Threat of suicide 'will be grounds for abortion'
Published 18/12/2012 | 14:01
NEW laws to reform the limited ban on abortion will only allow a pregnancy to be terminated if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life - including the threat of suicide, it has been confirmed.
The Government will introduce a combination of legislation and regulation in the new year to legalise the procedure as a last resort to save a pregnant woman's life.
Health Minister James Reilly said he was conscious of the sensitivities of the contentious issue but said that ensuring the safety of pregnant women was a priority.
"We will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman's life," Dr Reilly said.
"We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child."
The legislation will be drafted in accordance with the 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling on the X case, which allows for abortion when a woman's life is in danger - including the threat of suicide.
The Department of Health said in a statement: "The drafting of legislation, supported by regulations, will be within the parameters of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case."
Catholic leaning campaign group the Iona Institute argued it would be both wrong and unnecessary to allow abortion to prevent suicide.
Spokesperson Maria Steen said there were alternative ways to treat women at risk of taking their own lives.
"A decision to include a threat of suicide as a ground for abortion would also be wrong in principle because it would authorise for the first time ever the deliberate and direct destruction of unborn human life in Ireland," Ms Steen said.
"If the Government introduces abortion to Ireland on the grounds of suicidal intent, it will have crossed a moral rubicon."
Ms Steen added that it was ironic the issue was being debated ahead of Christmas and just weeks after the children's rights referendum was passed.
A collection of pro-choice groups welcomed the Government's decision but warned politicians must stop dragging their feet.
Campaigners - including Irish Choice Network, Choice Ireland, Action on X, Galway Pro-Choice, Cork Women's Right to Choose and Doctors for Choice - called for a referendum.
Choice Ireland said the Government should legislate for abortion on demand.
Spokeswoman Stephanie Lord said: "There are 4,500 women that travel overseas for abortion services every year, and many more that order pills online to induce abortions at home.
"Women have a right to make the best choice for them under their circumstances, and their right to healthcare must also be upheld. It is now time to introduce free, safe and legal abortion on demand in Ireland."
The Government's decision to introduce a combination of legislation and regulations sprung from recommendations in an expert group report published last month.
The report was compiled to set out options on how to respond to a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling on the so-called ABC case, which found the state violated the rights of a woman in remission from cancer who was forced to travel abroad to terminate her pregnancy.
Its publication coincided with the tragic death of pregnant Indian woman Savita Halappanavar, who miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy.
The 31-year-old died at Galway University Hospital on October 28 after contracting septicaemia. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claimed she had been denied an abortion.
He refused to co-operate with a Health Service Executive clinical review and an investigation by the Health Information and Quality Authority, and has demanded a full, public inquiry into his wife's death.
Meanwhile, in its statement, the Government warned much work would be required in drafting the legislation and that further decisions were yet to be made surrounding policy matters that will shape the laws.
Nowhere in its statement did the Government refer directly to suicide. However, the Supreme Court ruling on the 20-year-old X case cited the threat of suicide as a legitimate risk to life, giving grounds for abortion.
Discussions are also likely to include how cases of rape and sexual abuse should impact a woman's right to an abortion.
Neither of these factors formed part of the X case ruling.
"The Government has decided the form of action to be taken," Dr Reilly said.
"We will not pre-empt the debate that must follow by speculating on details to be decided later in the process."
Draft legislation will be published following discussions among the health committee in January.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has welcomed the reform plan.
"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," they said.
"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."
Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), said: "There must be no further backsliding in the implementation of the judgment.
"A combination of legislation, including the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Victorian-era Offences Against the Person Act 1861, with regulations, is the bare minimum reform required for Ireland to meet its obligations."
The ICCL called for the Government to legalise the termination of pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities.
Elsewhere, the Labour women's group and Sinn Fein welcomed the decision.