Europe

Marathon debate resumes on Irish abortion bill

Supporters of access to termination
Image caption Supporters of access to termination outside the Irish parliament

A marathon debate on a bill allowing limited abortion in the Republic of Ireland has resumed following an all-night session in the lower house of the Irish parliament.

Members of the Dáil spoke until 04:57 BST on Thursday.

By the end of the lengthy session only 11 of the 166 amendments had been dealt with.

The government may cut short the debate and introduce a guillotine order later.

An Irish government minister has been automatically expelled from her party, Fine Gael, after voting against the government in an amendment to the bill on Thursday evening.

Lucinda Creighton may also lose her job as Minister of State for European Affairs.

The bill allows for a termination when three doctors unanimously agree that a woman is at risk of taking her life.

Anti-abortion activists say the measure could lead to more widespread abortion.

Others argue the bill is too limited as it does not allow for terminations in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a foetal abnormality.

Nor does it allow for termination when the foetus cannot survive outside the womb.

Anti-abortion campaigners say that the bill will allow the intentional killing of the unborn for the first time in the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption Anti-abortion activists want the law to remain unchanged

For them, in a largely Catholic country, it is not just a religious but a human rights issue as they believe that in any pregnancy the mother and foetus have equal rights to life.

Uncertainty

Members of parliament (TDs) who support access to abortion say the bill ignores the fact that, on average, 11 women leave the country every day for an abortion in Britain.

Since a Supreme Court ruling in 1992, known as the X case, abortion has been constitutionally available when a woman's life, as distinct from her health, is at risk from the continued pregnancy.

X was a suicidal 14-year-old schoolgirl who had been raped by a neighbour and was initially prevented from leaving the country for an abortion in Britain.

Since then, the credible threat of suicide is, constitutionally, regarded as grounds for a termination.

But in the intervening years, until now, no government has introduced legislation to give doctors legal certainty on when an abortion can be carried out.

And that uncertainty provided part of the context for the Savita Halappanavar case.

She was a 31-year-old Indian dentist who was admitted to hospital in Galway in October 2012 while miscarrying.

Failures

Image caption The death of Savita Halappanavar drew attention to the lack of clarity about the legal position on termination

She died a week later from septicaemia.

Her request for an abortion was turned down.

Her inquest heard that she could not get a termination at the time because her life was not in danger but, by the time her life was at risk, an abortion would have been too late to save her.

Her inquest also heard there were systems failures in her health care.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition government says its proposed legislation will bring the law and constitution into line.

In a vote last week, the government had an overwhelming 138 to 24 vote majority.

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