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
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
"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