Ireland to legalise abortion when mother's life is at risk
But termination bill will not leave country with a clear enough policy, say critics
THE Irish government's proposal to lift the ban on abortion when a mother's life is at risk, announced yesterday, still leaves the country in a "muddled and confused" position over when abortions can take place, critics claim.
The death last month of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, denied an abortion of her dying foetus, shocked the world and spurred the government to act on an issue it had delayed for decades. Her family claimed hospital staff denied her repeated requests for an abortion, saying Ireland was "a Catholic country".
Abortion was banned in all circumstances in 1983, but when challenged by a 14-year-old rape victim in the so-called "X-case" nine years later, the Supreme Court ruled a termination was permitted when the woman's life was at risk, including from suicide.
Successive governments sidestepped the politically divisive issue, until yesterday. Now, moved to action by the tragedy of Halapannavar's death, the current government has finally acknowledged the European Court of Human Rights and agreed to repeal legislation that makes abortion a criminal act when the mother's life is at risk.
The government said in a statement: "The legislation should provide the clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman."
But because the "risk of suicide" will be included in the new guidelines to doctors, some members of the ruling Fine Gael party, including Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton, are saying the new legislation could lead to "abortion on demand".
The law has not yet been changed, and several commentators are urging the Irish government to think again.
Former editor of the Catholic Herald Cristina Odone told the Daily Telegraph she believes Halappanavar's death "has been used to manipulate public opinion. This does not make her fate any less tragic; it does however raise questions about campaigners blinded by pro-abortion fervour."
Four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland have also criticised the government's plans. The Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey told the BBC the issue was "hugely significant" and should not come down to "purely party politics".
He was speaking after the Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said members of his own party would not be offered a free vote on the issue.
Dr McAreavey said: "When these issues come up in Westminster, members of parliament are routinely given a free vote because it's regarded as a matter not purely of politics but also of serious morality."
However, Ailbhe Smyth of the Irish Choice Network said the Catholic Church should have no role in government affairs. "I am extremely disappointed and very concerned to see how instantly this whole situation has become really inflamed again by the intervention of the bishops."