to how truly horrific the situation currently is for Irish women who have an unplanned pregnancy, that this proposed legislation is actually a victory,” said Mara Clarke, founder and director of the Abortion Support Network.

“For any woman who is able to get an abortion in Ireland without getting on a plane or a boat, this is a victory. But this proposed legislation will only help a very small minority of women who need abortions.

“Women with money have options; women without money have babies.”

Around 85 women a week leave the Ireland to have an abortion in England or Wales. In Northern Ireland, where abortion is only permitted if the mother’s life is at risk, around 21 women travel to England or Wales to have an abortion, according to the most recent figures.

The Fine-Gael/Labour government has already been subject to EU pressure, after the European court of human rights ruled that the Irish ban on abortion violated a pregnant cancer patient’s right to life.

Ireland and Malta are the only two European Union countries that still bans abortion.