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Abortion Bill to proceed in Ireland

21 June 2013

THE Irish government is pressing ahead with legislation that will clarify the circumstances in which limited abortion is permissible in the state, acting on guidelines proposed by the Supreme Court 21 years ago.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which proposes restrictive circumstances under which pregnancies may be terminated in nominated state-run hospitals, is designed to protect the medical profession where situations arise in which the life of the mother may be endangered if the pregnancy were to continue. The Bill will also allow for suicidal ideation as a ground for termination under certain conditions.

The Bill comes after Savita Halappanavar, aged 31, died from septicaemia in Galway University Hospital, having presented with a miscarriage at 17 weeks (News, 30 November). The foetus was unviable, and it is alleged that a midwife said that while there was still a foetal heartbeat, abortion would not be possible because "this is a Catholic country".

A subsequent inquiry, chaired by Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, noted a series of errors in the management of her case. He further stated that, apart from the threat to life, the health of the mother also needed protection.

Reformed Churches - including the Church of Ireland - support the clarification of legislation for abortion; but Roman Catholic clergy have urged voters to lobby their TDs (MPs) against any change in the existing law.

A statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference says that the government is proposing legislation "that will fundamentally change the culture of medical practice in Ireland. For the first time, legislation will be enacted permitting the deliberate and intentional killing of an unborn child. This represents a radical change. . .

"We challenge repeated statements that this legislation is about saving lives, and involves no change to the law or practice on abortion. Legalising the direct and intentional destruction of the life of an unborn baby can never be described as 'life-saving' or 'pro-life'."

In a written submission to the Oireachtas (government) committee, the Church of Ireland's Standing Committee abortion working group said: "The Church of Ireland opposes abortion in principle, but acknowledges that there are exceptional cases of 'strict and undeniable medical necessity' where it is and should be an option.

"There is a variety of opinion within the Church of Ireland on what constitutes 'exceptional cases', but agreement that it includes circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother."

A poll conducted on behalf of The Irish Times newspaper suggests that 75 per cent of the population supports the legislation; 14 per cent are against, 11 per cent are undecided.

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