The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government are committed to implementing legislation on foot of the X-Case. This 1992 Irish Supreme Court case confirmed that a woman was entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her health was threatened. This included the risk to her health of suicide and it is this provision that is causing so much trouble for the Government.
Fine Gael are perhaps the most conservative of the larger political parties in Ireland with many of their T.D.’s (members of the Irish Parliament) being from rural districts. Some of their Dublin T.D’s are now also very concerned about the new legislation and it is clear that they will vote against the proposals.
The proposed legislation does not actually change the law of the country relating to abortion. Rather, it clarifies and formalizes the procedures that should be implemented when the medical profession encounter such difficult scenarios.
The impetus for the legislation was brought about by the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar who was denied an abortion and died from complications relating to a miscarriage she had while in the care of the Irish health-care system. It is clear that her life could have been saved had the medical profession had clearer instructions on how to act. Currently Doctors are having to interpret the legal position on an individual case-by-case basis and at their own risk.
It is proposed that the abortion legislation will provide a procedure whereby a suicidal woman can be legally given an abortion. This circumstance may occur for example where a woman or teenager is raped and becomes pregnant. The rebel Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this provision may be abused and lead to a situation of ‘abortion on demand’.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has so far ruled out a ‘free vote’ on the issue, whereby Party members would not be obliged to vote for the legislation with the possibility of being expelled from the Party if they did not. Fianna Fail may allow their own members to have a free vote which would certainly cause problems for Fine Gael if they did not follow suit. The Labour Party, Sinn Fein and most Independents will vote in favour of the measures so it seems that the new legislation is very likely to be passed and become law.
The difficulty for Fine Gael is just how much damage it will inflict on itself over this, perhaps the most divisive of all social issues.
by Michael Green
The X-case in Ireland refers to an Irish Supreme Court case that established that Irish women are entitled to an abortion if their life is in danger, including in danger from the risk of suicide. The 1992 ruling caused decades of controversy and although the decision was handed down by the Court successive Irish Governments have never provided legislation to specifically detail how the judgment may be used.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother is in peril. For the last two decades it has been left to medical staff to make individual judgements on a case-by-case basis. The recent death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital has brought this emotive issue to a head. Mrs. Halappanavar died after a complications due to a miscarriage and apparently after being refused an abortion to hasten that miscarriage. Her death prompted street rallies in Dublin and elsewhere.
A recent poll by the ‘Sunday Business Post’ newspaper has revealed that 85% of the Irish public now favours legislation in this area, allowing abortion where the mother’s life is in danger, including the risk of suicide. Some campaigners may hail this as a first step on the road to greater access to abortion in Ireland, while those opposed to abortion will likely attempt to block the legislation.
The issue will certainly cause real problems for the Irish Government that currently consists of two parties: Fine Gael and Labour. Several Fine Gael T.D.s (members of the Irish parliament) are much more conservative than their Labour Party colleagues and given the emotion attached to this issue it could potentially cause a real rift in the Government.
The death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital on October 28th has re-ignited the smoldering abortion debate in Ireland. The 31-year-old woman died after her medically induced miscarriage went wrong and, despite repeatedly asking that the miscarriage be induced further to hasten its completion, it seems that this request may have been denied. The death of Mrs. Halappanavar, who was a native of India, was reported in the ‘India Times’ newspaper under the headline: ‘Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist’. An investigation into the exact circumstance of her death is under way but regardless of its outcome the divisive issue of abortion is very much back on the Irish agenda.
Abortion is as socially divisive in Ireland as it is in most countries. Abortion ‘on demand’ is illegal in Ireland, resulting in hundreds of women travelling to Britain every year for the procedure. The infamous ‘X’ case highlighted the inadequacies of Irish law two decades ago, dealing as it did with the issue of a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped. The Irish Supreme Court has already decided that a termination of a pregnancy is allowable once there is a specific risk to the life of the mother. Despite this successive Irish governments have failed to introduce legislation to clearly define when such abortions are permitted. Medical staff in hospitals are thus operating in a grey legal area with every case having its own unique set of circumstances.
It is clear that the Irish government must finally act and introduce legislation immediately so that all parties to the debate know exactly where they stand. It is appalling though that it has taken the death of this woman to put the issue back on the agenda.