European & International News

Ireland set to legalise abortion in restricted circumstances

[Brussels 12 July] There were tumultuous scenes in Dublin around Leinster House and the Irish Houses of Parliament this week as the controversial Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 was debated. The Bill introduces abortion in very restricted cases to Ireland and was passed after two days of debate (on one occasion until 5 in the morning). The Government won the final vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 by 127 votes to 31. Some voted against because they completely oppose abortion in any circumstance, others because the bill does not go far enough.

However, this Bill will do nothing to stop the women who leave Ireland to procure reproductive health services denied them in their own country. According to Irish department of health figures released on Thursday, about 4,000 Irish women travelled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies in 2012.

European Women’s Lobby signed a letter in support of our Irish Members, the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Several successive Irish governments have neglected to take action on the ‘X-case’. 21 years later, the Irish government, forced in part by an ECHR ruling, proposed this bill.

Abortion still remains a criminal offense in Ireland, punishable by 14 years in prison.

Here is the text of the joint letter we signed and support.

We, the undersigned, welcome the fact that after 21 years, two referendums, a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and the death of Savita Halappanavar, the Irish government plans to enact a law to allow abortion if a woman’s life is put at risk due to pregnancy.

Under this law however, abortion would continue to be a criminal offence with a 14-year sentence. Its restrictions, such the requirement of up to six consultants to determine if a woman is suicidal due to unwanted pregnancy, would deter desperate women and girls from seeking an abortion in Ireland and force those who are able to travel abroad for an abortion. Young women, poor, ill and migrant women would face great difficulty.

We, women from other European countries and beyond, share the concerns of our sister organisation National Women’s Council of Ireland about the Irish government’s proposed law on abortion. Restrictions in the law would not only affect Irish women, but would deny non-Irish women who are resident in Ireland, or are visitors, access to rights and services that are available in their own country.

We support the calls of women in Ireland, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and other organisations for the Irish government to amend its proposed law on abortion.

• We call for decriminalisation of abortion in Ireland;
• For risk of suicide due to unwanted pregnancy to be grounds for abortion;
• For the opinion of no more than two medical practitioners as sufficient to approve abortion due to risk to life for physical reasons or the risk of suicide – as recently recommended by the Irish government’s Expert Group Report on abortion;
• For abortion to be available if a foetus has a fatal abnormality and cannot survive.

Opinion polls show a majority of people in Ireland support legislation allowing abortion if a woman’s life is threatened by pregnancy – including risk of suicide due to unwanted pregnancy – and for rape and incest, or risk to a woman’s health. We call on the Irish government to amend its proposed law and to act for the majority – including the many foreign national women in Ireland – and not defer to a vocal minority.


  • Ms Viviane Teitelbaum, European Wo men’s Lobby
  • Ms Liz Law, UK Joint Committee on Women
  • Dr Annette Lawson OBE, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations UK
  • Ms Bernedette Muthien, Engender Scotland
  • Ms Adele Ann Baumgardt, Women’s Equality Network Wales
  • Ms Jana Smiggels Kaskova, Czech Women’s Lobby and Forum 50%, Czech Republic
  • Ms Dominique Duarte, Spanish Co-ordination for the European Women’s Lobby
  • Ms Edite Kalnina, Wo men’s NGOs Co-operation Network Latvia
  • Ms Alexandra Moura Teixeira da Silva, Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights
  • Ms Martha Jean Baker, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  • Ms Tonny Filedt Kok-Weimar, Netherlands Council of Women
  • Ms Annie Sugier, the League of International Women’s Rights, France
  • Ms Sonja Lokar, Women’s Lobby of Slovenia
  • Ms Jurate Puidiene, Businesswoman Organisation of Lithuanian Ethnic Groups
  • Ms Borbala Juhasz, Hungarian Women’s Lobby
  • Ms Nuray Ozbay, European Women’s Lobby Co-ordination for Turkey
  • Ms Gertrud Astrom, Swedish Women’s Lobby
  • Ms Johanna Manganara, to the International Alliance of Women, Greece
  • Ms Alwiye Xuseyn, European Network of Migrant Women
  • Ms Trine Porret Larsen, Women’s Council Denmark
  • Ms Solveig Staffas, Business and Professional Women Europe

Speaking in Dublin, the Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor, said, “Over 17,000 men and women wrote 77,428 emails to their TDs (members of parliament) and Senators over the last few months to call for legislation to give full effect to the X case as part of NWCI’s campaign. This is evidence of the high level of public support throughout Ireland for access to safe and legal abortion in life threatening cases, including risk of suicide.”

“Yet what people were calling for has not been delivered in this Bill. Abortion remains a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison and onerous and inaccessible procedures for women dominate the Bill. We urge the Government, as the Bill goes through its final stages, to take on board our proposed amendments so we have legislation that is fair, just and workable for women in Ireland.”

She continued, “It is also critically important for us to acknowledge that with the passing of this legislation Ireland will continue to have one of the most restrictive abortion regimes globally. It will provide no solution to women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or where there is a risk to the health of the woman. Women in crisis pregnancies, over 4,000 every year, will still be forced to travel abroad for abortions. Women in Ireland must be in a position to make personal decisions about their own bodies and health care free from coercion, discrimination and the threat of incarceration.”

The next stage of the legislative process is the debating of the Bill in the Senate, and then passing the Bill to the President to become law. Legal challenges have however been threatened. It remains to be seen if this will truly usher a new dawn for the women of Ireland and their ability to access their basic human health rights.

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