Irish MPs to vote next year on whether to allow limited abortion

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 20 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8638
  1. Muiris Houston
  1. 1Galway

The Irish government has said that it will legislate to allow abortion to be performed in limited circumstances in the Republic of Ireland.

It announced on 18 December 2012 that its preferred option for giving effect to a 1992 court judgment was a combination of legislation and regulation. The decision follows the recent publication of the report of an expert group tasked with advising on how to respond to a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that found that Ireland had failed to provide for abortion in circumstances where a mother’s life was at risk.1

It also comes in the wake of an international outcry after the death of Savita Halappanavar in October amid allegations that she was refused a termination when 17 weeks’ pregnant.2 The 31 year old dentist died from septicaemia at Galway University Hospital after a miscarriage.

The prime minister, Enda Kenny, confirmed that the cabinet’s decision would give effect to the Supreme Court judgment in the 1992 “X” case declaring that abortion was permissible where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, as distinct to her health. Such a risk included the threat of suicide.

The next step in implementing legislation will take place in January, when a parliamentary committee on health will hold three days of hearings. The government would then publish draft legislation. The health minister, James Reilly, said that he hoped legislation would be passed before next summer. Amid concerns among some members of parliament that the move would result in abortion on demand, he said that “legislation supported by regulations will inform us to ensure that suicide will not be abused as it is perceived to be in other jurisdictions.”

After the announcement the four Roman Catholic archbishops in Ireland called for MPs to be given a free vote on the government’s proposed legislation on abortion. In a strongly worded statement they encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right.” The archbishops said that “public representatives must consider the profound moral questions that arise” in relation to the decision.

The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists welcomed the government’s decision on the form of action to be taken. “The implementation of this judgment by way of legislation with regulations is also our preferred option, a decision that we reached following an in-depth review of the details provided by the expert group,” it said in a statement. “This option is, in our opinion, the best way to protect women and health professionals, and it also allows for the necessary flexibility to cater for future advances in obstetrics.”

The husband of Savita Halappanavar said that he would welcome any legislation that would prevent another death in the circumstances in which his wife died.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8638


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