Ireland introduces new bill on limited abortions
The government of Ireland has unveiled a long-awaited bill that envisages new rules governing when life-saving abortions can be performed, a point of potentially deadly confusion for women in a country that illegalizes abortions. The bill has come after an Indian origin woman, Savita Halappanavar, died due to blood poisoning last year after she was refused a termination because her dying foetus still had a heartbeat.
What is in the Bill?
The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill envisages provisions through which women could obtain abortions, which are currently illegal. The proposed law states that in cases of a “real and substantial” risk to the life of the woman due to risk of suicide, three consultant doctors, one obstetrician and two psychiatrists, must unanimously certify the need for a termination. If a unanimously decision is not agreed upon, a second panel comprising three more doctors will have to be convened. The bill also sets a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone involved in an illegal abortion.
Opposition to the Bill:
The bill in its current for is facing opposition from anti-abortion activists who are against the bill’s provisions for women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination. As per them, this would make it easy for a woman to obtain abortion.
About ‘Savita Halappanavar’:
Savita Halappanavar’s (an Indian born Irish) death in October 2012 had led to a widespread protests in Ireland and a call to re-look at the abortion laws.
– 31 year old dentist originally from Belgaum, India who moved to Ireland in 2008.
– Died on October 28, 2012 in Galway, Ireland.
– Her death led to widespread protests, in Ireland, India, England and other countries and a call to re-look at the abortion laws.
– Suffered miscarriage when she was 17 weeks pregnant.
Her husband claimed that the University College Hospital Galway where she was admitted denied her an abortion because a fetal heartbeat was present, despite the fetus being declared nonviable. This led to septicemia (blood poisoning), multiple organ failure and her death. The fetal remains were eventually removed but too much time had passed.
Why she was denied abortion at the right time when she needed it?
- Under Irish law on abortion, and Offences against the Person Act 1861 abortion is illegal in Ireland.
- As a result Irish women have to travel to UK each year to undergo abortion.
- Abortion in the Republic of Ireland is illegal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother.
- However, the availability of abortion services can be even more restricted in the absence of a readily available method of determining the circumstances in which an abortion might be lawfully obtained.
- However, a judgment of the Irish Supreme Court in 1992, commonly known as the “X case”, permits abortions where the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide.
- Abortion is a controversial issue in Irish politics and five national referendums have been held on the topic in the last 30 years.
Reactions over her Death
- Her death led to protests by local community, and Indian community in particular.
- In India, the Ministry of External Affairs of India summoned the Irish ambassador over the issue.
- Human rights group Amnesty observed that the death of the Indian Dentist “illustrates gap in Irish law” and asked Irish government to amend its law on abortion in the with international human rights law.