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Views And Reviews

The global abortion policies database: knowledge as a health intervention

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 08 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5098
  1. Joanna Erdman, MacBain Chair in health and policy law
  1. Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada
  1. Joanna.Erdman{at}

Abortion laws are often written in vague terms, breeding uncertainty about what is allowed

In 2012, after being refused an abortion, Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital from complications following a miscarriage. The treating physicians believed that because the fetus still had a beating heart their “hands were tied.” Under Irish law, abortion is a criminal offence unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, yet there is little clarity on this exception. Following nationwide protests, the government introduced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 to clarify the law and to regulate access under it. Years earlier, the European Court of Human Rights called for precisely such regulation, moved by the position of doctors who “faced criminal charges, on the one hand, and an absence of clear legal, ethical, or medical guidelines, on the other.”

The circumstances in Ireland are tragic, but not uncommon. Abortion laws are often written in vague terms, …

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