Experts say Ireland should clarify abortion laws

Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:57am EST
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By Lorraine Turner

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland should allow limited access to abortion by clarifying the conditions under which women can terminate pregnancies, experts have concluded in a report that will fuel a debate which has split the country and led to tensions within the coalition.

Abortion was banned in all circumstances in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland by a 1983 constitutional amendment, but when the ban was challenged in 1992 by a 14-year-old rape victim, the Supreme Court ruled a termination was permitted when the woman's life was at risk, including from suicide.

Successive governments have however failed to clarify the conditions under which the mother's life could be judged to be at risk.

The issue has been highlighted in the past fortnight by the death of an Indian woman in Ireland who was denied an abortion of her dying fetus and later died of blood poisoning.

The death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar re-ignited the abortion debate in Ireland and highlighted the lack of clarity in Irish law that leaves doctors in the legally risky position to decide when an abortion can be carried out and, critics say, means their personal beliefs can play a role in their decision.

The European Court of Human Rights said in 2010 that Ireland must clarify its law, a ruling which led to the commissioning of the experts' report well before the death of Halappanavar.

The report, due to be published on Tuesday, but seen by the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Business Post newspapers, emphasized that a woman is still only lawfully entitled to an abortion in Ireland when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.

But the panel of experts said an appeal process should be set up for women who have been refused an abortion. The group also says that the minister of health should specify particular centers where terminations can take place.   Continued...

A woman holds a poster during a vigil in Dublin November 17, 2012, in memory of Savita Halappanavar and in support of changes to abortion law. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton