Irish Law Makes Abortion Available under Narrow Circumstances
Ireland passed new abortion legislation, the “Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill,” making abortion legally available only when a woman’s life is threatened by the pregnancy. In late July, President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill into law. Prime Minister Enda Kenny was one of several politicians who encountered opposition from the bishops and ultraconservative Catholics for his support of a change in the abortion law. Seventy-five percent of the Irish public supported the bill, according to a June poll conducted by the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI.
One of the most debated sections, the inclusion of suicide as a threat to a woman’s life, made it into the final text with the stipulation that each case must be approved unanimously by three doctors in consultation with a woman’s GP, as opposed to two doctors in the case of life-threatening physical illness. Discussing the extra burden placed upon these women, Dr. Anthony McCarthy, one of Ireland’s leading psychiatrists, called the original plan to require six doctors’ opinions “some sort of sick joke,” according to the Irish Independent.
Some would have preferred a more far-reaching reform, including Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who called denying abortion in cases of rape or fatal genetic defects a “great cruelty,” according to the Associated Press. The law also falls far short of decriminalization, as it retains a clause allowing for the imprisonment for “a term not exceeding 14 years” of those who “intentionally destroy unborn human life.” As Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times pointed out, the 14-year sentence imposed on a man convicted of a fatal stabbing had recently been reduced to eight.