ABORTION is on the Irish agenda again, some 20 years after the
Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution did not prevent
termination of a pregnancy where the life of the mother was at risk
- including the possibility of suicide.
Six successive governments failed to
act on the court's urgings to introduce legislation that would
clarify the matter. The European Court of Human Rights has also
found against the Irish State in a case brought by women who had to
go abroad for terminations. It is estimated that more than 4000
Irish women travel to the UK and other European countries annually
The present coalition government
pledged to set up an expert group to provide recommendations, and
their findings were brought to the Cabinet on Tuesday.
The debate intensified after it was
revealed that last month, Savita Halappanavar, aged 31, died from
septicaemia in Galway University Hospital having presented with a
miscarriage at 17 weeks; the foetus was unviable, and her husband,
Praveen, alleges that she pleaded with medics for a termination on
three occasions, but was told that, while the foetus still had a
heartbeat, nothing could be done.
Mrs Halappanavar, it is alleged, was
eventually treated after the foetal heartbeat stopped, but she died
a few days later. The hospital's side of the story, as yet unknown,
is now the subject of two separate inquiries: one by the Health
Service Executive, and another by the independent Health
Information and Quality Authority. Her husband is calling for a
public inquiry into her death.
Mrs Halappanavar's parents, who live
in south-west India, echo his demand, but the Irish government's
Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, says that the HSE inquiry must
proceed as a matter of urgency, as well as the HIQA investigation,
in order to establish the facts.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said that
he expected all his party members to support whatever legislation
Among four recommendations, the
report, led by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, states that "when there is a
difference of opinion between the woman and her doctor . . . there
should be a formal review process that could be invoked by or on
behalf of the woman, so that it could be established, as a matter
of law, whether the particular case presented a sufficient risk to
the woman's life such that a lawful termination of pregnancy may be
The RC Archbishop of Dublin, Dr
Diarmuid Martin, stated that nowhere in Roman Catholic teaching was
it stated that the life of an unborn child was to take precedence
over that of the mother. The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Dr
Michael Jackson, expressed his sorrow for the family of Mrs
Sam Harper, a member of the Church of
Ireland Board for Social Theology in Action, explained the position
traditionally adopted by the Church of Ireland: "The Board for
Social Theology affirms the sanctity of all human
life, including the life of both the
mother and the unborn child. As a result, while we hold that
termination of a pregnancy is never a desirable outcome, we
recognise that sometimes extreme medical circumstances may require
it. . .
"Medical circumstances would also
apply in the management of spontaneous abortions and miscarriages.
The Church has not made any comments on the specifics of the case
currently under investigation, but the board expresses its deep
sadness regarding the death of Mrs Savita Halappanavar."
Politicians and church leaders in the
Irish Republic are now hoping that the positive move by the
government towards legislation will be debated without the rancour
that has characterised debates in the past.