In a 127-31 vote early this morning, Irish lawmakers passed Ireland’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, legalizing abortion in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. This is the predominantly Catholic nation’s first pro-abortion legislation to date. The decision capped a grueling debate that locked lawmakers in argument from Wednesday morning until 5 a.m. Thursday and, after a pause for sleep, through midnight until Friday. The bill moved through the first stage of Parliament last week.
Catholic conservatives vowed to punish Minister Enda Kenny’s centrist Fine Gael party by driving it from power for violating its 2011 campaign pledge not to legislate on abortion. Kenny, meanwhile, expelled five of his 74 lawmakers from Fine Gael’s parliamentary group for voting against the bill and said they couldn’t seek re-election as Fine Gael candidates. Strong support for the bill came from left-wing politicians, including Kenny’s coalition partners in the Labour Party, who favor much easier access to abortion.
The government drafted the bill in response to last year’s case of a pregnant woman who died in an Irish hospital from blood poisoning after she requested an abortion. Doctors refused to abort the child because its heart was still beating at the time. Pro-abortion activists claimed the woman died because she couldn’t get an abortion. But an inquest later determined the woman had an extreme case of sepsis. If doctors had diagnosed her condition sooner, they could have induced the delivery and saved her life. The coroner ruled the refusal to abort did not kill her.
Many lawmakers in the round-the-clock debate expressed hopes, or fears, that the bill’s passage would put Ireland on a slippery slope to granting wider abortion rights, as has already happened in the rest of Europe. The island of Malta is the only other European Union member to outlaw the procedure.
Divisions ran deepest on the bill’s provisions permitting an abortion for a suicidal woman if a three-doctor panel agrees she would try to kill herself if denied the right to kill her child. Pro-life activists warned that women faking suicide, aided by sympathetic doctors, would exploit the rule.
Outside the parliament building, pro-life activists maintained a round-the-clock vigil, spending long periods on their knees in prayer. Both sides shouted occasional insults at each other, as police attempted to keep them separated. At dusk, many lit votive candles.
Earlier this week, Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin encouraged pro-life supporters to continue to fight, “not through slogans but through the witness of life that we give.”