European & International News

Sexual and reproductive health rights - Ireland next?

(Dublin 01 May) The Irish government has proposed legislation entitled the ’Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013’ which aims to legislate to clarify the circumstances in which doctors can intervene where a woman’s life is at risk.

Ireland has also had to look again at its abortion legislation because of its obligations under European human rights law. This draft bill seeks to bring the country’s legislation into line with a Supreme Court judgment over twenty one years ago that it is legal to end a pregnancy when there is a risk to the life of the mother.

It is hoped that the bill will become law this summer. A timeline of the process is available here.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland have welcomed the draft Bill, noting that "after 21 years of inaction, the government has finally proposed legislation to give effect to the X Case judgement. This is an important step towards ensuring that women’s lives during pregnancy will be protected. The National Women’s Council of Ireland will assess the details of the bill over the coming days and issue a more detailed briefing in due course. We will in particular look at the Bill’s capacity to ensure the necessary legal clarity and provision for realistic procedures that will allow a woman in practice to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion in life-threatening circumstances, including suicide.” Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

Ann Irwin, Policy Officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland added,

“At a first glance, we welcome that one doctor will be able to make a decision in the case of a medical emergency. While the requirement for three doctors in the case of suicide is an improvement to earlier reports referring to up to six doctors being involved in the decision, we remain concerned that the process will not be effective and accessible for women as required by the European Court of Human Rights A,B,C vs Ireland judgement. We also need to consider the appeal process in more detail, in particular the unanimity clause and how this will work in practice. In addition, we are concerned that the Bill does not fully decriminalise abortion and still provides for the potential imprisonment of a pregnant woman who has an abortion or self-aborts outside of the very restrictive boundaries of the Bill.”

Orla O’Connor concluded,

“We must also not forget that legislation for the X case will only deal with a very small number of cases and will not change anything for the majority of women in this country. Ireland will still have one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the world. 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 will still be forced to travel abroad for abortions due to the lack of access to full reproductive rights in Ireland.”

Statistics from the Irish Family Planning Association state that between January 1980 and December 2011, at least 150,000 Irish women travelled from the Republic of Ireland for safe abortion services abroad. This is generally presumed to be a low figure, as many women do not provide their addresses for confidentiality reasons.

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