Ireland looks at ways to bring its abortion law into line with European judgment

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 30 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8165
  1. Muiris Houston
  1. 1Galway

The Irish government has published a report from an expert group appointed to provide options for dealing with the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights on abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

The group was established to advise the government how to respond to the court’s decision in 2010 that Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to life of the mother set out by the country’s Supreme Court in the “X” case in 1992.1 The case involved a 14 year girl who became suicidal when she discovered that she had become pregnant after a rape. It highlighted the lack of access to abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

The report sets out four options:

  • Non-statutory guidelines on abortion

  • Statutory regulations on “the provision of lawful termination of pregnancy by way of primary legislation to empower the Minister for Health to regulate the area by statutory instrument”

  • Legislation alone, to “regulate the provision of lawful termination of pregnancy by way of primary legislation”

  • Legislation together with regulations, “to regulate the provision of lawful termination of pregnancy by way of primary legislation, with certain matters left to the Minister for Health to regulate by way of secondary legislation.”

The health minister, James Reilly, said that the government would make a decision before the end of the year on which of the options to implement. The report will be debated in the Dail (parliament). Early indications were that legislation with regulation was the preferred government option.

The pro-choice group Choice Ireland has called on the government to act immediately on the options in the report. Its spokeswoman, Stephanie Lord, said, “It is obvious from the options set out in the report that the government is left with no option now but to legislate to provide lawful abortions for women where they have life threatening conditions.”

The Pro-Life Campaign said that none of the options put forward in the report had set out ways to safeguard both mother and baby during pregnancy. Caroline Simons, legal consultant to the campaign, said that what was needed was “clarity for women in pregnancy regarding medical treatment needed to safeguard their lives.”

Meanwhile the husband of Savita Halappanavar, the 31 year old dentist who died in controversial circumstances at Galway University Hospital when 17 weeks pregnant, has said that he would not participate in inquiries run by the Health Service Executive.2

Despite a direct plea from the prime minister, Enda Kenny, Praveen Halappanavar said that he did not trust the health service to conduct an impartial investigation, and he continues to push for a full sworn public inquiry. His wife died from septicaemia after a miscarriage amid allegations that she was refused a termination despite several requests for one during her hospital admission.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8165