The Irish Parliament may loosen the country’s strict anti-abortion laws this week as lawmakers cast the final vote on a bill that would allow abortion in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, including by potential suicide.
The bill, which opponents fear will eventually permit widespread abortion access in Ireland, passed last week through the first stage of Parliament with a vote of 138-24, on the heels of public outrage over the death of Savita Halappanavar. Pro-abortion advocates claim doctors could have saved Halappanavar if they performed an abortion, but an investigation revealed Halappanavar had an extreme case of sepsis worsened by a late diagnoses—a more attentive staff and a legally induced delivery could have saved her life.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny insisted the bill would not affect Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. In 1986, Ireland amended its constitution to defend both the life of the child and the mother by banning all abortions. In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court sparked confusion by specifying that in order to protect the mother, abortions should be legal in the rare case that the mother’s life is at risk—including when she threatens to commit suicide.
Six previous governments refused to pass a law in support of the Supreme Court judgment, over concerns that its suicide-threat rule was open to abuse. Irish hospitals continued to resist providing any abortions except for the most clear-cut emergencies.
Halappanavar’s death in October invoked international pressure for Ireland to legalize abortion in life-of-the-mother cases. Despite the pressure, many Irish pro-life advocates continued to hold rallies to fight against abortion legislation. Over 60,000 protesters marched against the bill in Dublin on Saturday chanting, “Let us vote!” and “Kill the bill! Not the child!,” as speakers demanded the government put its bill to a national referendum. Organizers say the march was the largest pro-life rally ever held in Ireland.
Before the march, Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin led a central Dublin church in prayers for Ireland to keep abortion illegal. Martin told the crowd that they must be careful not to come across as heartless to those on the other side of the debate. Martin said those seeking to keep abortion out of Ireland must make their case “not through slogans but through the witness of life that we give.” If not, he said, “what we say will appear, to quote Pope Francis, as being cold, impersonal, and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives.”