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Law on X Case would not have saved Savita, says Martin

MICHEAL Martin has rejected accusations Savita Halappanavar may not have died had he taken action on abortion legislation.

Mr Martin was part of five of the six Governments that did not legislate in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 on the X case and he was Minister for Health between 2002 and 2004.

The Fianna Fail leader told the Herald that he would "take issue with that line of approach".

"I would have to take issue with it now because you're already making an assertion in even asking the question which is not valid until we know [what happened to Savita]," he said.

He told the Herald "legislating for the X case would not have stopped" Savita's death. "I want to make that very straightforward point that the X case relates to the suicide option, as it's called," Mr Martin said.

He added that some people believe that the risk of suicide should be grounds for an abortion while others do not.

Mr Martin said: "In [Savita's] case, this isn't a mental health issue. It is not illegal to save the life of a mother in this country and therefore to terminate her pregnancy.

"The Medical Council guidelines provide for the termination of the pregnancy when a mother's life is in danger and in fact the medical guidelines available to the hospital would have provided for that where there is a threat to the mother's life."

Speaking at his office in Leinster House, the Cork TD said he did not want to "cast judgment" on what happened.

"Is this a legislative policy issue? It may well be. Is it a clinical issue? It may well be. Is it both? It may well be. That's the point I'm making," he said.

Mr Martin wants to know why Savita died before jumping to the conclusion that "we must have this piece of legislation or that piece of legislation".

He added: "There may be other factors involved that we're not giving due weight to at this point in time."

Mr Martin said abortion has "divided Irish society and it's divided the legislature".

"That is the reason we have had stasis for so long. We've had various attempts at doing that and it's been very, very difficult to get a political consensus on that," he said.

"In Ireland, the maternal death rate is very low because of the fact that they do treat the mother's life as paramount. Why wouldn't you?"

He said he is "wary of jumping to the conclusion that it is the absence of legislation that led to this woman's death".

Meanwhile, the contentious issue of abortion looks set to pit coalition partners against each other. The Government parties are to be split down the middle over the issue, with Fine Gael TDs resisting attempts to liberalise our abortion laws.

Labour Senator James Heffernan said it was time for the Government to 'grasp the nettle' by bringing in new abortion legislation. Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway said what had happened was "intolerable".

But Independent Senator Ronan Mullen warned that a situation like this could be a "wedge" to bring in abortion in this country.