Ireland to introduce limited abortion laws

Ireland will introduce draft legislation and regulations to provide limited abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk, the government announced Tuesday.

It follows a 2010 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that found Ireland failed to implement properly the constitutional right to abortion where a woman's life is at risk.

Under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, women in Ireland are legally entitled to an abortion when it is necessary to save the life of the mother. But legislation has never been passed to reflect this.

The new legislation will be within the parameters of this ruling and will therefore not require a referendum, likely to divide opinion in a country still predominantly Roman Catholic.

"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 and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy," the Department of Health said in a statement.

Ireland's abortion laws became the focus of worldwide attention last month after the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who died from septicaemia following a miscarriage in a hospital in Galway, western Ireland, in October.

Her husband said she asked staff to terminate her pregnancy because she had severe back pain and was miscarrying.

She was told she could not have an abortion because the foetus was still alive and because Ireland was a Catholic country, her husband Praveen said.

Days after Halappanavar's death, Health Minister James Reilly received a previously commissioned expert group report on how Ireland could deal with the ECHR ruling.

The group proposed a range of options, but clearly favoured introducing regulations backed up by legislation.

Reilly said he was very conscious of the sensitivities around an issue that divides Irish society.

"I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened," Reilly said Tuesday.

Reilly also said there would be clarity to what is legal for the healthcare professionals who must care for pregnant women, while taking "full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child".

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