Thursday 30 October 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Most divisive social and legal issue of our time

Published 14/11/2012 | 09:00

JUST three days after the Government narrowly passed a seemingly uncontentious referendum, the single most divisive social, legal and medical issue is back on the agenda.

The tragic death of a pregnant woman, who died in hospital following a miscarriage after her family requested an abortion to try to save her life, will once again re-open the debate on abortion.

Three separate investigations are under way into the maternal death, which are relatively rare in this country.

But the Galway University Hospital case will re-open the debate over the rules on the right to an abortion where the life of the mother is in danger.

Pro-choice campaigners will argue it proves there are cases happening where abortions are not taking place where there is a threat to the life of a mother.

Pro-life campaigners will say matters are more complicated than that.

At the heart of it, though, is a family grieving the loss of a wife and daughter who was expecting to give birth to a baby in the coming months.

In a terrible irony, the Galway case arose just as the Government delayed revealing its stance on the abortion issue.

Following on from its predecessors, the coalition has delayed its response to the lingering abortion question.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly has got just weeks to set out his contentious plan to respond to a European court ruling on abortion.

Dr Reilly was originally scheduled to report back to a European body by the end of October on the Government's proposed actions on foot of a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the abortion regime in this country.

Two years ago, the Strasbourg Court criticised the Government for leaving its courts with a lack of clear information regarding lawful abortions in the country.

It said there had been no explanation why the existing constitutional right to abortion, due to real and substantial risk to the life of the expectant mother, had not been implemented.

But Mr Reilly's department finally admitted a fortnight ago the minister won't meet the deadline to report back on the issue, which has now been pushed back to the end of this month.

And an expert group set up to devise a response to the ruling still hasn't reported back – nearly two months after its deadline.

The Irish Independent understands the group will propose the Health Minister decides the limited grounds for abortion, rather than the Dail.

The setting up of a panel of medical experts to consider applications for abortions in extremely limited circumstances will be recommended.

But the plan would see the Minister for Health setting out the grounds in regulations, instead of being specified in laws voted on by TDs.

Irish Independent

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